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Communication Ecology

Page history last edited by Michael J 13 years, 9 months ago


A Communication Ecology Aproach


Internet tools have made previously hard to see elements of communication visible. At the center of the tech revolution are people who use the tools in ways that everyday people do not. As the tools they have become more accessible, it is plausible to believe that watching how they interact with information might point to previously invisible aspects of how communications work. To see what I'm trying to say, see  Communciation Up Close


Communication Ecology can be usefully situated near the scientific discipline of Neuroethology. 

Neuro-" refers to neurons, and "ethology" is the study of animal behaviour, so "neuroethology" is a branch of science that seeks to understand the neural basis of natural animal behaviour.  - The International Society for Nueroethology. (To see where this can lead, check out Your Brain on Music there or Your Brain on Music here)


Human behavior is a subset of animal behavior.  The human collection of neurons - our nervous systems -  take in, process and emit information that informs behavior. The most plausible assumption is that the process is similar to other animal species, although modified by unique abilities of our species.


Biologically speaking, man has the inborn task of defending three things: himself, his family and his tribe. As a pair-forming, territorial, group-living primate he is driven to this, and driven hard. If he or his family or his tribe are threatened with violence, it will be all too natural for him to respond with counter-violence.


...This sounds straightforward enough but the last few thousand years of human history have over-burdened our evolutionary inheritance. A man is still a man and a family is still a fmaily, but a tribe is no longer a tribe. It is a super-tribe. If we are ever to understand the unique savageries of our national, idealistic and racial conflicts, we must once again examine the nature of this super-tribal condition. 

 The Human Zoo, A Zoologist's View of the Urban Animal, Desmond Morris, 1969, p126


As group-living primates we communicate with each other and thereby gain temporary evolutionary advantages over some other species. We see, we connect what we see with what we and others have seen, we act in collaboration. New ways of communicating lead to new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking and new ways of acting.


Digital communications - internet, cell phones, etc - are the most fundamental change in communication technology since the Printing Revolution in the 1500's in Europe. As Elizabeth Eisenstein describes in The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, once "conversations" could be captured in print, knowledge could  overcome some limitations of time and space. The resulting explosion of knowledge led to tipping point changes in science, economics, business, religion and everyday life for masses of people.


Now, 500 years later, digital information is overcoming space and time limitations again. The practice of communication is revealing new approaches that might lead to better understanding of its use and power.


Communication Ecology looks at communication processes in the same spirit of modern science that informs Michael Gershon in biology as described in The Second Brain, Robert Franks in economics in The Economic Naturalist , Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh in sociology in The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. Of course there are many others in every professional field. These particular scientists share the desire and ability to communicate with the non specialist. They show that it is possible to communicate advanced research in a narrative that most literate laypeople can understand. They also share a focus on proximate factors and behavior, including but not limited to speech acts.


As a zoologist, viewing man as an animal, I find it hard to take differences seriously in the present context. If one assess the inter-group situation in terms of actual behavior, rather than verbalized theorizing, differences in ideology fade into insignificance alongside  the more basic conditions. 

Desmond Morris, p.148


Our research and theory focuses on trying to understand why some ways of communicating lead to predictable changes of behavior and others don't. As a professional practice, the value proposition is that changing the communication patterns - communication ecology - is often the fastest, least expensive way to get desired changes in behavior. The implication is that many seemingly intractable business and social problems - which are after all merely collections of behavior - are amenable to tipping point changes.


While a scientific approach often requires specialized language - jargon, symbols or technology - the bottom line is that behavior is changed or it isn't. The purpose of a theory is to help organize evidence in the interest of figuring out the most elegant intervention - the greatest positive result, the least unintended consequences, with the minimum of investment.






Communication Up Close

Listen carefully to the words he uses.

Filter instead of editing


What "slows me down"

graphics "slows me down"

who writes it "slows me down"

headlines if "it is key word dense"

Information density "how many links in an article, tells me if the writer has down his homework"

"I do a mental pass to see if it is interesting to me, attention wise"

"this one is not interesting enough, because its not something new"

" Now this one is Don Dodge at Microsoft, so that it automatically caught my attention"

"He usually has something to see...I mean say.

"Part of the reason I am sharing this with my readers is to go back to read them in more depth later"

In response to when do you check. Once a day or twice a day, or when I'm bored"

I'm helping other people's productivity, becuase I'm going through about 1300 feeds a day, and I'm putting the best 60 or 80 items up.

"You can tell it to look at all items as one river of news"

"This is interesting news...sort of"

"This is political news, pass."

"I subscribe to a lot of feeds to keep me update on what's going on in the world, I don't want to pass that on to my readerships, because I''m wasting their time"

What do you keep an eye on,

"Anything in the tech industry that is dramatically new or is covering some battlefront...like Microsoft Silverlight vs Adode Flash and you have something new to say, becuase I'm looking at how things are fitting together in the industry"

and here I saw John Freier, he's my boss, so of course I have to read what he has to say"

Phil Winley is the CIO guy at the state of Utah,

Alot of this, for me is relationship work. I want to keep in touch with what Phil Winley is saying or seeing or doing, therefore when I meet him at a conference next week, I'll have something to talk with him about. That's one reason I am reading so many feeds, and you can't get that from reading .....

But another thing is that I have a different take on the industry from anyone else, so I'm looking at things in the video space.

But someone might have an interesting point, because they were at the streaming media conference and saw something new.

OF the 600 feeds, I was guess that 90% are not from high traffic sites.

Most of my feeds are not on the A list, and no one is watching them unless it's a jounralist or me"

How do you find the low traffic sites.

"Alot of times, the big guys will link out"

"Over time, if you watch Tech Crunch(sic), you'll see what he is watching. Not in one day, but in a year, you'll see that he linked over here or over there.. Who is on his radar screen."

How many links did you have six months to today.

"I went up to 1400 and then I went down to a 100. I started getting overloaded and actually the tool started breaking"

I cut them all down to make the tool go faster, so I cut them down so I wouldn't be wasting my time"

I started with Google Reader with about 100 about six months ago, and I started growing to about 600 right now" and now I have to cut back again. I'm not productive in some parts of my life and I want to be productive in others."

"I have a kid coming in September and I've got to cut something back" 

You enjoy being plugged in.

"When I'm interviewing a CEO or something, because I have a pretty good luck at the Industry, I have a lot to talk about. Hey, what about that guy, how is he going to disrupt your business plans?"

"There are some hacks, but you have to be pretty technical to do the hacks"

"That's like an application, not a WebApp"

"I have so much email, that the last thing I need are more distractions on the plane.

" You get a lot of your most productive emailing on the plane because you can't receive anything"











The Lucifer Effect

Similar Approaches


Harrison White

The Information Economy Project




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