Dvora Yanow recently quoted a study from the 1970s according to which only 7% of face-to-face communication is verbal (some claim the percentage is around 10). In online interaction, such as the sending and receiveing of social network-service invitations, the ‘rich’ embodied expressions and gestures have to be inferred from ‘poor’ codified information (e.g. tickboxes and a few lines of text explanation). The forced codification that such invitations require has annoyed even the most prolific of the online textual expressionists.

Social sofware developers appear to be grappling with the broad issue of codifying embodied knowledge into computer-readable ‘information’ on many fronts (annotating photos, simplifying moblogging, FOAF… the list goes on). Much of this very interesting work is characterised by a strong epistemological buy-in to the cybernetic worldview formalized by Shannon and Wiener, according to which the world is made of definite entities and ‘information’ can be abstracted from its material embodiment.

A set of critical analyses of this worldview and its practices also exists. Its range includes interesting work by Brian Bloomfield on the assumptions of inscriptions like requirements analyses, Lucy Suchman on situatedness, Geoff Bowker on the cybernetic concept of information, and Leigh Star on classification, only to name a few. Chuck and Candy Goodwin’s work at UCLA is particularly striking in its visuality. In Chuck’s words, meaning is enacted by way of ‘an ecology of sign systems that includes not only talk, but also a range of different kinds of displays made by the body, and structure in the environment.

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