The perfect riposte to all of those pub bores

9th June 2000 at 01:00
THE SOCIAL LIFE OF INFORMATION. By John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. Published by Harvard Business School Press, Price: pound;16.99

Technology involves a minefield of jargon and trends. Two of the world's leading gurus finally put it in its place and Merlin John is impressed

Techie talk is like pub talk, and on some dreadful occasions it's both. "Got your DVD player yet? Terrific. As soon as they bring out the recorder I'll be dumping the VCR." "Heard that Web radio? Brilliant. You won't need a wireless in a couple of years. They'll be antiques." Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Cod pundits? Codswallop.

The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid is the perfect antidote for those people, and a choice quote from it could even silence them - for a couple of minutes - because they certainly will not have it on their bookshelves. It is thoughtful, informed and perceptive, and it puts technology where it ought to be - at the service of human processes and activities. They are healthily sceptical but never stray into anti-technology. How could they when they are virtually celebrity technologists in their own right?

John Seely Brown is the chief scientist at Xerox and is director of XeroxPARC the research centre thought to have inspired the two Steves - Jobs and Wozniac - to create computers with the first popular graphical interface for their nascent Apple Computer. Paul Duguid, from Wallasey, Merseyside, is a research specialist in the Graduate School of Education at Berkeley.

In their foreword they set the context thus: "The idea that information and individuals are inevitably and always part of rich social networks is central to this book". Their lucid and often witty analyses of developments never stray from that context. The observations have a resonance among those struggling to make sense of technological currents and wanting to resist technology itself setting agendas. A fine example is this encouragement: "The way forward is paradoxically to look not ahead, but to look around". It is so simple it ought to be common sense - sadly, it isn't. The way in which they debunk popular myths is refreshingly convincing.

For those seeking enlightenment about technology and people, this is the book. Get online and head to Amazon to order it. If you're technophobic, don't bother. Check out the novel section at your bookshop instead, because it won't be around for much longer... oooh er.

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