Friday, September 26, 2008

Calibrating Blog Traffic Tracking

A classic information illusion arises on the net: the conflation of a click with a look with a read. It's easy to track how many far away computers access a web page, not so easy to figure out whether anything on that web page was seen, read, thought about, etc.

So, a small experiment so I can come up with a tentative correction factor for the "visitor" count. If you actually read a post here could you post a very short comment to the effect of "yes, in Portland (or where ever)"? I'll set it so it can be anonymous and not require signin and so on. I'll leave this hear for a day or two to see if it garners any results.

Just click on "comments" below and a new window will open up.



Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Notification and the Life Course

We've become so aware of our embeddedness in networks that it's easy to forget that you have to learn how to be a node. Competent execution of one's responsibilities as a part of social information networks is a learned skill. A lot of early childhood socialization is informational; kids need to learn what needs to be reported to whom. What kinds of things you tell everybody and what kinds of things you say only at home? Which things need to be reported to adults immediately and which not? They learn that it's not nice to tattle, never to cry wolf, always to tell the truth, etc. And such informational socialization is a life-long process.

Perhaps the network in which we all spend the greatest share of our social time is the family. It turns out that there's a neat evolution of notification expectations and practices across the life course. First we teach kids to notify us if they feel sick, see something dangerous, get approached by strangers, etc. Then they have to learn that some things are not disclosed to people outside the family, that it's not nice to tattle, and that they should never cry wolf. As our roles in the family change, it is a continuing challenge to "get notification right."

For several pre-adolescent years kids are pretty much informational open books. Parents are either in on or let in on much if not almost everything that happens in their lives.

Then, as the teenage years approach, parents have to ask and prod and they start receiving "none of your business" type responses. As kids get the use of the car and gain other access to spatial independence, parents become more and more dependent on what the child elects to notify them about. They have to invest more and more in notificational oversight: "call me when you get there," "tell me who you are with," "let us know when you are leaving." This is notificational socialization round three, training the kid in the notificational expectations that attach to their new status as semi-autonomous semi-adult. Rules and norms are called on to replace more direct information channels previously supplied by first-hand surveillance.

A big source of emotional conflict around notification at this stage is the growing contradiction of informational asymmetry experienced by the teenager. They know the parent can ask "where, when, with who, how long," and they know well that they have no hope of extracting similar information from the parent.

But then the kids go off to college and their entire life is suddenly out of view. We switch to phone calls and emails and spend out time exhorting them to call or write more often and to have more to say when they do.

And around this time, we see emerging an interesting conflict between parents as one forgets to mention right away, news received in a phone call or email. You know the response when in the company of friends one parent says "Our oldest just the other day said she was having an interesting time in her math class" and the other parent thinks "Hmmmm, that's news to me...." The classic notificational rebuke will follow: you should have told me that sooner!

Those same parents have parents of their own, of course, and will soon experience the notificational conflicts that go on between older adults and adult children. They get a phone call from mom describing a medical or financial emergency that occured a week or two before: "Ma! I can't believe you are just telling me this now!" It's quite possibly a vain attempt at late life socialization, but the adult children will work this angle just the same. The comeback is standard: "We didn't want to worry you."

The adult child is robbed of the ultimate informational comfort: no news is good news. They have to worry all the time and they say this makes them feel like they are dealing with a child. And it does, of course. But it's different too. Parents often withhold information from kids because they are too young to be told or because they don't need to worry about something. As older adults with adult children, there are vestiges of these sentiments – our adult problems are ours – and to yield to their adult children's "you should tell me right away" is to give up some of the relational adultness they have earned. And for the adult children to demand it is, in a way, an attempt, innocent as it may be, at replacing the adult-adult relationship by adopting the adult role and tilting their informational relationship with their adult parents toward notificational asymmetry.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick Followup : More notification in "Mad Men"

An earlier post (8 September) described the use of notificational deviance as a dramatic plot device using the television series Mad Men as an example.   The most recent episode provided another delightful example of the use of notification to communicate and structure social relationships.

Early in the episode "A Night to Remember" there is a great scene where Pete and Duck are leaving Don's office.   As the two are heading out the door, a quick conversation about an upcoming dinner/meeting occurs between Duck and Pete.  Pete is obviously out of the loop (and wasn't invited).  He lingers for a fraction of a second behind Duck and shoots Don a look.  Don's shoulder shrug and "oh well" facial expression do a marvelous job of putting Pete in his place.  He doesn't even deserve an explanation of what it is he has been left out of and he so feels it that he doesn't display his usual out-of-place brashness.

Notification and the Public Sphere

Working today on the outline for a chapter on "notification and the public sphere."  In previous chapters the focus was notification and the maintenance of relationships among individuals. In this chapter I look at the broader distribution of information in society and the institutions that give rise to it.

The raw material I am working with runs the gamut from sunshine and freedom of information laws, mandatory disclosure regulations, discovery in legal context, state mandated notification, truth and reconciliation commissions, emergency warning systems, diplomatic protocol, gag rules, and privacy standards. Generically, I'm thinking of these as "information institutions."

This is admittedly a big bucket of diverse phenomena; today's work was a first stab at grouping and categorizing and discovering underlying dimensions that organize these things as manifestations of basic informational forms.

Here are my preliminary categories.

Sunshine, Stickers, Labels, and Report Cards. Laws and rules that say that the state and private and public actors cannot keep (all) secrets. Some of these are things like sunshine laws that promote accountability or combat corruption, others are disclosure rules that address information asymmetry between producers and consumers or between service providers and the public. This category resonates with the "is more information always better" posts that have appeared here previously.

Structured Honesty: Social Organization of Informational Equality. Being able to say "I don't have to tell you" is an important manifestation of inequality with both material and symbolic consequences. In various forms, the capacity to maintain some control over the disposition of some information is widely recognized as a key component of autonomous personhood. This category includes institutions that collectively enforce (true) information sharing -- from legal rules of discovery to truth commissions. It is, I think, distinct from the previous and next categories, but I'm still working on a rigorous way to distinguish them.  The "democracy and the information order" posts that have appeared previously would fall into this category (6 August 2008, 20 September 2007,  22 May 2007, 11 March 2007)

The Social Organization of Omniscience (includes warning systems). These can be distinguished from the disclosure examples because in those cases one entity either has the information and just needs to be compelled to release it or has/controls access to the information and needs to be compelled to collect and release it. By contrast, this category includes cases where either the information is dispersed and we organize a means to detect and aggregate and channel it. Or, where a special channel is set aside to that one type of information (perhaps a rare one) can take precedence. Examples: ER doctors who must report abuse or abortion providers who must provide parental notification for minors, emergency warning systems (tornado.,hurricane, tsunami), airport announcements that recruit everyone as a lookout for unattended bags (see also post on children as spies).

Protocol. In diplomacy, for example, protocol strongly regulates who would speak with whom. As in computer communication protocols, these institutions allow us to tie systems together.

Socially Sanctioned Non-Telling. This is almost the opposite of the first category (leaving an interesting space in between) -- secrets that are socially organized. Gag rules and sealed agreements, trade secrets, intellectual property regimes, governments classification systems (top secret, etc.), official secrets acts, privacy standards.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Economy and Information : Does More Info Make the World a Better Place?

This week's serial superlatives in things economic -- each day the "events of recent days" were "the most stunning thing to happen since the thirties" -- has led to lots and lots of hand wringing and calls for new kinds or amounts of regulation. And a lot of what folks are saying has to do with information -- more of it, in public, is what we need!

This brings to mind two things I've recently read. One is a 2007 book by Fung, Graham, and Weil called Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency (Cambridge University Press). It is a report on an empirical study of 18 cases of what they call "targeted transparency" -- legislated requirements that corporations (or other private entities) disclose specific information so that the public can make informed choices about their products, services, etc. They looked at the history of disclosure as public policy, why it emerged when it did, whether it's likely to continue to expand, and whether, and under what conditions, it works. In a nutshell, they conclude that it works well in some cases, not at all in others. The process is always political and it works when the results of the political process produce a system that is "user oriented" and "sustainable." I'll post a full review of the book here in the near future.

The other piece I was reminded of was by Malcom Gladwell in a January 2007 New Yorker: "Open Secrets: Enron, intelligence, and the perils of too much information." In it Gladwell builds on, among others, the work of Yale law professor Jonathan Macey who, in a review article about the Enron debacle, argued that the problem was not information that Enron hid, but the fact that no one could put together the puzzle pieces represented by the information they disclosed.

I recommend both Fung et al. and the Gladwell piece as grist for your thought mill this week.

See also this old post on the "is more better" question.

Talking to Ourselves

This post is not my usual brand of sociology of information. It's true that the topics I'm including under that title DO veer off in the direction of media and journalism and related public discourse realms, but since there are already well established and well defined fields that study that stuff, I've felt there's no reason for the sociology of information to be intellectually imperialist in its aspirations.

But just the same....

My local radio station is fund-raising this week. During one of the pledge breaks the hosts were talking about a lefty show that had an episode on voter suppression (meaning republicans are trying to prevent folks from voting democratic). They bantered back and forth to the effect of "We know there was lots of voter suppression in the 2004 election and it's still going on, you know...." My politics being more or less the same as theirs, my main reaction was a simple "yup" between spoonfuls of cereal. The next thing they said was that there would be a local show about the presidential debate next week. Both sort of tripped over words trying to express something like "because we're different [from the national crowd] here in the (San Francisco) Bay Area."

First, I'm sure that if I played with my radio dial or sat down at my computer I could really fast find a right wing radio show that was all up in arms about "voter fraud" (meaning some people who shouldn't be allowed to vote voted democratic). So what? Seems so symptomatic of the state of our public discourse : preaching to the choir on both sides; demonization and fear mongering. "Our" side is probably right, but I just found myself wondering what we hope to accomplish with this kind of "journalism." Does it fan the flames of my indignation? Burn in more deeply my conviction? Or does it just make it less and less likely that we'll ever manage to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with us and less likely that either will budge if we did?

For the second thing, back to the radio hosts' comment about the Bay Area being different. Again, I suspect there are lots of radio hosts around the country saying more or less the same thing this morning. And each of them is comparing local sensibilities to an idealized version of some "outsider" them. We Texans are a might bit different from those New Yorkers! We Floridians are not like the rest of the south. We south Floridians are not like the rest of Florida. And on and on. If we (whoever we are) really want to win this election, you'd think one of the most important things would be to listen to people who are not like us, listen good, and learn how to talk with them too.

It is interesting that we could live in an "information age" and yet maybe have lost the ability to talk.

Perhaps of Interest

Diana C. Mutz Hearing the Other Side. Cambridge University Press

Monday, September 15, 2008

Information, People, Machines, and Systems

Last week United Airlines (or more properly its stockholders) had an unfortunate information experience. It turns out to be pretty delicious stuff from a sociology of information point of view. Apparently, a small newspaper in Florida linked to an old news story about UAL declaring bankruptcy (in December 2002). A google search by a staff member at a financial information website brings up the article (some sources say on a page with that day's date on top so that it was easily mistaken for new news as opposed to old news). The info goes on the newsletter site and they are picked up by Bloomberg, perhaps the most widely distributed financial news service. Services like Bloomberg serve up headlines that anyone can see with links to full stories available only to subscribers. Once the headline hit Bloomberg, traders around the world start dumping UAL stock and other news services apparently compounded the misinformation by repeating it.[see also FN1]

Now much of the post mortem inquiry into this event seems to suggest that the main culprit was automation (e.g. Katherine Thompson on The Editors' Weblog). One version of this is that what we saw was a tightly knit network of automated search agents and news consolidators run amok (I'm imaginging someone has already thought through the "small world" and "preferential network attachment" angles on this). Humans, this take suggests, serve a useful purpose as governors (in the mechanical sense rather than the state government sense) because they can have a "that sounds funny to me" reaction and double check something before passing it on.

So there's lots of grist here for my chapter on technology and the information order, but for the moment I'm stuck on what we learn here about our assumptions about humans as components of information networks. Of course, we all know examples of people who don't think before passing along what they have heard, but we recognize that we think of it as a basic norm of communication network membership: use common sense, don't be a hollow, mechanical repeater. It's a responsibility hinted at by many religions' prohibitions against gossip, idle talk, and so on, although these are often primarily about spreading harmful (true or false) personal information.

In addition to the above ideas, I'll file this under "the headline problem" -- how info on the net is easily passed around (or acted on) by folks who have not read past the headline and how news consolidators and interfaces that show abbreviated titles can exacerbate this.

FN1: On a completely different analytical trajectory, one might inquire as to whether there will be a tendency here for the fingers to point, and the investigative paths to lead, in the direction of the deepest pockets (probably google).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Notification and Disclosure

Sooner or later, the analysis of notification leads to a consideration of disclosure. The two terms blend into one another in dictionary and thesaurus but we can make a useful distinction (useful, that is, for sociology of information purposes).

To notify is to inform or make known to a particular notifyee (it can be a large number of people -- even "the public"). To disclose, though, is to release information without a target recipient. Again, the point here is not whether this distinction covers all the empirical usages of these words; rather, the point is to zero in on a useful distinction. For us, that distinction is whether the teller is telling because of a specific relational obligation to an identifiable other or whether the telling is more a revelation for all to see.

A further analysis of this will come up in a still to be written chapter on notification and the public sphere. I was motivated to think about it today, though, while reading an article in the paper about a new disclosure law ("Note to Civic-Minded - Prepare to Reveal Riches" by Alison Leigh Cowan) being discussed in New York by the city's Conflict of Interest Board. At issue is whether volunteer members of civic boards should be required to disclose financial interests and the like.

The case brings up a lot of interesting sociology of information issues. The whole thing falls under the "information order" category as it concerns the social regulation of who gets to know what. The arguments for and against the measure (and the articles (perhaps even more interestingly) which boards will be subject to the regulation and which ones not) will be fascinating. What does the public deserve to know? What do (wealthy) people get to hide? What do we make of the way engaging with "the system" changes one's informational environment (the same thing has come up recently in discussions about the private lives and backgrounds of politicians in connection with Governor Palin's nomination)? How do we think differently about legislated disclosure and media snooping?  How do privacy and a public "right to know" intersect?  Etc.

The article suggests that "Albany passed the law because of a sense that public authorities...were operating off the radar screen." We note in passing that it's interesting that information about members was seen as a way to improve oversight of what boards DO. Another source added "What they’re saying here is you got to fill out disclosure forms if you’re an alter ego for government." This resonates with something Gillian Hadfield and I have written about under the heading "democracy and the information order": a part of our experience of the generic equality we are promised in a democracy is the expectation that under certain circumstances you don't get to say to me "I don't have to tell you." The regulations ARE designed to ferret out actual material conflicts of interest, but to the degree that they "feel right" it would seem to be a manifestation of the principle that of those who are, or would be, public servants can be more powerful and wealthier than the average Joe but they don't get to say "I'm not telling you."

Somewhat predictably, this is exactly the sticking point. The city council is considering toning down the regulation so it requires only a short form that demands only limited information. The article quotes a former public board member who had experience filling out the current 32 page disclosure form:
"It takes a long time to complete and do a careful job, and it is a complete undressing," he said. "I can tell you," he said, referring to the slew of billionaires who sit on the Central Park board, "the members of that board would jump out of their skins if forced to file those forms."

I think this suggests something interesting about social stratification and the sociology of information. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sociology of Information Gaffes

Much has been made of VP candidate Joe Biden's capacity to put his fut in his mouth. In this morning's paper, reporter John Broder ("Hanging On to Biden’s Every Word") reviews the issue and highlights a few recent events. In one of them, Biden either did not know or forgot an important bit of information about someone:
In Columbia, Mo., this week, Mr. Biden urged a paraplegic state official to stand up to be recognized. “Chuck, stand up, let the people see you,” Mr. Biden shouted to State Senator Chuck Graham, before realizing, to his horror, that Mr. Graham uses a wheelchair.

“Oh, God love ya,” Mr. Biden said. “What am I talking about?”

How is this kind of gaffe is different from those which amount to inelegant diction or impolitic revelations? The "offense" here is certainly not anti-disability bigotry or insensitivity, and the sociologist of information should not get distracted by (either republican or disability-rights) activists who might want to make hay about the event. Rather, it's a failure to be aware of, or keep track of, a relevant piece of information about someone. As such, it is, before all else, relationally revealing : a basic norm of relationships is to keep track of relevant information about the other. When one utters the phrase "my friend," even if it is ritualized political speech, it triggers some informational expectations. When these aren't met, we find it jarring or even offensive (consider the simple case of getting a form letter that mis-addresses you as Mr. or Ms. -- it quickly becomes even junkier mail than it already was).

Normally, politicians can synthesize relationships such as "my friend..." because their handlers can remind them of information-you-ought-to-know-about-the-other as they make their way toward a handshake. Getting such things right may not mean anything in an objective sense, but in terms of the relational work it does, it can certainly be consequential.

The take-away is that relationships, even those created artificially for the purposes of the moment, always come with informational expectations and obligations.

The Theory of Notification

As you might know, I'm on sabbatical this year working on a book on the sociology of notification (alas, along with two other projects and a few projectlets). It's time to move on to the first-drafting (the second version since I start with a "zeroth" draft) of my "theory" chapters. Chapter four examines how notification varies as a behavior -- who we tell, how we tell, when we tell -- and how these are dependent on the information content and our understanding of the relational ecology in which we find ourselves. As a first approximation who, how, and when can be seen as dependent variables while content and relationships are independent variables. Notification norms link these together: when we acquire a particular bit of information they tell us whom to tell and how and when to do it given the relationships we think we are in (or, see next paragraph, want to be in).

That's the hyper-simplified version. The first complication is that, in fact, the process goes both ways: we can manipulate relationships and the meaning of the content based on our notification choices. We share inside information with close friends, but we also draw others close by sharing inside information.

I still haven't quite settled on what the "punch" of chapter 4 will be. In its current form, I think that what it does is demonstrate the many dimensions along which notification behavior can vary (and which matter in practice -- it's key that senders and receivers are not indifferent about them), thereby making the argument that the norms that direct the system are really accomplishing something pretty amazing. That's not as gripping as I'd like. I think what I want to do here is get the reader pretty jazzed up about how much relational work she is doing all the time.

The following chapter, working title "The Micro-sociology of Notification," is where I get all phenomenological and social psychological. Will it be of any interest at all to the general reader? Hard to say. The main framework here is the self-world axis; to have a self is to have a world and vice versa (I'm primarily channeling Alfred Schutz here). The challenge of being in the world with others is to keep our worlds aligned (I coin the not-as-mellifluous-as-I'd-like term syncosmize for this). We do this, in part, by selectively disseminating what we know (take) to be the case. The last chapter described how we do that. This one pushes a bit more and asks how the competent node accomplishes the task. In addition to relatively passive knowledge of the rules/norms of notification, she needs to keep track of who would want to know what, who already knows what, etc. Ultimately, this means maintaining a model of the other's world and of the local epistemological ecology. This chapter describes how we do this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Children as Spies

I'm working today on my chapter about how we are socialized into our roles in information networks. It's called "Learning to Be a Node." The section I'm working on is about the use of children as spies. Huh? What this refers to is how up to a certain age kids are informationally unsophisticated and are treated as such. They can go "back stage" (Goffman 1959) and no one even thinks about it. If they reach the age where they can observe and report on their observations before they learn what one does and does not talk about "out there," then outsiders can take advantage and use kids to peer inside the family unit.

The first example is the largely apocryphal case of Pavlik Trofimovich, a Russian boy who, in the 1930s, is reputed to have been killed by his family after he turned his father in for anti-communist behavior. The next examples are the case of the Romanian secret police apparently using children for similar purposes during that country's communist era and the attempts in the 80s and 90s by anti-drug zealots in the US to get kids to call 911 at the first sight of anything related to drugs in their own homes (that is, to turn their parents in to the police).

Those examples are all about how the state can use kids to pierce the information firewall that surrounds the family. The last example comes from a 1967 anthropology article in which John Hotchkiss describes how villagers in Chiapas, Mexico, employ their own kids as roving information gatherers to learn what's happening in other families. The kids are given free reign and adults act unguardedly around them so that their own parents can ask them, when they come back from errands or from visiting with friends, "what's going on over there? Is Sr. Gonzales still drinking?"

Of course, the kids are potential double agents. One of the reasons that adults are unguarded around them is because they can also pump the visiting child for information about her own home. Hotchkiss is primarily interested in the ways that the kids act as intermediaries that permit information to flow and for material transactions to occur without the adults losing face (cf. Goffman 1959). It serves my purposes, though, because it shows how, until we are socialized into the notification and information norms of each network, we are sources of potential "leaks" by spilling beans that we don't know are beans (and, correspondingly, the sources of blindspots by not passing along things that we ought to).

You might detect an undercurrent here that will connect this chapter to the one on notification in organizations: the whole question of how to build an effective intelligence network so as to avoid "stovepiping" and related problems that were said to be behind the intelligence failures that led up to 9/11.

Sources Mentioned

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books.

Hotchkiss, John C. 1967. "Children and Conduct in a Ladino Community of Chiapas, Mexico." American Anthropologist New Series, Vol. 69:711-718.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The CONSEQUENTIALIST View of Information

Most of what I'm writing about under the banner "sociology of information" focuses on the relational and symbolic value of information and information transition in distinction to its instrumental, consequential, or material value. For the latter, the "value" of information derives from the benefits one can acquire (or costs one can avoid) by having the information. Analytically, that's to distinguish what I'm doing from information economics -- my basic point is that there is a component of human information behavior that can't be reduced to material consequences without a loss of explanatory power.

An example of the instrumental value of information showed up in the paper today (NYT "A Mistaken News Report Hurts United"); apparently, a false news flash that United Airlines had filed again for bankruptcy sent it's stock price tumbling.

This is the instrumentalist or consequentialist side of information because the value comes in the form "if I had known it was false I would not have sold my stock" or "if I had known then I could have made a killing." We think of the import of the information here in terms of what we could have done differently had we known. Contrast this with the "Madmen" character Betty pointing out to her husband that she expected to be called about his accident whether or not she could do anything about it because that's the kind of information that spouses share with one another immediately.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Relational Notification Norms on "Mad Men"

I joked that I wanted a footnote while watching a recent episode ("The New Girl" season 2 episode 5) of the TV show "Mad Men." A scene between Don and Betty Draper was almost verbatim from the first page of the book I'm currently working on (working title Notification and the Information Order).

Don's just come home around dawn after having a car accident while carousing with a client's wife. Betty, his wife, has apparently been awake all night wondering where he was and that's her first question when he comes into the bedroom. "I was in an accident," he explains. Then there's a back and forth where she says "why didn't you call me?" and he says he did not want to worry/wake her and so on. She says, basically, "I'm your wife, you idiot -- when this sort of thing happens, you call, it doesn't matter what time it is." She then adds that it doesn't matter whether or not she could do anything about it, spouses call, period, the end. They follow this with him mentioning that the doctor told him he had high blood pressure and she gets bent out of shape all over again because he'd failed to tell her this earlier too.

In the book I use an almost identical scene to make the point that social relationships come with specific informational responsibilities and that these are constitutive of the relationship -- in other words, they are a part of how we know we are in a particular kind/level of relationship. This relational dimension of information exchange is largely independent of the instrumental value of information (as in, you should have told me so that I could have done something different and achieved a better outcome for me or us) and so introduces an object of study for a sociology of information that is distinct from the object of, say, the economics of information.

Notification issues popping up on "Mad Men" was not actually an unusual event. It turns out that mis-nofitication is an incredibly common dramatic and humorous device. I started keeping a list a few years back when an episode of "The West Wing" (titled "17 People") was all about how the characters squared their sense of their status in the White House inner circle and their relationships with one another and the president with the order and manner in which they found out about the president's illness. It soon became obvious that variations on this theme were so common as to not warrant an exhaustive cataloging.

These ideas were first introduced in my 2006 piece in Sociological Theory (24,3): ―"Getting the Word Out: Notes on the Social Organization of Notification."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Notification, Everywhere

The multiple strands of the Sarah Palin Chronicles* are littered with notification relevant tidbits. The McCain campaign insists that they knew all about the pregnancy and the ethics investigation and who knows what else when he made his selection. There's a practical issue here, of course, in the question of how careful the prospective VP was vetted and how careful the candidate was in making the selection. The relational dimensions of notification, though, come out too. McCain cannot be seen to be caught by surprise by the news because that means he was out of the loop -- secrets were kept from him, Palin, et al. talked with him and failed to mention something that he'd pretty obviously want to know.

What's interesting is how enthusiastically they are all saying "we knew it all ahead of time" because this DOES make them seem a little lacking in the judgment realm. Did they not think it would become a big distraction? Did they not think that it would put the poor kid in a harsh and nasty spotlight**? The obviousness of these downsides underlines the symbolic importance of being in the loop; they'd rather expose their judgment to question than to appear to have been blindsided.

Another notification dimension comes up in news reports as investigators try hard to determine when and how McCain found out about the daughter's pregnancy. Again, there is an instrumental, legal angle here (the classic "what did he know and when did he know it?"), but reporters are also trying to learn something about the campaign organization and the organization of the VP selection process. The handling of information, who is told what by whom when, and the patterns of secret keeping tell us a lot about an organization.

* For example: "Disclosures on Palin Raise Questions on Vetting Process" by Elisabeth Bumiller, "The Caucus: Palin Dominates Convention Talk" by Kate Phillips and Michael Falcone

**No doubt many will simply fault the press for being unscrupulous, but they should stop and think about how the conservative media would have been all over a similar turn of events had it concerned the Democrats?