“Which of these activities occupies more of your time: Foraging for food or surfing the Web? Probably the latter. We’re all informavores now, hunting down and consuming data as our ancestors once sought woolly mammoths and witchetty grubs. You may even buy your groceries online.” - Rachel Chalmers
Each year the Macquarie Dictionary names a Word of the Year from a shortlist of words that have made a valuable contribution to the language. And it has declared 2013 to be the year of the “infovore”. The Macquarie defines an infovore as “a person who craves information, especially one who takes advantage of their ready access to it on digital devices”.
The term infovore or informavore (also spelled informivore) describes a person that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behaviour in modern information society, and the word is formed in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food.
George A. Miller coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger). Miller states, “Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores.”
An early use of the term was in a newspaper article by Jonathan Chevreau where he quotes a speech made by Zenon Pylyshyn of the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Cognitive Science:
“Zenon Pylyshyn closed the conference with an apt description of Homo sapiens in the information age — Man the Information Processor, or Informavore.”
Jonathan Chevreau, “Some A1 applications wishful thinking”, The Globe and Mail, March 30, 1984
Soon after, the term appeared in the introduction of Pylyshyn’s seminal book on Cognitive Science, “Computation and Cognition”. More recently the term has been popularised by philosopher Daniel Dennett in his book Kinds of Minds and by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.
Humans are active information foragers who gather and consume new knowledge, unlike a passive sponge that sits in the sea depths and relies on whatever the sea currents bring its way. From controlling the movement of our eyes to determining which sources of news to consult, judging the quality of alternative sources of information is a critical part of our behaviour. Researchers are now investigating, explaining and predicting how people shape their information seeking behaviours to their information environments. Nowadays a lot of this relies on the Web, Twitter, social tagging systems, media, etc.
By hunting around for reliable information that satisfies our need to learn we construct Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). A PLN is an informal structure of information sources around a learner (or informavore!), with which he/she interacts and derives knowledge from in an environment that is adapted to the individual’s own needs. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another information source with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection. Generally, in a PLN, individuals are involved and the interactions between them is how information is transferred.
An important part of this concept of PLNs is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their personal development and knowledge.
A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is very much related to a PLN and is sometimes used synonymously with it. PLEs can be created independently, by building and collecting content sources from the Web, including creating content through blogs, podcasts, slideshares, etc. A natural extension of one’s PLE is the development of relationships with individuals that emerge from the process of building the PLE, which is how the PLN develops. When connections from a PLN are engaged, knowledge creation becomes interdependent.
In Dryden and Vos’s book on learning networks (Dryden, Gordon; Vos, Jeannette (2005). “The New Learning Revolution: How Britain Can Lead the World in Learning, Education, and Schooling”. UK: Network Educational Press Ltd), we read:
“For the first time in history, we know now how to store virtually all humanity’s most important information and make it available, almost instantly, in almost any form, to almost anyone on earth. We also know how to do that in great new ways so that people can interact with it, and learn from it.”