Hunting & Gathering

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Hunting and Gathering

on the

Information Savanna

Hunting and Gathering on the information Savanna

Conversations on Modeling Human Search Abilities
Brian C. O’Connor

Jud H. Copeland

Jodi L. Kearns (Contributor)

Copyright Page

Dedicated with affection to Patrick Wilson

Figures viii

Tables ix
Preface x
Chapter 1 Conversations on Hunting, Gathering,

and Information 1

Chapter 2 Seeking a Human Orientation toward

Problem Solving 13

Chapter 3 “It’s Wise to Study the Ways of One’s Adversary”:

Submarine Chasing 21

Chapter 4 Fifty-Two Stories to an Arrest: Bounty Hunting 45
Chapter 5 Frameworks for an Emerging Image of

Engineering Design 95

Chapter 6 Foraging for Relevance 117
Chapter 7 Prologue to Dialectic 137
Notes 149
References 153
Index 167
About the Authors xxx

Figure 3.1. Orion Submarine Hunting Aircraft 22

Figure 4.1. Bounty Hunter Search Components 91
Figure 5.1. Adapted Approach to Engineering Design 96
Figure 5.2. Modernist and Postmodernist Assumptions 99
Figure 5.3. Visual and Messy Schema 112
Figure 5.4. Nondeterministic Model of Engineering Design 116
Figure 6.1. Matrix of Question Types 120
Figure 6.2. Foraging Tactics 126
Figure 6.3. Foraging Tactics and Grocery Shopping 127
Figure 7.1 Matrix of Information-Seeking Strategies 140
Figure 7.2. Functional Foundation for Seeking Model 141
Figure 7.3. First-Level Elaboration 142
Figure 7.4. Second-Level Elaboration 143
Figure 7.5. Third-Level Elaboration 144


Table 4.1. Content Analysis of Activities 87

Table 4.2. Fifty-Two Stories to an Arrest 92
Table 4.3. Components of the Fatal Mistake 93
Table 5.1. Engineering Key Words 103
Table 5.2. Ranked Engineering Key Words 104
Table 7.1. Assertions 145


These pages represent a long-running conversation on human search techniques. The conversation is less a polite fireside chat and more a set of encounters, over pizza and beer, sometimes over coffee, sometimes in one another’s classrooms. The snapshots of conversation here range from formal considerations, to speculation, to informal review, to interviews. At times we consider matters in areas with which we have considerable acquaintance; at other times we draw freely from work in fields for which we can claim little authority. It is our hope to provoke deeper and wider ranging exploration of human searching. We hope that those whose work contributes to our pages will find no great fault with our interpretations.

We would, of course, like to thank more than words can say our families and our colleagues at the University of North Texas for their understanding, prodding, and forbearance. Mary Durio did early work with us on “foraging for relevance.” Our colleague Richard Anderson helped fashion and critique the foundational model in chapter 1. Thanks to our editor, Sue Easun, who blended praise and pushing in just the right measure. Special thanks to Sally Craley for her patience and deep concern for polishing the details of our work. Gary McAlister and David O’Connor told their stories with care and delight and continued their interest in our conversation. Patrick Wilson sparked interests and planted seeds we hope find expression herein. We would also like to thank our readers in advance for taking the time to engage with these pages, expanding on points they find intriguing, taking us to task for perceived problems, and continuing the conversation.
Brian C. O’Connor and Jud H. Copeland

Chapter 1
Conversations on

Hunting, Gathering, and Information

Brian O’Connor, Jud Copeland, and Jodi Kearns

…we spent hundreds of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers without police, without hospitals, and without agriculture. During all that long period of time, slowly, this process of natural selection built or engineered a set of designs which are structured for surviving the challenges of being a hunter-gatherer. (Tooby, in Bingham, 1995)

We might also add that we spent all that time without card catalogs or human computer interfaces. Generation upon generation of our ancestors lived out their lives in a world without books, videos, or the World Wide Web.1 That we are here speaks to the success of their adaptations. We believe that hunting and gathering on the information savanna serves as a focal concept enabling us to stand back from the present, to ask new questions as we grapple with designing more functional and useful means of navigating our information environment.

These pages essentially present a snapshot of ongoing conversations among the authors; they also invite the reader to participate. We use the term conversation to reflect our attempts to explore, ramble, and stumble upon ideas with the least prior constraint. We have often sat in each other’s offices or at coffee shops discussing the issues found here, though we chose for these pages to present structured units rather than transcripts of our actual chatting. A term used by Van Maanen (1988, p. 7) is appropriate to the design of our work—intellectual hopscotch. As in a conversation, we pull pieces from here and there; we speak with different voices; we develop some threads quite fully and leave others to continue to tease us. We hope that these pages will stimulate questions, comments, and criticisms that will advance understanding of human information-seeking behavior. Because the images of human information seeking taking form in these pages are fundamentally nondeterministic, we have chosen not to encase them in our own theoretical constructs. Thus, introductions and conclusions for each section are kept terse, leaving the reader ample room to construct, to react, to disagree, and, ultimately, to continue the conversation.

As the manuscript writing drew to a close we continued the conversations on both the topics and the very nature of the relationship between the reified discussions and readers who come to the work. Jud came upon another explanatory framework and sent this e-mail to Brian and Jodi:
As I review the manuscript for the book, I realize that the “conversations” themselves are perspectival tools or accelerators for probing the limits of our understanding about experiences in traversing solution space. In this context, the book becomes a biography of ideas that attempts to trace the emerging outlines of this design process [modeling and understanding information-seeking behavior]. We hope to capture some of the attributes of the design process in order to generate a potential model of problem solving (or the experience of traversing solution space) to initiate dialectic in the field on this topic. The designation “biography” indicates the conversations reflect a subjective yet interactive process involving different perspectives that are often in the shadows. Yet these very perspectives are the attributes that will illuminate or define some of the fundamental characteristics of design that are often overlooked in other research on this topic. I know this sounds like engineering design—I think the whole enterprise really is!
Without specialist knowledge in paleoanthropology or evolutionary psychology or evolutionary epistemology and without linking ourselves to one particular model or school of thought on the exact nature of our heritage, we presume that we have hunter-gatherer brains and bodies and some reasonably successful set of adaptations for survival in a complex and diverse environment.2 Our conversations assume that standing back, looking in the shadows, and examining present-day hunting and gathering activities will provide insights useful to access system design.

Case stories form a substantial core for the conversations. We have purposely used the term stories rather than studies because the information was gathered ad hoc and, in one instance, quite by happenstance. The stories are real-world data evidencing “slippery, abstract phenomena” (Schamber, JASIS 51:8, 734). Van Maanen speaks to the ability of stories to present “episodic, complex, and ambivalent realities [and] their radical grasping for the particular, eventful, contextual, and unusual” (1988, p. 118)

The stories here have not been gathered in a uniform manner, subjected to a uniform sort of analysis, or used to identify the same sorts of emergent phenomena. Two were planned as elements of formal research projects; one had been in hand for years—interesting but without appropriate context; one is formed from bits and pieces from several projects that seemed pertinent; and one was simply encountered. One of the stories is based on a grabbed recording made on a moment’s notice; two were conducted formally, though originally for a different project; one is based on a formal report of a year-long event; one was cobbled together in a week just to see if anything interesting emerged. We take such diversity as an opportunity for illumination.

It might seem odd that we relate such stories and do so at some considerable length. The stories seem on face value to present quite straightforward question situations. The submarine chaser simply has to find a known submarine; the bounty hunter simply has a name of a person to find; the engineer simply has to find a workable solution to a given problem. These seem to be known-item searches. How might these relate to the scholar attempting to generate new knowledge? Why would we look to stories of contemporary hunting and gathering?

The search for the submarine or the bond skipper is not a known-item search. Rather such a search is for that location and that time when the searcher could intercept the target. In a real sense, the target is almost an ancillary part of the search. The searcher, rather like the scholar, must ask: What is known so that I could be in the right place at the right time? The scholar is looking for a catalyst for new knowledge: What do I know about myself (with regard to this area of investigation) and about the domain of investigation that will bring me to a point of discovery—not necessarily a simple package of preexisting information.

The examination of engineering design, too, is a story, told in the third person about a group rather than an individual, but a story nonetheless. In one sense, the engineering story is a formal presentation of the nondeterministic manner in which humans often solve problems. The logic and notions of classification descended from Aristotle, which have long held primacy as modes of thinking, simply are not the only successful modes. Engineers are demonstrably effective and fundamentally (though, on the face of it, oddly) nondeterministic. The submarine chaser story and the bounty hunter story provide examples of non-trivial searching outside the ostensible realm of engineering. All three stories are told at great length and in considerable detail simply because they represent situations that are complex, messy, nondeterministic, and real. The heart of each lies in the very detail. We take Macbeth’s (1996) approach of careful observation of the ordinary in its full detail, eschewing the call to generality, hoping “to come to know them differently” (p. 281).

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