Theories of the Information Society (The International Library of Sociology)

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He did not foresee the Internet as a communication structure in which both media would merge beyond a central or panoptic power. It is, of course, an open question how far this is, or will be, the case. Krippendorff has explored different information and communication metaphors such as the one of message transmission, the container metaphor, the metaphor of sharing common views, the argument metaphor, the canal metaphor, and the control metaphor.

These metaphors are originated within different cultural environments. The phenomena they address are intimately related to the metaphors themselves. We must learn to use them creatively; that is, to see their limits and to learn how to apply them accurately in different theoretical and practical situations. Braman provides an important discussion of approaches to defining information for policy makers. Four major views are identified: 1 information as a resource, 2 information as a commodity, 3 information as a perception of patterns, and 4 information as a constitutive force in society.

The relative benefits and problems with each of these four conceptions are discussed. The article points out that the selection of one definition or another has important consequences, and also that the tendency to neglect this problem results in conflicts rather than cooperation. Defining information is thus also a political decision. The information age is also called "the age of access" Rifkin, Information production, distribution, and access is at the heart of the new economy.

The terminological shift from information society to knowledge society signals that the content, and not information technology, is the main challenge for economy as well as for society in general. This semantic concept of information, located between data and knowledge is not consistent with the view that equates information management with information technology.

According to Nonaka and Takeuchi — who follow Polanyi's distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge — only explicit knowledge information can be managed. For Cornella , companies are information. Castells gives a comprehensive and critical analysis of the information age, including its social, economic, and cultural dimensions. For Hobart and Schiffman , information is not a phenomenon that appears with modern technology but rather the product of the complex interactions between technology and culture.

They distinguish between classical, modern, and contemporary information ages, the meaning of information being unique ito each age. Brown and Duguid question "the myth of information" and information technologies that would be able to shape social organization by themselves.

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For it is not shared information but shared interpretation that binds people together. Borgmann's , p. Cultural information centers on conventional signs — letters and texts, lines and graphs, notes and scores. We close this by no means exhaustive analysis of the concept of information in the humanities and social sciences with Eliot's , p. We started this presentation of interdisciplinary theories by asking whether a common core can be found in the concept of information. According to Karpatschof , pp. Information The quality of a certain signal in relation to a certain release mechanism.

The signal being a l ow energy phenomenon fulfilling some release specifications. The signal is thus the indirect cause, and the process of the release mechanism the direct cause of the resulting high-energy reaction. The release mechanism itself is, of course, an emergent entity, when it is seen from a cosmological position.

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This is the precise agenda, for biogony and biogenesis to furnish theories with an analysis of this emergence. We can thus more precisely define:. In our opinion Karpatschof's explanation identifies a key perspective of the concept of information that most interdisciplinary discussions can agree upon. It seems to be a reductionistic and indeed mechanical perspective, antithetical to a humanistic understanding. However, this is not the case. Karpatschof does not explain psychological or sociological phenomena by physical or biological principles. He does not consider information as a thing or as something objective.

He forces us to look at the many different kinds of mechanisms at different levels in evolution and culture that have evolved to discriminate certain kinds of signals. In other words, he forces us to shift the perspective from information as an object to the subjective mechanisms that account for discrimination, interpretation, or selection.

What distinguishes different theories of information is, thus, not so much the concept of information itself. To ask about the nature of this mechanism means, for instance, to ask about the nature of living organisms, the nature of human beings, human language, society, and technology. Because there are many kinds of release mechanisms developed both in biology, in the human mind, in cultures, and in technologies, different sciences tend to work with different concepts and theoretical frames of reference.

Information can and should thus be studied within a network of different disciplines, not just by "information science" Capurro No wonder, then, that the mechanisms of information — and information itself — had been so difficult to tackle. As we have seen, the word information has a much richer history than have the fields of inquiry known as library science, documentation, and information science, which are largely products of the 20th century. Tracing the influence of this term and the very complex net of disciplines connected with it is indeed difficult.

In this chapter only a few important points will be illuminated. Some key events can be taken as signposts for our orientation in this complex area. The main function of the general library is to make books available. According to Williams , special librarians were the first documentalists in the U. We are thus able to trace one line of development from special librarianship via documentation to information science in both the U. The line of development from Paul Otlet and Suzanne Briet is discussed by Day in critical fashion. Only a few institutions have preserved the term documentation e.

It is far more common to do as the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen did in namely, add information to its name although only to the English version. The important question is, of course, what kinds of theoretical influences lie behind such choices? How is the term information theoretically related to what is studied if at all? The same paper also argues that this tendency has serious drawbacks. Theories that are appropriate for computer science are not necessarily the most adequate for library science, documentation, and scientific communication.

A serious risk arises such that concepts and theories related to information theory tend to reduce the study of documentary communication to computer science and cognitive science, thus removing the basis of the field in its own right. Library science as taught in schools of librarianship has always had public libraries as a major focus simply because public libraries have constituted an important marked for professionally trained librarians.

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Special librarianship and documentation and later information science , on the other hand, were much more concerned with research libraries, databases, and with activities connected to the seeking and dissemination of scientific literature — and also with the application of information technologies. According to Williams , p. However, since about , information science has been foregrounded in schools of library and information science. This may be due in part to an increasing interest in being associated with such important fields as computer-based information retrieval and other areas of information science.

Although schools of library science are major contributors in the field, as reflected in their contributions to the leading journals in IS; they have also faced challenges, particularly in the U. This situation may be connected to what they teach, including the old problem concerning the lack of specific subject knowledge. It may be, however, that the neglect of subject knowledge reflects a privileging of research into users rather than information, and, by implication, a tendency towards psychologism, subjective idealism, and methodological individualism See footnote 4.

The question is how well we have succeeded in developing information science as a healthy field of inquiry. The term information retrieval IR is possibly one of the most important terms in the field known as information science. A critical question is, thus, why, and in what sense, IR uses the term information. IR can be seen both as a field of study and as one among several research traditions concerned with information storage and retrieval See footnote 5.

Although the field is much older, the tradition goes back to the early s and the Cranfield experiments, which introduced measures of recall and precision. In , van Rijsbergen and Lalmas p. We shall return to the difference between documents and facts later, but here we want to show why information and not, for example, document, text, or literature was chosen as a central term in this core area. Ellis , pp. What Brookes , p. Ellis and Brookes should not refer to the opinion of researchers in their attempts to solve this problem.

Only arguments count. In our view, it is not too simple an idea to claim that information retrieval theory is in reality document retrieval theory and thus closely associated with library science. It is not difficult to disprove Brookes's statement that information retrieval does not deal with documents. A short examination of the literature demonstrates this, and even if the Cranfield experiments spoke about "information retrieval," their modern counterpart, the TREC experiments, speak about "text retrieval.

One reason for information scientists to prefer not to be linked to library science might be that important technological improvements were carried out not by people associated with librarianship, but by those affiliated with computer science. Compare the quotation by Schrader, , p. The worst thing may be that information scientists have overlooked some of the most important theoretical problems in their field.

Van Rijsbergen , p. The fundamental basis of all previous work — including his own — is in his opinion wrong because it has been based on the assumption that a formal notion of meaning is not required to solve IR problems. For us it is reasonable to suggest a link between the neglect of the concepts of text and documents on one hand and meaning or semantics on the other. Semantics, meaning, text, and documents are much more related to theories about language and literature, whereas information is much more related to theories about computation and control.

We do not claim, however, that the statistical methods used in IR have not been efficient. We do claim, however, that semantics and pragmatics, among other things, are essential to better theoretical development in IR, and in the long run also to the improvement of operational systems. In spite of our claim that IR is actually document retrieval, there has throughout the history of the field a problematic tendency to regard information as pieces of facts or opinion freed from the documents.

In the literature of IS there is a distinction between document retrieval and fact retrieval. As a response to a query, a document retrieval system provides a list of references about the subject, which with a certain probability is supposed to contain the answer to the query, or rather to reveal the present documented knowledge about the problem. Fact retrieval systems, on the other hand, are supposed to provide concrete answers to queries. If the query is: "What is the definition of information science?

Some distinguished IS researchers have regarded the creation of fact retrieval systems as the ultimate goal of information science. Karen Sparck Jones , p. Some of Paul Otlet's basic ideas are described by Rayward , p. Otlet's concern was for the objective knowledge that was both contained in and hidden by documents. His view of knowledge was authoritarian, reductionist, positivist, simplistic — and optimistic! It is merely a question of institutionalizing certain processes for analyzing and organizing the content of documents.

For him that aspect of the content of documents with which we must be concerned is facts. He speaks almost everywhere of facts. Rayward , pp. In practice, document retrieval systems coexist with systems that provide concrete answers. Directories, dictionaries, handbooks of chemical and physical constants, and many other kinds of reference works are examples of factographic works and databases that have important functions and exist side-by-side with bibliographic databases.

However, we find it important to argue against the view that bibliographical databases or full-text databases should be less than ideal because "[the user] wants the information in the documents, but the system only gives him the documents" Sparck Jones, , p. The idea that bibliographical information systems should be reduced to fact retrieval systems is a problematic assumption.

We agree with Rayward that this view is related to a kind of obsolete positivism. We also see this view as one reason for the use of the terms information and information science. Because it is often desirable to know the source e. Romm shows that there are serious ethical implications involved in defining as something as factual as opposed to meaningful. To the extent that information is seen or presented and legitimized in terms of its supposed factual content, it authorizes a picture of the world — rather than inviting debate on the construction and relevance of the picture.

Conversely, insofar as information is treated as a product of specific world-constructing activities, it invites discursive inquiry as to its meaning and relevance. Are information scientists the only professionals that are working with the "the generation, collection, organization, interpretation, storage, retrieval, dissemination, transformation and use of information"? This quote is part of the official definition of information science given by the American Society for Information Science and Technology Borko, ; Griffith, quoted in full later in this chapter.

We often assume this to be the case. If this is not the case, it seems important to try to specify the special role of information scientists in handling information. In one sense of the word information , astronomers can be seen as experts who identify, process, and interprets information from the universe. The byproducts of their activities they keep as observations in one form or another. They may make photographs of the universe and of single stars, planets, and galaxies. They also publish their empirical and theoretical findings in journals and other publications. Both the photos and the publications are examples of documents.

The library, documentation, and information profession is interested in all kind of documents. Its core interest and expertise is, however, related to communication of published documents. Our point is that in the sense of the word information as it is used about astronomers' activities, information scientists are not experts for interpreting the information from the stars, but at most are experts in handling information documented by astronomers e. In this example information is defined in a broader sense than usually implied in information science. Just as astronomers can be said to handle information professionally, so it is with other groups.

Publishers, researchers, historians, lawyers, and teachers can be said to be professional information handlers in some fashion.

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Defining information in a way other than implied here can solve this problem. Belkin , p. This means purposeful, meaningful, human communication, with the specific requirements as noted above. But this solution has some disadvantages. In information science we are sometimes interested in studying the researcher's selection of an information channel, including whether he or she prefers to go the library or to make an observation for himself.

This distinction was made in Taylor's study on question negotiation and information seeking in libraries. If we define information in the narrow sense, as something belonging solely to information science as proposed by Belkin , we are not able to make comparative studies of this sort. Because we find Taylor's questions relevant and consider that he uses the concept of information in a fruitful way, we see a dilemma in using Belkin's definition in information science See footnote 7.

The role of information specialists may be relatively clear when the target group is, for example, astronomers: information specialists are experts on forms of publications, databases, reference tools, and so forth. In the case of, for example, historians or lawyers, the borders are much less clear because the information that these professions are seeking, interpreting, and using is itself contained in publications and documents. The historian, not the librarian or information specialist, is the expert in seeking, organizing, interpreting, and utilizing the documents needed in his or her professional work.

Still, an information specialist has more professional expertise regarding specific maters such as databases, cataloguing. One of the most frequently used definition of information science is as follows:. In our view, this definition does not contain a good identification of the special focus of information science.

No science should be defined by its tools e. All fields are supposed to utilize the most appropriate tools available. A science should be defined by its object of study. As such, the study of information is a better one. In our view, information professionals usually have a broad overview of information sources, sociological patterns in knowledge production, documents types, and so on.

They should also have a broader knowledge of the philosophy of science e. Information scientists — by the nature of the field — must work in a top-down mode from the general field of knowledge and information sources to the specific, while domain experts must work in a bottom-up mode, from the specific to the general. The same representation of an object e. The same matter should therefore be represented differently in different subject databases. The concept of information itself can be defined universalistically e. Information is anything that is of importance in answering a question. Anything can be information.

In practice, however, information has to be defined in relation to the needs of the target groups served by information specialists, not in a universalistic or individualistic, but rather in a collectivist or particularistic fashion. Information is what can answer important questions related to the activities of the target group.

In public libraries, those goals are related to the democratic role of the public library in society. In medicine, they are related to the solving of health problems. In commercial systems, they are bound to business strategy. These fields build the foundations for subsequent developments in computer science or information technology See footnote It is widely recognized that information theory is a problematic term, and that even the term information technology may be a misleading term for data technology or computer technology.

The history of this impact or reception has yet to be written. Problems with this approach soon appeared Rapoport, and the initial optimism disappeared leaving many fields without an adequate theoretical frame. From an information-theoretical point of view information can be precisely defined and measured. This is not, however, the same concept as that used by information specialists when seeking, selecting or indexing information sources. These last activities relate to the content and meaning of some messages, not just to their physical storage and transmission.

Wersig , p. This was not so in human contexts, where neither the assumption of coherent sets of signs nor the assumption of the identity of original message, signs, and reconstructed message were applicable. The very notion of semiotics, which in fact became one of the most important critiques of too simple an application of information theory to human communication, led to the insight that Shannon's mathematical theory was only a theory on the syntactical level relation of signs to signs , but with no reference to the semantic relations of signs to meanings and pragmatic relation of signs to humans levels.

In consequence, some attempts were made to develop out of Shannon's theory a semantic e. Bar-Hillel and Carnap or pragmatic e. Yovits information theory. But they remained in the literature with no great success. In spite of the overall tendency to regard Shannon's information theory as a blind alley in information science, studies are still published from this perspective e. Dretske's theory originates from philosophy and was outlined earlier. It has been cited 15 times in the literature of library and information science See footnote Patrick Wilson , p.

He concludes:. Wilson's proposal has been heeded. Together with Barwise and Devlin , van Rijsbergen and Lalmas , p. Van Rijsbergen withdraws his former conclusion that information retrieval is actually document retrieval and tries to develop a theory that bases IR on an objective conception of information. The other references to Dretske's theory in IS e. Bonnevie, , Loose , Mingers seem rather unrelated to one another.

Through the work of Brookes , Karl Popper's metaphysical pluralism has been connected to the cognitive view. As is well known, Popper's ontology consists of three worlds:. World 1: Physical objects or states, World 2: Consciousness or psychical states, World 3. Intellectual contents such as books, documents, scientific theories, etc. Popper uses the words "knowledge" and "information" interchangeably. In Popper , p. Popper's World 3 has been compared to the concept of signs in the monist semiotic tradition from Charles Peirce and onward see Skagestad, :.

The tendency within and beyond IS has been more to favor of Peirces' semiotic view over Popper's metaphysical pluralism. The most recent and loyal description of the cognitive view is presented by Borlund , who is a student of Peter Ingwersen. She finds p. We see the cognitive view as taking a position between the objective concept of information in both information theory and Dretske's theory on one hand, and the subjective or interpretative view taken by information scientists inspired by hermeneutics, semiotics, domain analysis, and so forth, on the other hand.

Buckland analyses various uses of the term information in information science. See: Buckland, , p. Buckland's analysis seems to have two important consequences: On one hand it re-introduces the concept of document "information as thing" and on the other hand it points out the subjective nature of information. A stump of a tree contains information about its age as well as about the climate during the lifetime of the tree.

In similar ways, anything might in some imaginable circumstances be infor-mative: " We conclude that we are unable to say confidently of anything that it could not be information " Buckland, , p. The cognitive view is taken one step towards a subjective understanding of information. Buckland is taking one step further. The domain analytic view sees different objects as being informative relative to the social division of labor in society.

In this way, information is a subjective concept, but not primarily in an individual sense. Criteria for what counts as information are formed by sociocultural and scientific processes. Users should be seen as individuals in concrete situations within social organizations and domains of knowledge. A stone in a field could contain different information for different people. It is not possible for information systems to map all possible information values.

Nor is any one mapping the only "true" situation. People have different educational backgrounds and play different roles in the division of labor in society. A stone in a field or, of course, a document about a stone in a field such as a photograph represents one kind of information for the geologist and another for the archaeologist. The information from the stone can be mapped onto different collective knowledge structures produced by geology and archaeology.

Information can be identified, described, and represented in information systems for different domains of knowledge. Of course, problems arise in determining whether a thing is informative or not for a domain. Other domains have different, conflicting paradigms, each containing its own more or less implicit view of the informativeness of different kinds of information sources.

The domain-analytic view is related to a hermeneutic view because the understanding is determined by the pre-understanding of the observer. An explicit "information hermeneutics" has been developed by Capurro e. It is also related to semiotic approaches e. Brier, , and to the approach know as social constructivism e. We should be aware that library and information science is only one discipline among a network of disciplines — including suggested disciplines and metadisciplines — related to communication, technology, systems and processes.

We should try to further clarify our identity and our specific goals and to strengthen the historical continuity in the field. We should not consider a concept as information in isolation, but see it in relation to other concepts such as, for example, documents and media. The concept of information may have had a positive effect as a status-raising concept used by professions primarily working with documents.

However, this positive effect has had very unfortunate side effects in raising a level of confusion in the discipline. It is worth noting that important books can be written in the field without using the concept of information e. Lancaster, Thus, researchers should be explicit on how they define this and any other theoretical terms. It should either be used for the sake of theoretical clarification or — as Fairthorne recommended — not at all.

There are many concepts of information, and they are embedded in more or less explicit theoretical structures.

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In studying information it is easy to get lost, i. Therefore it is important to state the pragmatic question: 'What differences does it make if we use one or the other theory or concept of information? Such a clarification may receive resistance because information is often used as a status rising term without much theoretical ambition. We should also ask ourselves: Given all the information in this paper and about half a century of research and debate , what more do we need to know about the concept of information in order to contribute to the further development of information science?

In our view, the most important distinction in the concepts of information is the distinction between information as an object or a thing e. The interpretation view removes the attention from attributes of things to the "release mechanisms" for whom those attributes are of importance. This may call frustration, because it is difficult and because it implies teleological principles which are foreign to positivist principles of science.

It is relatively easy to count the number of words in a document or describe it in other ways. It is much more difficult to try to figure out for whom that document is of importance, and what the important questions are, that the document can answer. The questions of interpretation are also difficult because we often confuse interpretation with an individualist approach. Meaning is, however, determined in social and cultural contexts. Finally we want to emphasize the need to explicate the foundations of knowledge claims. When we represent data in our information systems, we do that in order to support certain human activities.

We should not just regard our representations as objective, because this implies that we never fully specify the theoretical, social, and historical assumptions on which we act. All kinds of information systems have policies and more or less explicit goals. What we regard as information should finally also be a reflection of the social role of the information system. As information systems becomes more global and merged implicit information is often lost.

This means a challenge for information science that should open its perspective to the social and cultural impact of interpretation processes taking also into account the qualitative differences between different contexts and media.

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This means the inclusion of interpretation processes as a conditio sine qua non of information processes. As we have shown several times in this article, this task of interpretation is essentially a multidisciplinary and an interdisciplinary one. Building networks is basically an interpretation process. Building a scientific network as a self-reflective activity presupposes the task of clarifying some common concepts.

One of them is the concept of information. The Oxford English Dictionary Lists the following meanings for "information" references omitted : Information. Forms: a. Conformed to the L. The L. The action of informing in sense 4 of the verb ; formation or moulding of the mind or character, training, instruction, teaching; communication of instructive knowledge. Now rare or Obs. An item of training; an instruction. Divine instruction, inspiration. The action of informing in sense 5 of the verb ; communication of the knowledge or 'news' of some fact or occurrence; the action of telling or fact of being told of something. Knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event; that of which one is apprised or told; intelligence, news. An item of information or intelligence; a fact or circumstance of which one is told.

In earlier use, An account, relation, narrative of something. Separated from, or without the implication of, reference to a person informed: that which inheres in one or two or more alternative sequences, arrangements, etc. As a mathematically defined quantity see quots. One which represents the degree of choice exercised in the selection or formation of one particular symbol, sequence, message, etc. The action of informing against, charging, or accusing a person. Originally the general sense whence 5 arises; now Obs. A complaint or charge against a person lodged with or presented to a court or magistrate, in order to the institution of criminal proceedings without formal indictment.

A complaint of the Crown in respect of some civil claim, in the form of a statement of the facts by the attorney general or other proper officer, either ex officio, or on the relation or report of a private individual. In other legal systems. In Civil Law. In Scots Law. Applied also to similar proceedings in foreign systems of judicature, ancient or modern. And ppl.

Arrow, K. The Economics of Information. Dertouzos, J. Moses Eds. Philosophical Papers. Warnock Eds. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Bacon, F. The Great Instauration. Burtt Ed.

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New York: Random House. Original work published in Bar-Hillel, Y. Language and Information. London: Addison-Wesley. Semantic information. British Journal of Science , 4, Barwise, J. Constraints, channels and the flow of information. Aczel, D. Israel, Y. Peters Eds. Situations and Attitudes. Bateson, G. Steps to an Ecology of Mind.

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Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Borko, H. Information science: What is it? American Documentation, 3 , 5. Borlund, P. Evaluation of interactive information retrieval systems.

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Bougnoux, D. Sciences de l'information et de la communication [Information and communikcation sciences]. Paris: Larousse. La communication contre l'information [Communication versus information]. Paris: Hachette. Boulding, K. The economics of knowledge and the knowledge of economics. American Economic Review, 56 , Braman, S. Defining information: An approach for policymakers. Telecommunications Policy, 13 1 , Brier, S. Information and consciousness: A critique of the mechanistic concept of information. What is a possible ontological and epistemological framework for a true universal "information science?

In Hofkirchner, W. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach. Briet, S. Qu'est-ce que la documentation? What is documentation? Paris: Edit. Brookes, B. The developing cognitive view in information science. The foundations of information science. Part I. Philosophical aspects. Journal of Information Science, 2 , Information technology and the science of information. Oddy, S. Robertson, C. Williams Eds. London: Butterworths. Brown, J. The Social Life of Information. Boston, Mass. Buckland, M. Information and Information systems. New York: Praeger Buckland, M. Information as thing.

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Berlin, Germany: Akademie Verlag. On the Genealogy of Information. In Kornwachs, K. New qestions to a multidisciplinary concept. Ethical challenges of the information society in the 21st century. Informationsbegriffe und ihre Bedeutungsnetze [ Information concepts and their semantic networks ]. Is a Unified Theory of Information Feasible? A Trialogue. The informational city: Information technology, economic restructuring and the urban-regional process. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Castells, M. The information age - Economy, society and culture. Chalmers, A. What is this thing called science?

Conrad, M. Cross-scale information processing in evolution, development and intelligence. Bio Systems, 38, Bio Systems 38 , Cornelius, I. Theorizing information. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 36 , Cornella, A. Bilbao, Spain: Deusto. Day, R. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51, The modern invention of information: Discourse, history, and power. Descartes, R. Tannery Eds. Paris: Vrin. Devlin, K. Logic and information. Dretske, F. Knowledge and the flow of information. Minds, machines and meaning. Huning Eds. Information technology and computers in theory and practice pp.

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Flusser, V.

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