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.
Exploring the paradigm shift in business brought about by innovations in communication technology, this collaboration from three consultant-authors provides a succinct metaphor for the shift in the information economy-from “push” to “pull”-but little else. Though they provide an effective survey of the effect of more interactive, ubiquitous and on-demand communication, it already feels dated; the essential messages that Hagel, Brown, and Davison derive-networking is key, you should pursue your passions, many traditional ways of doing business are over-are old news in the business self-help section. The examples they provide focus primarily on individually-driven collaborative efforts (wikis, online gaming) and make poor analogies for someone looking to revitalize a corporation or present a compelling case for change to colleagues or an intransigent CEO. Professionals who already know that the Internet isn’t just a phase will need more information than this book provides.