About the book
(with links to chapters
available on line)
About the authors
Published in 2000 and reissued in paperback with revisions in 2002,
The Social Life of Information attempts to clear some of
hype about the "information age," and to offer alternative ways of thinking about the future.
for the book's table of contents
and links to chapters available on line.
Below are extracts from reviews, both favorable and unfavorable,
that the book received. (Where possible, there are links to the original review.)
Reviews and reader reactions can also be found at the
Amazon.com web page for the book.
Bartolome Gamundi, vice president of manufacturing for Electro-Biology, Inc.
published his review under the title "El Rol Social de la Tecnologia" in El Nuevo Dia
in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "Este importante libro," he argues, "discute uno de los puntos mas importantes de esta epoca,"
containing a clear message for "las personas que integran la academia, los negocios, el gobierno y la sociadade."
Lisay O'Malley of the University of Limerick reviewed the book for the
Journal of Marketing [2002, 66(4): 124-127].
"The book," she argued, "carries a simple message:
Information does not and cannot exist in a vacuum
but is socially, spatially, and historcally situated."
O'Mally goes on to explain how issues in the book address fundamental
questions in marketing. Modern marketing, she argues,
"seems particularly susceptible to falling into the trap of believing
that data equal customer knowledge, in an unproblematic fashion."
Bill Hair, acting
dean of libraries at Baylor University, reviewed the book
for the Journal
of Religious and Theological Information. He argued that "The Social Life of Information may well
be the first important look at the effects of the new
technologies on our social lives in the new
Sandra Gleson, associate dean at The
Pennsylvania State University, reviewed The
Social Life for Planning for Higher
Education [2001, Summer, 38-39], where she is
The review concludes, "Although the
authors note that this is 'more a book of questions than
answers,' academic planners and change agents striving to
make informed decisions to guide their institutions will
find it helpful to understand the myths and realities
associated with the implementation of information
Sir John Daniel, formerly
vice-chancellor of Britain's Open University
and currently assistant director general for Education at UNESCO
reviewed the book for a new
Communication & Information [2001, 1(1): 115-7].
The article calls
the book "welcome, timely, and important" and
concludes, "I thoroughly recommend [this]
Tim Tripp of
University Health Network reviewed the book for Bibliotheca Medica
Canadiana [2001, 22(4): 168]. He begins,
"Finally! A book that takes an in-depth look at the
over-inflated balloon of hype around the information
revolution and bursts it." He concludes that should
librarians "add this book to [their]
collections," they should leave it where their
"Director, CIO or CEO will spot it."
In an article called
"Idee buone nelle reti sociali," Mario Benassi of the University of Trento
reviewed the book for the Italian economic newspaper
Il Sole 24 Ore.
Michael F. Winter, a
librarian at the University of California, Davis,
reviewed The Social Life
for C&RL: College and
Research Libraries Journal [2001, 62 (1) 2001].
noted that "the analysis abounds in useful and
memorable distinctions" and concluded that
"there is much to admire and learn from here"
though he detected "a kind of Victorian faith in
Charles A. Seavey of
the School of Information Resources and Library Science
at the University of Arizona, wrote a review for The Library
Quarterly [2001 71(1) pp 94-95]. The book is, he argues "spot on about the changing nature
Peter Watson-Boone, of
the University of Milwaukee library, reviewed the book in
an essay for
Portal: Libraries and the Academy [2001 1(2) pp 180-12]. He
concluded that "For its insights into the human
aspects of institutional information flow, this work
would be useful reading for higher education
administrators and researchers with an active involvement
not merely in information technology policy, but
information policy as a whole."
M. Paatricial Harmon
reviewed the book in
Harvard Educational Review [2001 71(1) pp 151-2]
concluding "Educators will find Brown and Duguid's
book an informed perspective on the wise use of
Richard Hall of the
University of Durham Business School (UK) reviewed the
book for Futures [2001, 33(2) pp 205-7],
judging it "one of the better offerings in the
current wave of publications on the subject of
information and knowledge management."
Barbara E. Nye, of
Ictus Consulting, reviewed the book for Information
Management Journal. She concluded that "This work is
a considerable undertaking, an each of the large and
complex topics could easily form the basis for an entire
Stuart Hannabus, of
the School of Information and Media,
Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, reviewed
the book for
The Journal of Documentation. Though he occasionally
praised its good ideas and witty identification of
paradoxes, like many academics, he seemed predominantly
irritated that the book was not sufficiently academic.
Global Business Network chose the book for its Book Club Selection. Reviewing the selection, Joel
Garreau, while admonishing the authors for some wobbly
cultural history, concludes that "when you've
finished underlining, dog-earing, and drawing exclamation
marks, you find that you've not simply read this book,
you've allowed it to change your mind."
Garreu also put the
book on Reason's"Presidential Reading List."
Other end-of-year (2000)
Business Books of 2000" Harvard Business Review
reviewed the book for The Standard (Europe)
in a piece called "Dealing in
Delusion,"and didn't like it. He felt irritated by
its "patronizing prescriptions." (This may
suggest a low threshold for irritation, as most people
suggested that the book failed to offer much by way of
Barnes & Noble's Ten "Best of 2000" Business Books
The Year's (ten) Best in Business"
"Recommends": books on Computers &
A "Book for Bosses" Financial
Second Place Winner in ForeWord Magazine's
business book of the year selection
Bruce Schatz, of the
Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the
University of Illinois, Urbana-Chapaign, reviewed the
book for Science.
In an article entitled
"Learning by Text or Context," he focused on it
as an "even handed" view of learning" and praised the "insightful analysis of
universities" and the
"thoughtful context to the emerging Net
Millennium," though he regretted that in ranging
widely, the authors did not take a more systematic
which reviews books for
academic libraries on behalf of the American
Library Association, concluded that the book is
"An excellent resource for academic audiences,
upper-division undergraduate and up. The authors'
accessible and entertaining writing style will also
appeal to business practitioners and general
Harvard Business Review(November-December 2000) chose the book as one of the
(10) best business books of 2000. (The only one in the 10
to come from Harvard Business School Press.) It describes
the book as "funny, graceful, subtle, and
insightful" and its argument as
Tom Zillner reviewed
the book for Information
and Technology Libraries [200 19(4) pp. 209-211], and
concluded that "All in all, The Social Life of
Information is a good read for all of us who work with
information. In particular, technologists will benefit
from the copious reminders that information without
context is often not very useful and is someverdana
worthless. This point is brought home over and over, and
reinforced with plenty of pointers to research."
Pang, a historian and Web developer
at the Stanford University Library (and designer of the
"Making the Macintosh" online exhibition),
reviewed the book for the Los Angeles Times. (The article appeared on the
cover of the book review on September 3, 2000.) In
arguing that The Social Life of
Information set the "age of
information" in social and historical context, the
review, called "The Human Touch,"
also set the book in its own social and historical
reviewed the book for the Ernst
Center for Business Innovation.
The review (
available as a pdf download) concluded, "The Social
Life of Information makes a real contribution to our
collective knowledge. ... We believe that war is too
important to be left to the generals. Similarly, this
book suggests, the information revolution is too
important to leave to the technologists. Communicating
the content is easy, while understanding the context is
harder. And there is a lot more social context out there
than any of us had realized.
The Financial Timesof
August 5th, 2000, listed the book first in its pick of
"Books for the bosses on the beach."
While Business Week of August 28th, 2000, listed it
as "Essential reading for modern managers".
The July/August 2000 issue of Lingua Franca
included The Social Life of Information in
its list of "Breakthrough Books"
in the area of Digital Technology and Higher Education.
for July/August 2000 called the book "a technological reality
check" that comes "not a Swatch beat too
Slashdot ("News for Nerds.
Stuff that Matters") gave the book
an enthusiastic endorsement in a
review posted to its site by
Cliff Lampe on June 27th. The Social Life of
Information, the review argues, is "one of
those rare books that informs without preaching,
advocates without subjecting, and entertains without
pandering. It is a smart attempt at stepping away from
the technological roller coaster (without getting out of
line) and seeing how the social systems enveloping the
technology batter it about. This is an important read for
any person involved in information technology to
read." In particular, he concludes, the book
"has a message for the Open Source movement."
Professor Judith Donath, director of MIT Media Lab's
research group reviewed the
book for the June-July 2000 issue of ID (International Design)
and clearly didn't like it.
Above all, she found the book's focus on the
technological challenge of the home office shallow
compared to her own concerns with the unbounded workday.
Her point is well taken (though in fact the book does discuss
the latter issue and notes its relation to the former).
Underlying the book's argument, however, is the belief that
futurists, academics, designers, and a few cutting-edge
design magazines tend to overlook or to trivialize the
profound demands that new technologies place on those who
work at home alone and are not "power users."
So, while ostensibly disagreeing with us, Professor
Donath's review perhaps serves usefully to make our
The Times Education Supplement
London reviewed the book favorably on June 9th, 2000, in a piece
called "The Perfect Riposte to All Those Pub
Bores." Merlin John called the book
"thoughtful, informed, and perspective, and it puts
technology where it ought to be - at the service of human
The Spring 2000 issue of Sloan Management Review (Vol 42 no 3)
carried a review by Allen Burton Jones called "
The Chronicle of Higher Education in a piece called " Authors Argue that 'Distance
Education' is an Oxymoron," reviewed the
book, focussing mostly on the chapter on education. As
the title caused something of a stir, it should perhaps be noted here that
the phrase was the book's, but the
reviewer's (or perhaps even the sub editor's).
Though she may only have read the review in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Carol Twigg of the Center for Academic
Transformation reviewed the book for On the Internet.
She took strong exception to the idea that distance education is a
an oxymoron and took several other bold swipes at ideas not found in the book itself.
Indeed, she could find nothing good to say. She also
objected when this page responded to her comments,
and, in a curious suspension of scholarly netiquette for a proponent of online education,
asked that a link provided to her review be taken down while simultaneously claiming
that her argument had been quoted out of context.
Though we cannot link to it, the review does provide as useful lens onto
the scholarly practice and antagonistic attitudes of certain
proponents of online education.
Fast Company listed the book
as its "
FC Recommends" title in its June issue,
concluding, it's "time for you to reckon with the
sensible arguments put forth in this book."
The May 26th, 2000, edition of the Times Literary Supplementcarried a
long review of the book by Luciano Floridi, a fellow of
Wolfson College, Oxford, and author of Philosophy and
Computing. Floridi described the book as "a
circumstantial and constructive reminder of the
importance of all the semantic and social constraints
that we need to respect in order to build a better
infosphere" and praised the book's "wealth of
the excellent digest of recent publications on
information technology put out by the library at the
University of California, Berkeley, published a brief review,
calling the book "a refreshing focus" and
concluding it was "an excellent read."
The Economist in its issue of
April 15th-21st, 2000, reviewed
the book enthusiastically in a piece called
"It isn't nigh." The
Social Life of Information, it argued, is not
only an "antidote to digital silliness," but
also"an important description of the complexities of
April 18th, 2000, carried a review called "Making Software Social"
and described the book as"thoughtful and
The Industry Standard
of April 14th, 2000, carried a review of the book,
concluding, "In a world of ready-made answers, it's
refreshing that authors like Brown and Duguid are instead
asking the important questions."
The Financial Times reviewed
it enthusiastically on March 27th, 2000, in an article called
"Technology versus the human touch." The book
offers, it concluded, "a common language for
discussing the impact of technology on our workplaces,
our communities, and our lives."
[This review has been posted to the Social Life of
the Amazon.co.uk website.]
The Asia Wall Street Journaland
the Wall Street Journal On Line reviewed the book
on March 27th, 2000. It called the book
"indispensable" as "a cool and lucid
examination of the way technology and people
interact" that shows how "forces unseen by
futurists will emerge from the social webs that people
The March/April issue of Worldlink,
the magazine of the World Economic Forum,
carried a review of the book, concluding "it is a delight to find a
book where the authors wear their wide-ranging knowledge
widely and elegantly."
The Italian online newsletter Apogeonline carried a review, "Internet no pu┌ cambiare il
CIO of March 1, 2000 has an extract from chapter 4 of
The Social Life of Information,
"Practice Makes Process," which analyzes
business process reengineering from the perspective of
social practice and knowledge management. In the same
issue, Michael Hammer, the foremost champion of
reengineering, responds, noting it
was "a pleasure to encounter John Seely Brown's and
Paul Duguid's intelligent analysis of reengineering and
book in an article called
"Maybe the Net doesn't change
everything." The review concludes that
the book's "quiet tone of reflection ... manages to
puncture much of the hype around where technology is
taking us." An abbreviated version
of this review appeared in The Guardian.
it in its March, 2000, issue under the title "
Insights into why one product
fades when another prevails."
Amazon.com's business books editor, Harry C.
Edwards, reviewed the book for Amazon.
He called it "a thoughtful and challenging read that
belongs on the bookshelf of anyone trying to invent or
make sense of the new world of information."
also wrote an editorial
review. It concludes "The
Social Life of Information is a diverting
addition to cyberculture's growing bookshelf and
recommended reading for all who cling to the coat tails
of the online world's fastest globe-trotting star."
Publishers' Weekly, in
called the book "an intellectual gem."