Danger: Absurd Human-Computer Analogies Inside

Okay, so Beezy pointed out awhile ago that my latest obsession – coming up with a statistical technique for a particular kind of time-series spatial analysis – has already been done, although just recently. I’m serious, y’all, this was good enough that my stats professor (aka Patootie) was interested in working on it with me.

Then I go and read this itsy bitsy book by Kenneth Arrow, and – what do you know – he basically articulates this theory I’ve been putting together about how information flows shape organizations. And he wrote the fucker in 1974.

Beezy also pointed me to Herbert Simon, who apparently was interested in the organization of humans as information processors… and really, man, I quit.  Everything I want to do has been done.  Every time I think I’m looking at things in a new way, I discover that some crusty old bastard has beaten me to it (yes, I just called two Nobel laureates crusty old bastards).

But really, I think there’s a lot – a whole lot – to this idea of human social organization as being primarily an adaptation to the amount of information in the world.  Think about it: how often are your actions in response to a signal from someone else that basically amounts to “I have evaluated the situation and this is what’s important”?  How much of what you do on a daily basis is essential providing those signals for someone else?  (Hint: as knowledge producers, it’s a lot)

As Kenny J. articulates, this works well in small groups.  There is a cost to opening and maintaining channels of information to other people, but that cost is typically offset by the filtering of information (henceforth codification) the others provide for you.  But as an organization grows, the cost of creating and maintaining those links gets cumbersome.  Enter organizational design – our feeble efforts to make sure that the right information gets to the right people at the right times.

And then we’re right back to the second post ever on this blog – as the informational distance increases, the likelihood of important information being discarded or garbled does, too.  So many of my interests revolve around this idea – which is odd, because I became familiar with it after I had developed my interests.  My long-standing belief that there is a maximum size of democratic/republican government (closely related to Hayek’s idea* that individual preferences can never be fully communicated, and that aggregating incomplete information on those preferences causes problems), beyond which authoritarianism is inevitable.  And my parallel beliefs about business structures.  Everywhere I look, I see brains processing information.  It’s gotten a little extreme, I think, since I’ve started overlooking the point of that processing – i.e. getting the goods – but it seems like an underutilized concept.

More to come.

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