|Title:||The Social Life of Information|
|Authors:||John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid|
|Publisher:||Harvard Business Review Press|
|Number of pages:||336|
|Owner Name:||Bob Thompson|
To see the future we can build with information technology, we must look beyond mere information to the social context that creates and gives meaning to it. For years, pundits have predicted that information technology will obliterate the need for almost everything—from travel to supermarkets to business organizations to social life itself. Individual users, however, tend to be more sceptical. Beaten down by info-glut and exasperated by computer systems fraught with software crashes, viruses, and unintelligible error messages, they find it hard to get a fix on the true potential of the digital revolution. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid help us to see through frenzied visions of the future to the real forces for change in society. They argue that the gap between digerati hype and end-user gloom is largely due to the 'tunnel vision' that information-driven technologies breed. We've become so focused on where we think we ought to be—a place where technology empowers individuals and obliterates social organizations—that we often fail to see where we're really going and what's helping us get there. We need, they argue, to look beyond our obsession with information and individuals to include the critical social networks of which these are always a part. Drawing from rich learning experiences at Xerox PARC, from examples such as IBM, Chiat/Day Advertising, and California's 'Virtual University', and from historical, social, and cultural research, the authors sharply challenge the futurists' sweeping predictions.They explain how many of the tools, jobs, and organizations seemingly targeted for future extinction in fact provide useful social resources that people will fight to keep. Rather than aiming technological bullets at these 'relics', we should instead look for ways that the new world of bits can learn from and complement them. Arguing elegantly for the important role that human sociability plays, even—perhaps especially—in the world of bits, The Social Life of Information gives us an optimistic look beyond the simplicities of information and individuals. It shows how a better understanding of the contribution that communities, organizations, and institutions make to learning, working and innovating can lead to the richest possible use of technology in our work and everyday lives.
How many times has your PC crashed today? While Gordon Moore's now famous law projecting the doubling of computer power every 18 months has more than borne itself out, it's too bad that a similar trajectory projecting the reliability and usefulness of all that power didn't come to pass, as well. Advances in information technology are most often measured in the cool numbers of megahertz, throughput, and bandwidth--but, for many us, the experience of these advances may be better measured in hours of frustration.
The gap between the hype of the Information Age and its reality is often wide and deep, and it's into this gap that John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid plunge. Not that these guys are Luddites--far from it. Brown, the chief scientist at Xerox and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and Duguid, a historian and social theorist who also works with PARC, measure how information technology interacts and meshes with the social fabric. They write, "Technology design often takes aim at the surface of life. There it undoubtedly scores lots of worthwhile hits. But such successes can make designers blind to the difficulty of more serious challenges--primarily the resourcefulness that helps embed certain ways of doing things deep in our lives."
The authors cast their gaze on the many trends and ideas proffered by infoenthusiasts over the years, such as software agents, "still a long way from the predicted insertion into the woof and warp of ordinary life"; the electronic cottage that Alvin Toffler wrote about 20 years ago and has yet to be fully realized; and the rise of knowledge management and the challenges it faces trying to manage how people actually work and learn in the workplace. Their aim is not to pass judgment but to help remedy the tunnel vision that prevents technologists from seeing larger the social context that their ideas must ultimately inhabit. The Social Life of Information is a thoughtful and challenging read that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone trying to invent or make sense of the new world of information. --Harry C. Edwards
Books: The Social Life of Information