The Social Life of Information

– This post might contain a extra amount of technical terms and concepts. Please, if I made it not clear or if you are interested in knowing more about (any of) them, leave a comment or send me a tweet. I’ll be glad to indicate some literature or write more about  it soon. –

I’ve been reading John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s The Social Life of Information from 2000. And what I can say about it is that it has been a relief to find someone who studied and translated so well the conflicts between technology and practical work. For some time I’ve been thinking about this because there is a paradox between some of the promises from utopian technologists and the empirical evidence of technology use.

The first have a wide range of terms and predictions. According to them, the world is growing out of its borders to dissolve them. Through the information revolution, we will reach the information age where everyone will be knowledge workers and live in electronic cottages connected to the global village.

However, these predictions fail to set in the use people give to technology. Moreover, they overlook the social aspects of our lives. What we do in work, at home, or at school is often done by interacting with peers, and learning from them informally. These informal, lateral relations are not captured by most technology or management studies, which are focused at processes inputs, outputs, and the best organization of stages. However, as Brown and Duguid point out in their book, it is through lateral relationships that people adapt to changes and find meaning in what they do. It is within peer talk that the tacit part of knowledge is shared.

This goes in hand with Lundvall’s proposition that tacit knowledge is vital, but very hard to transfer through technology. To make a long story short, the difficulties raise from the fact that tacit knowledge is embodied in its owner, directly connected to his/her backbone, as Lundvall says. It follows that the tacit dimension of knowledge is what allows people to see when to apply the explicit knowledge they have acquired through education and training.

So it is hardly anytime soon that we will see people dispersing through the woods into their electronic cottages. Even with the growth of social media and the new euphoria that the internet 2.0 is creating, technology still is inserted in networks and communities. And they shape its use to better suit their way of exchanging information and knowledge.


Rob KLING; Reading “All About” Computerization: How Genre Conventions Shape Nonfiction Analysis in Philip E. Agre and Douglas Schuler (2001). Reinventing Technology, Rediscovering Community.

John Seely BROWN and Paul DUGUID (2000). The Social Life of Information. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts-US.

Bengt-Åke LUNDVALL (2006). Knowledge Management in the Learning Economy, DRUID Working Papers 06-06, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.

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