October 21, 2007

Satisficing, 1957

Filed under: detroit,McLuhan,networks,notes,writing — jrice @ 3:44 pm

Herbert Simon, 1957. Satisficing.

Information organization requires decision making. What belongs where in the overall arrangement? What gets categorized as what? New media challenges arrangement and invention in ways print has yet to do. In other words, the “right paths” Aristotle popularized or the separation of the personal and subjective Ramus taught may not always work in the age of new media. In 1957, Herbert Simon offered the concept of satisficing, the notion that rational decisions do not always play a role in how we choose to organize information. Print is an organizing tool. The Web is an organizing tool. In 1957, radio, too, played such a role. One Detroit radio station, WXYZ, was housed in the Maccabees, the building I would later work in as a member of the English department.


In the world of entertainment, there supposedly exists a rational logic for the play list (one as rational as the station call letters suggest for alphabetization – WXYZ indicates the final ordering of print literacy). House Party at 3:30 PM? Life is Worth Living at 10:00 PM? Top of Town at 10:30 and 11:00 PM?

Such organizational methods suggest assumptions about order. An audience will supposedly tune in and stay tuned in because of the order. In McLuhan’s 1957 “Do it yourself movement,” how is audience need reconfigured? If I “do it myself,” then I order according to other standards (as if foreshadowing folksonomic practices). The first response to this question might mirror early hypertext studies: choose your own narrative. The second answer might be more Web 2.0 directed; we are in a user-centered media economy. Still, both put too much emphasis on the user, as if other producers are not relevant to networked writing.

Satisficing therefore, might be important here. While I have some homework to do first (Models of Man), I don’t think that it revolves around the split between user/producer technologies. Instead, I want to incorporate its focus on rationality and information organization (two key points in the book manuscript) particularly because of these other temporal moments I discover. In these notes (played out over a few blog posts), WXZY, the Bel-Air, McLuhan, and Herbert Simon come together to show me something about Detroit and the network.

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