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How many ways can information be organized?

By August 8, 2005Uncategorized

Another gem from my re-reading of Information Anxiety: "Information can only be organized by location, alphabet, time, category, or hierarchy."  Wurman calls this the ‘LATCH’ principle, which is obviously an acronym. 

Stop and think about this for a moment because it’s not at all obvious, and most of us would reflexively dispute this proposition.  The ways of organizing information are finite.  Here’s a further discussion by Wurman:

While information may be infinite, the ways of structuring it are not.  And once you have a place in which the information can be plugged, it becomes that much more useful.  Your choice will be determined by the story you want to tell. Each way will permit a different understanding of the information–within each are many variations.  However, recognizing that the main choices are limited makes the process less intimidating.

After reading Wurman’s description of each method of organization (which I’m not going to do here) you see that he’s right.  There are only so many ways of structuring data.  And the arrangement of data is what transforms it from pure fact into ‘information.’  Because, as Wurman points out early on his book, only that which informs is information.  Data can only inform us when it becomes structured, and –hard as this is to believe– it can only be structured in so many ways.

Five, to be exact.

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  • Jim says:

    I agree but we are all programmed from a young age to to p[ut information into certain sub catagories. Either way I this is a great new way to think about storing it.

  • Vincentmarini says:

    I don’t know about this Wurman character. I’ve never read any of his works. I am truly ignorant of Wurman’s credits and capabilities. I’m ignorant enough to think that information could simply be categorized by category. I think I would have much prefered it if Wurman didn’t categorize categorizing with a catch all category in his list of categories. Although the acronymn is really cool, it might be even more neet-o if ‘time’ were replaced with ‘usefulness’ and ‘category’ with ‘geography’.

    I am very fond of ‘usefulness’ as a category even if it is irretrievably linked with Time. Example: A toothbrush is very useful for cleaning teeth or scrubbing grout but rarely if ever when I’m driving or when I’m playing the guitar. The key to using Usefulness as a category by which to organize the trivialities of life is understanding it’s tendency to wane. Of course I have solved this problem by putting the most useful things on top of the pile of useful things. As time goes by the less useful things tend to move toward the bottom of the pile until some time at which I think that they might become useful again. At that point, I fish them out and put them on top again. It is really a simple system and most affective. Feel free to use it but don’t forget to drop my name when friends ask you were you got such a handy system.

    This sort of logic could never be used on something like a toothbrush. So I have devised my system of Geography. I have found over the years that a toothbrush is very handy near some sort of water source. I have carefully plotted out the geography of my living space and noted two sinks. Therefore my toothbrush may always be found near the kitchen sink or near the bathroom sink. I keep my guitars right where I like to play them and the television directly in front of the couch from which I like to watch it.

    I realize that it might be a bit of a stretch to compare a toothbrush, a television and a few ill kept guitars with the catch all ‘information’ but… catch all? Could it be. I mean if it really was a ‘catch all’ would it not include a toothbrush, a TV and some guitars? A toothbrush is the knowledge of a toothbrush. If I were unaware of the concept of a toothbrush could one exist? I would be wandering the earth aimlessly with very fuzzy teeth until someone bestowed upon me the information needed to understand ‘toothbrush’. At which point I would finally be able to take all of the little tiny sweaters off of all of my teeth. Could a thing be seperated from that which its existence relies? Toothbrush from the information of the toothbrush? Dancer from the dance? I think the answer is ‘no’. If a thing is seperated from what causes it to exist it will no longer exist, therefore ‘no, no , no, no’.

    Or maybe it’s just that ‘catch alls’ and I don’t go together very well.

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