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The Social Life of Information ( Brown-Duguid). The Outline.

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Presentation on theme: "The Social Life of Information ( Brown-Duguid). The Outline."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Social Life of Information ( Brown-Duguid)

2 The Outline

3 Ch. 1: the limits of infopunditry Ch. 2: the challenges of software agents Ch. 3-5: the social character of work and learning Ch. 6: resources for innovation Ch. 7: unnoticed aspects of the document and their implications for design more generally Ch. 8: the future of institutions, in particular the university

4 1. Limits to Information the limits of infopunditry

5 Limits to Information the argument: Difficulty of making decisions in conditions of limited or imperfect information. Chronic information shortages threatened work, education, research, innovation, and economic decision making (at the level of government policy, business strategy, everyday routines) What was apparently needed was more information.

6 Limits to Information the answer (of infopundits /infoenthusiasts) is infocentric : Cheer the disaggregation of knowledge into data (new word coined to describe the process: datafication) Exult in the volume of information that technology makes available,exult in the processing power rather than content and context

7 Limits to Information and therefore: Neglecting the forms in which information reflected in bits comes to us (as stories, documents, diagrams, pictures, or narratives, as knowledge and meaning and in communities, organizations, and institutions) Neglecting the social life of information objects, and the social and institutional contexts in which information objects circulate

8 Limits to Information Moore’s* Law solutions: The more information, the more problem- solving power. Infoenthusiasts insist that information technology will see the end of documents, break narratives into hypertext and reduce knowledge to data, that institutions are relics of a discredited old regime. *Gordon Moore, founder of the chip maker Intel: ”The computer power Available on a chip would approximately double every eighteen months.”

9 Limits to Information Moore’s Law Solutions & the endism syndrome: New technology is predicted to bring about the end of the press, television and mass media the end of brokers and other intermediaries the end of firms, bureaucracies, and similar organizations the end of universities the end of politics the end of government the end of cities and regions the end of the nation-state

10 Limits to Information 6-D Vision relies on the infocentric view: Demassification Decentralization Denaturalization Despatialization Disintermediation Disaggregation

11 Limits to Information 6-D Vision : Embodies the ideal of new technology in the service of new economy in an infomated Paradise. Smaller organizations, less management, less centralization, more individual freedom, more autonomy, better organization will emerge from information’s abundance and the power of the 6 D-s.

12 Limits to Information 6-D Vision : Decentralization: local decision-making (local knowledge based on practice) instead of centralized decision making; more egalitarian work environment. Reality: FedEx, Wal-Mart (centralized decision making) Disintermediation: (in firms) doing away with intermediaries because information-processing equipment might replace them; will result in flatter organizations; doing away with transaction costs. Reality: organizations are becoming involved in more services; firms are stronger rather than weaker

13 Limits to Information 6-D Vision : Demassification & Disaggregation: information economy operates in small agile firms with big ideas and little money rather than large networks (aggregated, massified forms); demassification of production and niche markets. Reality: AOL, Microsoft, mergers, mass customization, accumulation of power Despatialization: transnational firms; distance education Denaturalization: it will be possible to work anywhere

14 2. Agents and Angels the challenges of software agents

15 Agents and Angels Belief in AI: Information technologies are not only capable of transmitting and storing information, but of producing information independent of human intervention. Information’s power to breed on itself. It pushes aside humanity. Sherlock, Jeeves, Bob (personalization) infobots, knobots, shopbots, chatterbots,

16 Agents and Angels Agents (bots) and Humans: Bots are seen as personal assistants involved in accomplishing tasks but how trustworthy are they? Information brokering (Mac’s Sherlock): high recall but low relevance Product brokering (bots at Amazon.com) alert to new products according to profile: Is this the recommendation really wanted? Merchant brokering (bots roaming the web to get a ‘Best buy’ option). Is this really the lowest price?

17 Agents and Angels Agents (bots) and Humans: Problems: no space for human negotiation; no space for planning, coordinating, decision making. Implications for design: In future, likely to involve the increasing introduction of moral issues into the now largely instrumental. Moral and social-institutional questions need to be introduced in the design of bots that imitate or replicate human actions.

18 3. Home Alone 4. Practice Makes Process 5. Learning: In Theory and in Practice the social character of work and learning

19 Home Alone New technology will change the nature of office work (infocentric / idealized view of work and information): Delocalization phenomenon ‘Electronic cottage’ model of work (Toffler) ‘Hot desking’: abandoning fixed desks and providing laptops, cell phones, and Internet connections so employees can work from where they choose

20 Home Alone Blind spots in this model of work: overlooking the social aspects of work and frailty of electronic systems no access to collective knowledge or organizational support (office help systems) in solving problems ignores diverse sorts of knowledge latent in systems that distribute work Cases: Chiat/Day experiment (decline in productivity), Xerox photocopier repair technicians strategies (increase in productivity)

21 Practice Makes Process Practice vs. Process: Management resorted to business process reengineering (1980s) to optimize investment and production, focusing on how to increase efficiency of the process. Numerous studies of workplace practice, the internal life of process, the struggles over meaning in different communities of practice in organizations, not only in the ‘thinking’ parts of organizations. Case: Etienne Wenger’s study of the process of claims processing

22 Practice Makes Process Practice vs. Process: Resources for understanding organizations (from outside: process-based procedures, forms, etc.; from inside: accounts of why things are done) Business process engineering failed because refused to understand and discouraged lateral links that people pursue to help make meaning while focusing on efficiency (process-centered perspective) Tension bw the practice-based struggle for locally coherent meaning and the process-focused need for uniform organizational information.

23 Practice Makes Process Practice vs. Process: Case: Julian Orr’s study of Xerox ‘reps’ represents the contrasting perspectives of process and practice at work. Collaboration (work groups as model of work), narration (story-telling / war stories allowed ‘reps’ to circulate information and create shared interpretations), improvisation in problem-solving (practice-centered perspective)

24 Practice Makes Process If process driven, danger for organization to be cut off from change. If practice driven, organization may develop too many communities of practice without uniformity. From business process engineering to knowledge management.

25 Learning: In Theory and in Practice Knowledge and learning is distinct from information* 1. Who knows that? vs. Where is that information? Knowledge entails a knower Information is viewed as independent and self- sufficient 2. Knowledge is harder to detach than information Information is treated as self-contained substance 3. Knowledge can be hard to give and receive (it needs to be digested rather than held/contained) *different from ‘information’ in scholarly terminology: Shannon & Weaver’s ‘information theory’ considers information to be independent of meaning

26 Learning: In Theory and in Practice Implications for organizations: Importance of people as creators and carriers of knowledge: organizations need to realize that knowledge lies less in databases than its people Management of knowledge is difficult but firms need to understand ‘best practices’ and spread the practice. Understand groups of practitioners and facilitate apprenticeship: learning from ‘know that’ to ‘know how,’ learning in practice, ‘learning to be’

27 Learning: In Theory and in Practice Learning needs to be understood in relation to the development of human identity. In learning to be, in becoming a member of a community of practice, an individual is developing social identity. Support work patterns of face-to-face communities and the process of their communication, coordination.

28 6. Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge resources for innovation

29 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge 1990s and the constantly changing conditions created pressure for firms to innovate. What advances invention and promotes innovation? (Creating ideas, and turning these ideas into new products and practices.) Firms are ‘knowledge generators,’ ‘innovative systems.’ Problem for organizations: how to deploy knowledge, how to move knowledge that is created in the organization; how to retain and hold on to knowledge.

30 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge Leaky vs. sticky knowledge Divisions within organization (communities of practice) make knowledge sticky Networks of practice make knowledge leaky (i.e. shared identity makes people share knowledge as the same community/network of practice not necessarily within organizational context) Case: Xerox PARC and Xerox Corporation (Steve Jobs)

31 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge How to recognize that networks of practice will share knowledge and be most effective in innovation and use this to advantage. Solution: clustered ecologies of knowledge (Silicon Valley vs. Route 128) Debunking the myths of the death of distance (delocalization) and the death of the firm (demaggregation); information ecology does not disperse these clusters

32 7. Reading the Background unnoticed aspects of the document and their implications for design more generally

33 Reading the Background Infoenthusiasts heralded the end of the paper document: Counter-example: documenting the outbreaks of cholera in the 18th century (letters sprinkled with ‘vinegar’ convey more than information) Documents are considered as mere carriers of information yet they show social and cultural properties; the use of paper in digital offices has increased (33% increase in overall consumption in the U.S. and even more in office use); the web uses the language of the document (pages, bookmarks, indexes and tables)

34 Reading the Background Social properties of documents / document culture: Documents reflect institutional processes which are easier to detect in paper than in other media (tied to material side of document) Embody the institutional authority of the publisher Question of (personal) warrants difficult on the Net but there are ways of triangulating what comes over the Internet (The Well example, people would call, meet)

35 Reading the Background Document communities / document cultures: Documents enable social groups to form, develop, and maintain a sense of shared identity

36 Reading the Background Development of modern scientific communities (British Royal Society: erudite letters, news-letters, Philosophical Transactions from 1665) ‘net communities extend a long tradition of communities formed around documents ‘social worlds’ - communities depending on constant circuit of communication (Anselm Strauss) ‘imagined communities’ (Benedict Anderson) ‘textual communities’ in the Middle Ages(Brian Stock)

37 8. Re-Education the future of institutions, in particular the university

38 Re-education Social aspects of learning and the move of universities to ‘distance education’ mode of delivery fuelled by the myth of information as detached commodity to be delivered ‘Learning to be’ rather than ‘learning what’ through the process of enculturation, for students at the graduate level to be able to engage with communities of practice and of concepts; to become part of particular communities; to learn through the process of constructing meaning in groups


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