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The Social Life of Information Hardcover – February, 2000
"The Industries of the Future"
Innovation expert Alec Ross explains what’s next for the world. Learn more.
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Finished? Any thoughts?
Okay, here's their basic thesis: most interesting information is socially situated, socially constructed, or otherwise impossible to tear from its human roots and package into transferrable units of "knowledge". This has major implications for the viability of certain kinds of information systems, educational programs, and the evolution of an "information society". Yet, most information workers and information products appear to be oblivious to these implications.
The proof? Ask yourself how you feel when you read a book review on-line. How do you feel when one review raves about the book and another review lambasts it? How do you feel when a reviewer gives you instructions that he expects you to follow, as I just gave? Do you follow them? What point is there to my asking "any thoughts?" when obviously you can't answer?
You don't know me. You can't trust me. I'm not a part of your social system. The only way I can participate in your learning at all is if you see in these words something that touches you... and if so, that is little more than a happy coincidence: neither of us could have planned it.
My point is that these reviews offer an illusion of a social system, but there's nothing much behind that illusion. It's cool write one, yes, in the way that scratching my name on a tree used to feel cool. But I find it very difficult to put these reviews to any practical use. I can't know who to trust. Isn't that how you feel, too? Consequently, these reviews are not capsules of knowledge pouring into your thirsty head.Read more ›
Advances in technology have, in many ways, been wonderful. Taken to an extreme however, the mindless application of technology for the sake of technology does not nothing but reduce productivity and raise tension levels in organizations. The Authors rightly point out that information is best when it is the servant, enhancing the abilities of people rather than forcing them into narrow constraints.
I would recommend this book highly to anyone who must deal with the increasing deluge of information in any organization. After all, any technology is best when it incorporates the humanity of its creators and users.
Since I work in the field of distance learning, I found Chapter 5, "Learning - in Theory and in Practice," Chapter 6, "Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge," Chapter 7 - "Reading the Background," and Chapter 8, "Re-education," particularly interesting and relevant. The authors identify three differences between information and knowledge: 1) knowledge usually entails a knower (the person who knows), 2) knowledge appears harder to detach (than information), and 3) knowledge requires assimilation. So these days, with all the talk about hot distance education trends and increasing on-line and other technology-mediated educational programming, we need to remain mindful of the need for technology-mediated programming to empower folks to learn, i.e., acquire and assimilate knowledge.
I also appreciated Brown and Duguid's insightful discussion regarding changes in higher education. It is true that an opportunity exists to provide greater access to higher education through the expanding use of information technologies. But, it is important to distinguish the current hype about distance learning from the reality of what really is currently available and accessible. The authors also draw distinctions between social distance and geographical distance and the dangers of polarization. I also agree that the goal should be access to higher education.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was excited to read this book by a colleague I know and had great respect for. Unfortunately, I'm now looking through my library of hundreds of business books to find one I... Read morePublished on September 16, 2011 by Doug Laney
This is, broadly speaking, the story of Silicon Valley in the late '90s: The utopian promises it failed to keep, and the smaller ones it did. Read morePublished on March 9, 2009 by Trevor Burnham
The authors present the inherent (and ignored) challenges with systems designed to enable:
- working from home ( remote working or single person companies or virtual offices... Read more
I come to this book eight years after it was first published, and with all the accolades and superb reviews that it has already accummulated, my primary focus here, apart from... Read morePublished on January 19, 2008 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
This book is, simply put, an epic letdown.
I'm intimately familiar with authors like Jared Diamond and Matt Ridley, with sociology texts, and with all manner of pop-tech... Read more
This work, published in 2000, describes the perils of ignoring social aspects of information flow. The book is dated in certain respects. Read morePublished on August 11, 2007 by bjcefola
I think personally, for me, I realized this was a pretty important book when I became rather bored with it in the middle. "I know all this," I was thinking to myself. Read morePublished on March 10, 2007 by James Benson
In "The Social Life of Information", the authors explore the informational revolution and its drumbeat of futuristic implications. Read morePublished on January 28, 2007 by James East
I read this book recently and I thought it was decent but not really great. I liked it because it was a counterpoint to what you always hear about modern technology and... Read morePublished on December 27, 2006 by Olga