The Changing Landscape of Human Information Interaction: The Past, Present, and the Future

The Changing Landscape of Human Information Interaction: The Past, Present, and the Future

A Fireside Chat with Gary Marchionini

Shalini Urs

Humans constantly interact with information within their cognition and outside, including devices, systems, and humans. Studying human information interactions (HII) is a fascinating field of study that helps design better devices and systems. In the last quarter of the 20th century, HII emerged and investigated how people interact with information through a multidisciplinary lens. Nahum Gershon is credited to have coined the term in 1995 (Morville, 2009).

Interaction involves two or more entities and a set of reciprocal actions and reactions affecting changes to each entity. To characterize an interaction, it is necessary to specify the entities, the nature of the actions, the genesis of the actions (initiation), the amplitude (intensity) and frequency of the reciprocity cycles, and the resultant changes in the participating entities. In the case of human–information interaction, humans and information are the entities (Marchionini, 2008). In her book Human Information Interaction: An Ecological Approach to Information Behavior (2012), Fidel presented a fresh research approach bridging the study of human information interaction and the design of information systems.

Listen to Dr. Gary Marchionini, Dean, and Cary C. Boshamer Professor, UNC School of Information & Library Science, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, in this episode of InfoFire, the fireside chat series from Information Matters. Marchinoni’s pursuit of the domain of HII started soon after he began his career as a high school teacher after graduation with a double major in Mathematics and English. After that, he went on to do his master’s in education and Ph.D. in Maths Education. Then, he joined the University of Maryland, College of Library and Information Services, where he continued his research into the study of interactivity before joining the School of Information and Library Sciences at UNC. His research converged the three subdomains of the iField—Information Seeking/User Studies, predominantly studied by the Library and Information Science community; Information Retrieval, which is the intersection of Information Science and Computer science; and Human-Computer Interaction—into this domain of HII.

While reflecting on the changing landscape of HII, Marchionini opines that our interactions with information have become more critical in our everyday and professional lives; and have changed fundamentally. While in the past, our interactions with information, whether while reading a book or searching for information in early search engines, were one-on-one; today, they are more social in the sense of collective intelligence of people that has been harvested through knowledge graphs that have become incredibly large and powerful. Consequently, we are interacting with a collective experience of many, many millions of people who may have done a similar search.

He believes that we are moving to a new kind of information communication that he calls proflection—a reflection of self or identity in cyberspace having multiple components. Quoting his colleague Francesca Tripodi, he says we have shifted from interaction with the systems being a window to being a mirror. As a result, HII has become richer, more complex, and a little more troubling because it could lead to homogenization, manipulation, and control, which is disconcerting in today’s world of misinformation/disinformation.

The problem of homogenization or echo chambers issues, Marchionini believes, are the big questions of our times. How do you overcome the negatives while taking advantage of the positives? For example, recommender systems have been around a long time, and we depend on them as they make things easier for us. Another example is auto-complete, which is a cognitive amplifier that helps our memory. The solution lies in literacy, as technology has always been, not value-neutral. We have to train people to understand better the ecosystem they live in, so they can perhaps make better judgments on their own. So what we need is a combination of technical, social, and political solutions to overcome the negatives.

Elaborating on the concept of proflections (a Portmanteau of projections and reflections), Marchionini identifies two types of projections—conscious and unconscious self-projections. According to him, our emails, blogs, tweets, and posts are conscious projections, and latent ones such as keystrokes, eye movements, and information leakages are unconscious projections. So reflections are the second kind of information that defines us. Someone tagging your photograph, responding to your article or blog posts, and such traditional reflections are one kind, and then we also have a much more pervasive kind of reflection, where the machines come in because there are trillions and trillions of machine cycles every minute, all around the world, that are working very hard to try and reflect you, me, and everybody else, he says.

Digital exposome (defined as the whole set of digital exposures on an individual) is becoming increasingly important, just like we study the different kinds of stuff such as food, water, pollutants, exposure to chemicals or radiations are taken into account, in terms of understanding the sort of quality of life. The exposome could change our thinking and thinking process. In the decades ahead, it is crucially essential to deal with these changes—the pros and the cons in a way that there is the hope of continuing our progress as a species. Again a combination of technology coupled with socio-political solutions would help. Hence, national governments worldwide are beginning to ask serious questions about the cyberspace world that we are creating. It is a dangerous time, but I am old enough to have lived through a few dangerous errors, and am sure we will have many more. Nevertheless, it is up to us to apply science and scholarship to create an information environment and ecosystem that would help future generations.


Marchionini, G. (2008). Human-information interaction research and development. Library & Information Science Research30(3), 165-174.

Morville, P. (2009). Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. United States: O’Reilly Media.

Cite this article in APA as: Urs, S. (2022, March 24). The changing landscape of human information interaction: The past, present, and the future. A fireside chat with Gary Marchionini. Information Matters, Vol. 2, Issue 3.

Shalini Urs

Dr. Shalini Urs is an information scientist with a 360-degree view of information and has researched issues ranging from the theoretical foundations of information sciences to Informatics. She is an institution builder whose brainchild is the MYRA School of Business (, founded in 2012. She also founded the International School of Information Management (, the first Information School in India, as an autonomous constituent unit of the University of Mysore in 2005 with grants from the Ford Foundation and Informatics India Limited. She is currently involved with Gooru India Foundation as a Board member ( and is actively involved in implementing Gooru’s Learning Navigator platform across schools. She is professor emerita at the Department of Library and Information Science of the University of Mysore, India. She conceptualized and developed the Vidyanidhi Digital Library and eScholarship portal in 2000 with funding from the Government of India, which became a national initiative with further funding from the Ford Foundation in 2002.