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The Social Life of Information

John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid

Publisher: Harvard Business School, 2000 , 320 pages

ISBN: 0-87584-762-5


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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 skeptical. 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.

Derwing 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 riches possible use of technology in our work and everyday lives.

Table of Contents:

Toggle Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Tunneling Ahead
  1. Limits to Information
  2. Agents and Angels
  3. Home Alone
  4. Practice Makes Process
  5. Learning — in Theory and in Practice
  6. Innovating Organizations, Husbanding Knowledge
  7. Reading the Background
  8. Re-education
  • Afterword: Beyond Information


The Social Life of Information

by Roland Buresund last modified 2007-11-25 18:10

Rating: ********* (Outstanding)

A classical text.

The authors makes the case that technology isn't everything that we try to make it! And they succeed very well.

Admittedly, they are not the most funny authors around, but they manages to make their point and make it stick: humans are social animals, don't you forget it.

If you're into information systems or knowledge management or human resources or marketing, this is a book that you should have read, cover from cover. You may not agree with everything (and may even believe you knew everything beforehand), but you will never look at things in exactly the same light afterwards.

Highly recommended, even if it could have been a bit more entertaining.


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