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Friday, 22 June 2012 11:21


Related activities and areas


                PIM shares considerable, potentially synergistic overlap with disciplines such as cognitive science, human-computer interaction, information science, artificial intelligence, database management and information retrieval. PIM relates to but differs from other fields of inquiry that study the interactions between people, information and technology.

Cognitive psychology and cognitive science

                ognitive psychology, as the study of how people learn and remember, problem solve, and make decisions, necessarily also includes the study of how people make smart use of available information. The related field of cognitive science, in its efforts to apply these questions more broadly to the study and simulation of intelligent behavior, is also related to PIM. Cognitive science has strong connections to, some would say subsumes, the field of artificial intelligence.

                There is great potential for a mutually beneficial interplay between cognitive science and PIM. Sub-areas of cognitive science of clear relevance to PIM include problem solving and decision making. For example, folders created to hold information for a big project such as “plan my wedding” may sometimes resemble a problem-decomposition.[3] To take another example, signal detection task[4] has long been used to frame and explain human behavior and has recently been used as a basis for analyzing our choices concerning what information to keep and how – a key activity of PIM.

                Or consider categorization and concept formation. How are categories and concepts learned and used? Categories and concepts can be seen directly but may be reflected in the tags and folders people use to organize their information. Or consider the activities of reading and writing. Both are areas of study in cognitive psychology with clear relevance to the study of PIM.

                Now large portions of a document may be the product of “copy-and-paste” operations (from our previous writings) rather than a product of original writing. Certainly, management of text pieces pasted for re-use is a PIM activity, and this raises several interesting questions. How do we go about deciding when to re-use and when to write from scratch? We may sometimes spend more time chasing down a paragraph we have previously written than it would have taken to simply write a new paragraph expressing the same thoughts. Beyond this, we can wonder at what point a reliance on an increasing (and increasingly available) supply of previously written material begins to impact our creativity.

                As people do PIM they work in an external environment that includes other people, available technology and organizational setting. This means that situated cognition, distributed cognition, and social cognition all relate to the study of PIM.

Human-computer and human-information interaction

                The study of PIM is also related to the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). But PIM research puts emphasis on the broader study of how people manage their information over time using a variety of tools – some computer-based, some not.

                The User-Subjective Approach is the first approach dedicated specifically to PIM systems design. Its theoretical foundations were first published in a Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology paper in 2003. Another JASIST paper with evidence and implementation for the approach was published in 2008. The paper had won the Best JASIST Paper award in 2009. The first user-subjective design scheme was developed and positively evaluated in a Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems paper published in 2009

Management of data, information, knowledge, time and tasks

                The study of information management and knowledge management in organizations relates to the study of PIM. Jones notes that issues seen first at an organizational level often migrate to the PIM domain.

                PIM can help to motivate and will also benefit from work in information retrieval and database management. For example, data mining techniques might be applied to mine and structure personal information.

Relation to time management and productivity

                By similar argument, a discussion of time management or task management on a personal level quickly takes us back to a discussion of PIM. Both time and task management make heavy use of information tools and external forms of information such as to-do lists, calendars, timelines, Gantt charts, etc. This information, to be managed like other information.

What are we really managing?

                Information is a means to an end. Not always, not for everyone, but mostly. Information is rarely even a very precious resource. We usually have far too much of it. Even a document we have spent days or weeks writing is typically available in multiple locations (and, sometimes confusingly, in multiple versions). We manage our information so that we can manage our lives.

                We manage information for what it represents: our world, alternatives, and the means for effecting change in this world. Information represents alternatives -- alternate hotels, alternate life journeys. Information represents the means for change -- information to make the hotel reservation, information concerning how to practice Zen and where.

                Even if information itself is rarely a precious asset, we manage information because information is the most visible, "tangible" way to manage other resources that are precious.

                In 1971, Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate in economics, elegantly expressed this point with respect to the resource of attention:

                What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

                This quote still rings true if we replace "attention" with "time," "energy," or "well-being." Certainly the nagging presence of papers representing unpaid bills, unanswered email or unfiled documents can distract, enervate and demoralize. We can't see our well-being, our attention or our energy or even our time. But we can see -- and manage -- our paper documents, our e-documents, our email messages, our digital calendars and other forms of information. It is through the management of these personal information items that we seek to manage the precious resources of our lives.

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