July 2, 2002

Inner Navigation and Information Cascade

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Inner Navigation: Why we Get Lost in the World and How we Find Our Way by Erik Jonsson. I was interested in the title and a quick read of the cover and forward brought me to buy it. The book offers very short snippets about how folks lose their way in environments. The use of visual cues or the ignoring the visual cues and how they prompt us to make decisions or mis-decisions has had me interested. I have been reading one of the short stories most nights and pondering.

One of the other interesting elements is the disconnect between known right and wrong. There is a story or two about folks thinking they were heading one direction so to reach a destination, but were actually travelling in the opposite, or nearly opposite direction. The folks knew the destination was a block or two away, but yet kept travelling for many more blocks beyond what they figured was even possible. The brain gets filled with doubt and at the same time conviction that it has made the correct decision.

This has dovetailed with some readings from the past few months on Information Cascade, which Lisa Anderson and Charles Holt coined to explain individual choice that follows the trends of others, even though they know the trend is not in their best interest or will provide them a positive outcome. This echoes of the late '90s stock market, but also those following "guru's" statements because others have but value in them. Some of this can explain reliance on poor information vehicles, like the mis-use or improper use of PDF's to store and present information. PDF's provide a wonderful information vehicle to store information that is intended for exact visual representation of the information. PDF's now have poor methods of information extraction and searching (when compared to other information storage like a database that would output perfectly validating HTML as its presentation layer), but this all depends on the use and purpose of the end user for that information. PDF's gained prominence because others were using them to distribute information, even though there were issues with the intended purpose meshing with the information vehicle, the use by others developed a "herding" decision based on use by others.

There are many possible illustrations for these issues and the Inner Navigation book offers some great triggers to better personal examination to the world around us. These are some of my favorite books, the one that cause me to have introspection and outward observations in a new light and can tie other readings and knowledge together in new ways. Grow ye synaptic connections.



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