Notes on The Social Life of Inforamation


quotes and ideas pulled from reading the social life of information by john seely brown and paul duguid.

Excerpt: "The Internet era glorifies putting extraordinary amounts of information at a single person's fingertips. But we don't learn that way. We learn best through community, when we get information in context. Would-be entrepreneurs are consequently willing to pay up to live in Silicon Valley because that's where they can meet others who understand the art of the startup. It is high time, Brown declares, that all that fuzzy stuff, such as people and context, gets woven into technology from the start." Review in Forbes. 2/22/00

a major current is that the world is not binary, things exist (and persist) for a reason, and you can't separate content from its container without losing something in the process. "generations of videoconferencing are still far from capturing the essence of a firm handshake or a straight look in the eye."

in 1938, the New York Times predicted that typewriters would make the pencil obsolete.

the "six D's" are the refuge of simplistic infocentric futurists: demassification, decentralization, denationalization, despacialization, disintermediation, and disaggregation.

"friction-free" may not equal efficiency in the marketplace. it might even disable the invisible hand.

"Judgment and discretion are not features of software. They are products of human socialization and experience."

"Anyone who has had to call a help line with a problem about the way an operating system from one vendor and a program from another are working together-or failing to work-knows how hard it is to get anyone to take responsibility for software interaction."

"Computer scientists have a tendency to count "1, 2, 3, one million,…," as if scale were insignificant once the first steps were taken."

"The more cavalier futurists sometimes appear to work with a magical brand of computer not available to the rest of us. It's hard to believe that if they had to deal with the inexplicable crashed, data corruption, incompatibilities, buggy downloads, terrifying error messages, and power outages that are standard fare for most, they could remain quite so confident about the ease of hot desking and home working."

"The desire to show that with a computer one person can do everything may look not forward, but back to the stage in social evolution before anyone noticed the advantages of the division of labor."

(concerning Xerox repair reps) "…it is not shared stories or shared information so much as shared interpretation that binds people together."

Wenger - "Learning…is not simply a matter of acquiring information; it requires developing the disposition, demeanor, and outlook of the practitioners." "Learning to be requires more than just information. It requires the ability to engage in the practice in question." "Through practice we learn to be."

Thomas Jefferson: "A man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them."

Davenport and Prusak: "Firms need to shift their attention from documents to discussion."

"Different technologies are not all simply rivals. They may offer complementary or contrasting capabilities. The telephone, after all, did not annihilate the letter or the memo."

Context shapes content.

Alternatives (to universities) are more vapor than virtual.

The "envisioned change will not happen or will not be fruitful until people look beyond the simplicities of information and individuals to the complexities of learning, knowledge, judgment, communities, organizations, and institutions. That way, it seems more likely that change will reorganize the higher education, rather than simply disorganizing it."

"Coming away with a degree is much better than wearing a T-shirt saying 'college of the streets' or 'university of hard knocks.'"

"Knowledge doesn't market very easily. If they can evaluate it, they probably don't need it. If they need it, they probably can't evaluate it." The university, then, represents learning to individuals and knowledgeable individuals to society.

"The ability of the degree to shelter these activities from close scrutiny, immediate justification, and micromanagement helps provide society with more diverse and versatile candidates than it knows to ask for. If every detail of a student's learning were held to public account, a lot of valuable experimentation and improvisation would probably disappear. … The degree's misrepresentation thus puts slack in a system that might otherwise be too taut. If the degree or the degree-granting institutions lose trust or if the degree as a package disappears, the whole package will be opened up to 'line-item veto'."

Motivation: Those who possess all the information of their peers but lack the social experience of school are not valued as highly.

online and asynchronous interaction allows students who are reluctant to speak in face-to-face classes have their say…

digital technologies are adept at maintaining communities already formed. they are less good at making them. on the conventional campus, online activities complement the off-line. they do not replace them.

"separating context from text"

constrains that are also resources…may include social groups, organizations, and institutions.

"To play with boundaries-of firms, networks, communities, regions, and institutions-as innovation increasingly seems to demand, requires first acknowledging them"

Putting learners in contact with "the best in the field" has definite value. Peers turn out to be, however, an equally important resource.

An early attempt at distance teaching by video revealed this quite unexpectedly. Jim Gibbons, former dean of engineering at Stanford, taught an engineering class to Stanford studnets and engineers from Hewlett-Packard. When it became impractical for the engineers to attend, Gibbons started recording the class and sending the video to the engineers. The engineers would watch these tapes as a group. At regular intervals they would stop the tape and discuss what Gibbons and the class were talking about, coming to some sort of collective understanding before going on.

To Gibbons's surprise, the engineers, though they had lower academic credentials coming into the course, consistently outperformed the classroom students when tested on course material. This finding has proved remarkably robust, and other courses using this method have had similar comparative success.

...the method requires viewers to work as a group and one person from that group to afct as tutor, helping the group to help itself. Productive learning may indeed rely havily on face-to-=face learning, but the faces involved are not just those of master and apprentice. They include fellow apprentices.

They become "a community of interpretation" wprking toward a shared understanding of the matter under discussion.



© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California