REVIEW: “The Social Life of Information”, John Seely Brown/Paul Duguid

Credit to Author: p1| Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2015 18:39:51 +0000

BKSCLFIN.RVW   20130124

“The Social Life of Information”, John Seely Brown/Paul Duguid, 2000,
0-87584-762-5, U$24.95
%A   John Seely Brown
%A   Paul Duguid
%C   60 Harvard Way, Boston MA   02163
%D   2000
%G   0-87584-762-5
%I   Harvard Business School Press
%O   U$25.95 617-495-6947 617-495-6700 617-495-6117 800-545-7685
%O   Audience n+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   320 p.
%T   “The Social Life of Information”

The introduction is vague, but basically notes that those who approach information in a strictly technical or business sense risk failure by ignoring the social context in which information resides.  Information does not exist of itself, but is produced and consumed by people, and thus is a construct and artifact of our social environment.

Chapter one talks about information overload.  Bots are discussed in chapter two: not the botnets (simple programs distributed over multiple computers) that everyone agrees should be eliminated, but the range of software agents that we use without thinking.  The authors note that the interactions between these bots are inherently impossible to control, and the material prophecies the recent problems in content blocking such as affected the Hugo awards and Michelle Obama.  Chapter three examines various social issues of home (or non-office) -based work.  The difference between our processes, and the way people actually work, are addressed in chapter four.  A number of interesting ideas are raised, but it is (ironically) difficult to see how to put these into practice (rather than discussion of what we should do).  Chapter five turns to learning and knowledge management.  The authors assert that learning is primarily social, and note negative effects on business if this aspect is ignored, but actually say very little about learning or information.  Chapter six explores innovation in respect to the Internet and a global economy, noting that information is difficult to control in that it is both “sticky” (resistant to change) and “leaky” (incidental disclosures of “confidential” information abound).  The “background” of information is noted in chapter seven, with the authors examining the resilience of paper in the face of a determined effort to create the “paperless” office.  They note studies showing that “printing” out email seemed to automatically give the data greater weight.  (I wonder if this might have changed in today’s marketplace: sadly, a rather large proportion of people now seem to hold that *anything* found on the Internet, regardless of how silly, must be true.)  Chapter eight, entitled “Re-education,” discusses the changing nature of universities.

There is an afterword, “Beyond Information,” touching on miscellaneous points, particularly to do with copyright.

Despite a certain lack of structure or purpose to some of the sections, the writing is both clear and entertaining.  It also has that ineffable quality of readability, meaning that the reading is enjoyable even when the authors are not delivering specifically interesting information, or making a vital point in an argument.  It’s a joy simply to consume the text.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2013   BKSCLFIN.RVW   20130124

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