Everyday Information

Everyday Information: The Evolution of Information Seeking in America

William Aspray
Barbara M. Hayes
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Everyday Information
    Book Description:

    All day, every day, Americans seek information. We research major purchases. We check news and sports. We visit government Web sites for public information and turn to friends for advice about our everyday lives. Although the Internet influences our information-seeking behavior, we gather information from many sources: family and friends, television and radio, books and magazines, experts and community leaders. Patterns of information seeking have evolved throughout American history and are shaped by a number of forces, including war, modern media, the state of the economy, and government regulation. This book examines the evolution of information seeking in nine areas of everyday American life.Chapters offer an information perspective on car buying, from the days of the Model T to the present; philanthropic and charitable activities; airline travel and the complex layers of information available to passengers; genealogy, from the family Bible to Ancestry.com; sports statistics, as well as fantasy sports leagues and their fans' obsession with them; the multimedia universe of gourmet cooking; governmental and publicly available information; reading, sharing, and creating comics; and text messaging among young people as a way to exchange information and manage relationships. Taken together, these case studies provide a fascinating window on the importance of information in the past century of American life.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29573-4
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    William Aspray and Barbara M. Hayes

    Consider a suburban American family on a weekday morning: parents Kim and Sean, children Jamie and Jordan. Kim powers up the laptop to check the family stock portfolio while preparing lunches. She considers a solicitation from a local charity and browses vacation packages online, comparing them to those advertised in the morning paper. Sean retrieves an email answer to a genealogical query about a distant ancestor. He scours car ads in the paper and ponders whether the family should take advantage of the federal rebates on new, high-efficiency automobiles. With coffee in hand, both adults call Kim’s parents on the...

  4. 2 One Hundred Years of Car Buying
    (pp. 9-70)
    William Aspray

    America is deeply rooted in car culture. Except for people who live in large cities with densely laid public transit systems, Americans are utterly dependent on their cars. In 2002, 200 million cars were operated on American roads and driven over three trillion miles.¹ The car purchase is important to the American family not only because the family members otherwise do not have the mobility to shop, attend school or church, or see friends, but also because this is typically the second most expensive durable purchase an American family makes, after the purchase of a home. The transaction is fraught...

  5. 3 Informed Giving: Information on Philanthropy in Everyday Life
    (pp. 71-120)
    Barbara M. Hayes

    Every day, Americans are asked to engage in philanthropy. We open the mail and receive an invitation to a fundraising dinner for the local hospital. We answer the door for Girl Scouts selling cookies and teenagers selling books of coupons for carwashes for the soccer team. We see appeals on television to help earthquake victims in Haiti or fund famine relief in Somalia. We make online donations to teams of coworkers running fundraising marathons for cancer research. We bring donations to the church bazaar, which redistributes used items from the well-off to those in need.

    Philanthropic activity is embedded in...

  6. 4 Airline Travel: A History of Information-Seeking Behavior by Leisure and Business Passengers
    (pp. 121-156)
    Rachel D. Little, Cecilia D. Williams and Jeffrey R. Yost

    Although scattered local airline companies began offering flights to passengers as early as 1913, scheduled domestic flights did not become widely available in the United States until the 1920s.¹ During the early years of commercial aviation, U.S. airline travel was limited to a small population of business travelers and wealthy individuals who could afford the high ticket prices. The majority of travelers relied instead on more affordable train services for their intercity transportation needs. Over ninety-five years later, the airlines have grown to be one of the most important and heavily used transportation options for American business and leisure travelers....

  7. 5 Genealogy as a Hobby
    (pp. 157-184)
    James W. Cortada

    The most widely read book in nineteenth-century America was “the family Bible.” It was not called just “the Bible,” but rather, “thefamilyBible.” Between the seventeenth century and the 1960s, nearly every Christian resident of the United States became familiar with the Bible. It provided the only comprehensive set of perspectives on religious instruction, life, and worldview for many native-born Christian Americans. Much of the Old and New Testaments were genealogical, about generations of people, beginning (literally) with the story of Adam and Eve on the first page of the Book of the Book of Genesis.

    Most Americans living...

  8. 6 Sports Fans and Their Information-Gathering Habits: How Media Technologies Have Brought Fans Closer to Their Teams over Time
    (pp. 185-216)
    Jameson Otto, Sara Metz and Nathan Ensmenger

    On any given Monday night during the fall National Football League (NFL) football season, roughly eight and a half million Americans will watch a professional football game on television. In the face of declining television viewership, ratings for televised football games continue to increase. In 2008, ESPN’sMonday Night Footballrepresented cable television’s most watched television series, with one game in particular (the Eagles/Cowboys matchup), attracting an audience of almost thirteen million, cable television’s largest household audience ever.¹

    But while the experience of watching football on television remains the dominant and most familiar form of sports consumption in the United...

  9. 7 Information in the Hobby of Gourmet Cooking: Four Contexts
    (pp. 217-248)
    Jenna Hartel

    This chapter aims to characterize the information activities and information resources that underlie the hobby of gourmet cooking in America. Gourmet cooking has roots in French haute cuisine and is a manner of food preparation that entails high quality or exotic ingredients and advanced technical skills (Wilson 2003). It is featured today at many high-end or “white tablecloth” restaurants, associated with cultural icon Julia Child, and has been adopted by millions of Americans as a hobby. Given its complexity to execute, gourmet cooking is information intensive and generates a vast multimedia information universe. Altogether, this hobby is a rich setting...

  10. 8 The Transformation of Public Information in the United States
    (pp. 249-276)
    Gary Chapman and Angela Newell

    The United States has always been a country in which public access to government information has been both a widely shared value as well as a source of political conflict. What government information the public should be able to access, and what should not be shared, falls into the category of what political scientists call “essentially contested concepts,” such as the character of democracy or the appropriate use of force. Struggles over sensitive information held by the government have long been part of the tumultuous political history of the United States, while at the same time public access to government...

  11. 9 Active Readership: The Case of the American Comics Reader
    (pp. 277-304)
    George Royer, Beth Nettels and William Aspray

    This chapter explores information issues related to the practice of reading. More specifically, the focus is on comics, detailing the transition of the comics reader from the passive consumer to an active participant in shaping both the future of the medium and a participatory reading culture.

    The patterns of readership of comics in America since the end of the nineteenth century form a richly textured tapestry. In his bookComic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America,Brad Wright explains: “Few enduring expressions of American popular culture are so instantly recognizable and still so poorly understood as comic...

  12. 10 Information Exchange and Relationship Maintenance among American Youth: The Case of Text Messaging
    (pp. 305-328)
    Arturo Longoria, Gesse Stark-Smith and Barbara M. Hayes

    The ways American youth currently exchange information are shaped by the growing number of media, both digital and analog, available to them. Within the past decade alone, we have seen the quick adoption—and, at times, the equally quick abandonment—of digital media that facilitate information exchange among American youth: instant messaging, chat rooms, LiveJournal, MySpace, Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter, to name a few. These applications have augmented but not replaced older media such as the telephone and handwritten notes, which persist as a means of communication for youth. Our goal is to study not only the different media that...

  13. 11 Conclusion
    (pp. 329-340)
    William Aspray and Barbara M. Hayes

    This book has explored nine common activities in everyday American life. They can be grouped in four categories: the purchase of goods and services (cars, airline travel), the pursuit of hobbies (sports, genealogy, comics reading, and cooking), participation in various sectors of society (government information, philanthropy), and communication and relationship maintenance (text messaging). These activities illustrate just a few of the many information behaviors important in everyday American life.

    Each of these activities has its own set of exogenous and endogenous forces that shape the information sought and sources used over time. Nevertheless, there are some common shaping forces—particularly...

  14. Editors and Contributors
    (pp. 341-346)
  15. Index
    (pp. 347-359)