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The Social Life of Information

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,062 ratings  ·  52 reviews
For years pundits have predicted that information technology will obliterate everything, from supermarkets to business organizations to social life itself, but beaten down by info-glut, exasperated by computer crashes, and daunted by the dot com crash, individual users find it hard to get a fix on the true potential of the digital revolution. John Seely Brown and Paul Dugu ...more
Paperback, 330 pages
Published March 1st 2002 by Harvard Business Review Press (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  1,062 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is easily the most influential i read during library school. duguid and brown explore the many ways in which people use and share information, as well as the necessity of having a social aspect to information architecture. it changed the way i think about presenting information and "information overload." don't leave library school without it. ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Dated. Unless you're a historian of the evolution of the internet and digital technologies and want to hear in great detail what people in 2000 thought about the future of the internet, this book serves little purpose a decade later. Most of the authors' predictions are laughable by 21st century standards, and they tend to jump from one subject to another as though they have info ADHD. It obscures and cheapens any argument they're trying to make. While certain points would have been very interes ...more
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Remember those predictions about the paperless office? Or the electronic cottage, where workers become telecommuters and never have to change out of their pajamas? And what about those claims by Internet enthusiasts who predicted the end of the "old economy"?

Why is it that organizational models for running a business keep going in and out of fashion? What was wrong with total quality management? Process reengineering? Flattened organizational structures? Computer scientist John Seely Brown and s
Review originally posted here: http://marklindner.info/blog/2011/01/...

This is the 8th book for my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

Short version: Librarians, and others in any “information industry,” should read it and ponder its critiques of “information fetishism.”

I bought this book back in May 2005 and finally got around to reading it. I am following it up with Nardi and O’Day’s Information Ecologies which I bought in May 2006. Where this book focuses on the binary rhetoric of “information,” an
A seminal text regarding information science and the nature, dynamics, and cultural implications of information-based innovations. Brown and Duguid staked out a position on innovation that counters the so-called inevitabilism of the likes of Peter Diamandis (X Prize originator), Ray Kurzweil, and other Silicon Valley transhumanists and singulatarians. Moore's law, the ongoing exponential doubling of computing capacity per computing device, will not by itself yield anything but more computing cap ...more
Jan 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The ends of information, after all, are human ends. The logic of information must ultimately be the logic of humanity. For all information's independence and extent, it is people, in their communities, organizations, and institutions, who ultimately decide what it all means and why it matters." (18)

"[W]e tend to think of knowledge less like an assembly of discrete parts and more like a watercolor painting. As each new color is added, it blends with the others to produce the final effect, in whi
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2014
Not being a fan of the trite truisms and lazy predictions of most business information books, my expectations were not high for this book, its reputation notwithstanding. However, I was genuinely impressed with its quiet scepticism and insightful analysis into how information really works in organisations. The authors demonstrate how so many 'endist' predictions miss how people adapt to change and why technologies are not always adopted as planned. The chapter on higher education was also intere ...more
Jan 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Reminding me very strongly of the reading I did in college for Sociology and Anthropology classes, with a focus on enterprise use cases.

I find it strange to read, in 2010, a book written in 2000 about the effect of the Internet on human behavior with information. I can see places where the authors were quite prescient, and areas where they got it wrong - in particular, their prediction that newspapers will continue to be relevant and successful. I think in that case it's a matter of incomplete
Jim Kisela
Nov 16, 2017 rated it liked it
This book explains some of the limits of information technology in the context of what was predicted in the 1990's about information technology's future impact on our society. Much of what was predicted didn't occur as predicted or didn't occur at all. This book's predecessor version in 2000 laid out an analysis of why things were working out differently, and this 2015 update uses of the original version as a foundation for commenting on what did happen, or what didn't happen.

The format is a lit
John Ronald
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this audiobook, but I'm a bit unclear why it exists in the form that it does. The audiobook was issued 2017, but the text itself came out in 2000 (that's 17 years ago!). The sociological insights are still valid and useful, but the actual examples are painfully out of date. I am greatly surprised an audiobook of this type was published. What I mean is, I'm surprised there wasn't a revised edition of the printed text done first, in anticipation of an audiobook release, bringing the exam ...more
Alexander Smith
This is a book that, in it's own way, is unique and has lots of things to say. Largely this is based around the experiences of working around Xerox in Palo Alto, and fits into a genre of book that "tells experiences of people close to the action." However, it was rather conservative on the details, it still offers life for institutional economic thinking, new management theories, and new management practices that would eventually become ubiquitous to the upper middle class.

But that's it. Once th
Caolan McMahon
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Explores how an information-centric view of the world blinds us to the likely avenues technology will advance.

Makes a case for the importance of peer groups and institutions, of how communities affect learning, and how practice and process interact, when understanding the likely impact of technology.
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting for managers, consultants and other about what not to miss about information, processes, learning etc.
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A superficial book about the topic of information...I didn't get much knowledge out of the book! ...more
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was ok
I perhaps read it at a wrong time, but to me this book is trying to push unfounded information down the readers throat.
Beth G.
This book offers a counterargument to the claim that more information (and more Information Technology) will magically make life easier. It is not an argument against technology, but it is a call for more realistic expectations when it comes to things like telecommuting, the "paperless office", and the virtual university.
The authors' engaging tone helps to overcome the dryness of some of the material. As someone who has spent a good deal of time in online communities, however, I felt that the bo
May 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Dated and not very deep. Despite my sympathy with most Luddite causes, this one exudes a dustiness that's too much even for me. Everything's moving too fast! Faxes are still useful, darnnit!

The main point of the book is we've forgotten that people and institutions are intertwined with technology. Really? Did anyone ever doubt that? Skimming the prestigious, all-male blurbs on the covers, I couldn't help wondering if the authors would have felt the need to write an entire book to make such an obv
Aug 16, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, sociology
I read this after seeing a version of it on the Web, appropriately enough. The authors, research scientists at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, explore how human beings actually incorporate and share information, and why the technological enthusiasm for things like virtual offices and a paperless society may not have panned out. One of the more interesting aspects, as I recall, was their discussion of how they created a shared knowledge network among Xerox copier repairmen that reduced their i ...more
Ben Kraal
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is essentially a 250 page argument that the idea "that information and its technologies can unproblematically replace the nuanced relations between people" (preface, p.xvi) is wrong.

Obviously we believe this is wrong but everyone who wants to monetise your "friend" relationships thinks otherwise.

It's also, if you read between the lines a bit, a quite remarkable book of design theory that looks at how small-scale cultural changes happen, or don't happen.

I've blogged a bit more about thi
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
WOW. This book is amazing. Filled with stories and observation about the "Invisible Work" that surrounds information technology and is difficult to frame and articulate. This is a MUST READ for IT folk and engineers. While some of the anecdotes are a bit dated (MAC OS's Sherlock is long dead) the point they are trying to make is ever relevant. Don't dismiss the "old ways" before trying to understand how it was they became "ways." This is a vital starting point for learning about how to "see" the ...more
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Though many of the examples and some arguments in this book seem out dated now, the sociohistorical approach the authors employed to examine and criticized early utopian predications about an information society remains to be highly inspirational and thought-provoking. The authors demonstrated how looking at the present, and maybe also the future, through the lens of the past could not only be fruitful but also awakening. This is a book about the history of the human society and information tech ...more
Very interesting look at the importance of taking societal perceptions and views into consideration when introducing technological advances. Technology alone cannot overpower the comfort of habit (e.g. predictions of "paperless offices" have been foretold to the rooftops for decades now, where I don't believe it will ever happen). Just because we can doesn't mean it will happen (or that we should). ...more
Feb 21, 2009 rated it liked it
This is an interesting view of information technology and the limits of a purely techie view. It emphasizes that information is not all worth considering, and shows how the social environment in which information is generated, transmitted, and used determines the effectiveness of new technologies much more than the technology itself.

Note that this is somewhat dated (2000, 2002) - Google isn't even mentioned in the index.
Julian Haigh
Jun 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Written back in 2000, it nonetheless provides a dampening to the technophile material I've been reading recently. Arguing the important place of the social in our acquiring and using information it emphasizes the importance (and difference) of knowledge compared to information. Contextual consideration and the importance of updating our ways of learning for us to keep pace with technology, as well as for anchoring our expectations of technology in the social context of knowledge. ...more
Nov 14, 2016 added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Honestly, having done zero research on the book, I just clicked "read" based on the title that so warmly allured me into wanting to read it. Although, after the preface I decided not to give the entire book a go because it was already dated by the time it got published, or at least the sources were outdated. And even though it could serve an amazing purpose of verification and "we told you so", I would rather not put my time into this book. ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early January.

In its new 2017 edition, this book is written in declarative, descriptive stats, as well as scientific-minded examples and hypotheticals. However, the style is too much like a specialized journal article, since the concepts aren't unpacked completely enough for a layman to understand.
May 28, 2008 rated it it was ok

I read mostly for the section on distance learning. JSB thinks that most learning happens outside the classroom which isn't covered by the distance learning crowd. I think that is no longer true. At least from the programs I have seen. one thing that the distance learning approaches and this book don't stress enough is the network. networking is a key aspect of higher education.
Aug 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Ultimately a useful book but poorly structured and even more poorly presented. A work of will is required not to drop this book in the middle of almost every page as it stutters and backfires like a poorly maintained Model T. Despite this, there are gems of perception and analysis embedded that are worth the read but make sure you capture them well so that this self-abuse need only be done once.
John Stepper
Jan 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
A classic Harvard Business book: full of notes and references and classifications that just don't add up to very much. It reads like a very thorough research paper with little in the way of insight or original ideas. ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Mildly interesting, but very dated look at the glut of information. Published in 2000, it doesn't anticipate the rise of social media, so it's hard to find it relevant for a look at today's information. ...more
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I'm a visiting scholar at USC and the independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

In a previous life, I was the Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). I was deeply involved in the management of radical innovation and in the formation of corporate strategy and strategic positioning of Xerox as The Document Company.

Today, I'm Ch

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