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Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart [Paperback]

Bonnie A Nardi
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

4 April 2000
The common rhetoric about technology falls into two extreme categories: uncritical acceptance or blanket rejection. Claiming a middle ground, Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O'Day call for responsible, informed engagement with technology in local settings, which they call information ecologies.An information ecology is a system of people, practices, technologies, and values in a local environment. Nardi and O'Day encourage the reader to become more aware of the ways people and technology are interrelated. They draw on their empirical research in offices, libraries, schools, and hospitals to show how people can engage their own values and commitments while using technology.

Product details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; Reprint edition (4 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262640422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262640428
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 15 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,275,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"[A] new and refreshing perspective on our technologically dependent society... Information Ecologies is an antidote to our current infection: our unquestioning acceptance of, and dependence upon, technology. Nardi and O'Day demonstrate how technology can have a more humane face when handled properly and integrated into a social environment where the human factor isn't ignored." David Howell, Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Bonnie Nardi is Professor in the Department of Informatics in the School of Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Fritz Lang's classic film Metropolis was released in Berlin in January 1927. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
II am taking a PhD course in E-Health and Methodology in Sweden. This book was assigned as a reference for our methodology course. In reading the book I am a disappointed that the writing is one dimensional...from a feminist point of view. Several of the "male" expert views where systematically refuted by "female champions". I believe the four pages poking at Bill Gate's view on the Internet were out of context.
The point to my review is to share my viewpoint on these two women's attempt to develop a framework on how technology should be developed and implemented from a non-technical aspect. As mentioned in an earlier review at Amazon.co.uk there was a bit of "stuffing" the pages with needless or trivial information that could have been summarized with a few pages.
Ch 1 (pp.3-11) history of the film Metropolis (filmed 1926) and its significance today's world.
Ch 2 (pp.13-24) Framing conversation about Technology.... literature review of current thought.
"This book is a personal response to the prospect of increasing technological change." (p.14).
Ch 3 (pp.25-47) Use of metaphor: reasoning, use, and purpose- Ecology
Introduces the reader to technique (no English equivalent?) p, 34.
Ch 4 (pp.49-58) explains the role of Information Ecologies.
Ch 5 (pp.59-64) SHORT description on values and technology (ethics?)
Ch 6 (pp.75-76) How Information Ecologies evolve.
Ch 7. (pp79-104) Substitution of Librarians with search engines, some negative effects.
Ch 8. (pp.105-138) Community in Virtual World. Description of an email chat between a 6th grader and a researcher.
Ch 9. (pp139-151) Another methaphor....the Gardner- individual that mediates between technology and other humans.
Ch 10.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Information Ecology: Missing a Few Links 21 April 2009
By Melissa Archer - Published on Amazon.com
When I first started reading this book, I was instantly intrigued. It's rare to find an academic book that ties in so many non-academic works. Throughout Information Ecologies, the authors tie in outside sources such as the movie Metropolis, and the virtual world of "Pueblo." Although the latter was an ethnographic study, it was still rather interesting and tied in the general public.

The book actually begins, after the introduction of the movie, with a section explaining how technology is viewed and how information ecologies are built, as well as how they evolve. In theory, the first part of this book is a good format. The authors explain what an information ecology is and focus on the different terminology associated with technology. However, the authors discuss several outside sources, but fail to fully explain them. For example, authors Stoll and Negroponte's work is mentioned, but not fully explained. The information the authors provide in the first few chapters seems to merely skirt around the argument, and never fully incorporated into it. I think it is a good idea to incorporate outside sources to back an argument, but the authors of this book never seem to fully explain how the sources they provide tie into their argument.

The second half of the book, "Case Studies," includes examples of information ecologies. The examples are of actual ethnographic studies the authors performed. These include a library (specifically the librarians in it), a virtual world, "gardeners" in a workplace, and a digital photography class. These chapters gave good recaps of the research they did and their findings. However, the one about the virtual world stuck out most to me. This chapter, about the virtual world "Pueblo," was interesting because they discussed a lot of aspects of this ecology other than the basic ones introduced in the first part of the book. The authors focused on who the people using the program actually are and who they presented themselves as in the program. The mass amount of real life examples in this part of the book helps non-academic readers be able to relate better to what the authors are presenting. This section also seems a lot clearer and better explained than the first.

Something I found especially useful was the second to last chapter before the conclusion, in which the authors discussed an information ecology that did not work out. The authors not only discuss the ecology itself and what went wrong, but why it went wrong. This was really interesting and unique because most books tend to focus only on the positives. This ecology was about a new system "used for remote broadcast of surgical events during neurosurgeries" (169). I also liked how the authors tied in the section about strategic questions from the first part as a means of preventing an information ecology from failing.

Considering that this book was written in 1999, a lot of the information provided is out of date. However, the section about the Internet as an information ecology is rather insightful. A lot of the predictions the authors have made throughout the book have actually come true. The final chapter in the book sums up all of the information provided. When summed up that way, it shows that each example of an information ecology presented by the authors exemplified a certain aspect of an information ecology.

Overall, I think the authors had a good concept and theoretical game plan. However, a lot of their information provided did not seem to match up completely with what they were attempting to say. Also, I could never figure out who the intended audience is. Most of the time it seemed to be aimed at the general public because of the extra time spent explaining certain concepts. However, some of the time the authors seem to go off on a tangent aimed at the academic world. I believe this book is best suited for someone who is interested in the aspects of an information ecology and would like some good examples to refer to. This book would also work well for a teacher or employer who is trying to incorporate technology (new or existing) into his or her workplace.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New Metaphor Explaining Technology and a Call to Action for Critical Literacies 20 April 2009
By Mandy Grover - Published on Amazon.com
Anyone who has ever seen Fritz Lang's movie Metropolis - even the version rocking the Pat Benatar/Adam Ant/Queen soundtrack - knows that as technology becomes evermore present, society will continue to fear the "inevitable" destruction of humanity at the cold, logical hands of our cyborg overlords (see: Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner). Even in our cinematic visions of a futuristic utopia, technology is still the oppressor of human goodness, like in THX-1138 or the even more horrifying Logan's Run (with my 30th birthday approaching, my fear of "the Carousel" is growing exponentially). It is within the cinematic view of technology - specifically, Metropolis - that authors Bonnie A. Nardi and Vicki L. O'Day introduce their book Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. The authors lay out the plot of Metropolis to introduce a central concept linking humans with technology: a mediator. Here's a quick rundown of the plot:

Beautiful futuristic city is run on the blood, sweat, and tears of the worker class whose bodies are broken underground as cogs in the machine that allow the upper class to live lives of leisure and comfort. Then, a scientist builds a robot that looks like a lady and the Master of the city tells the scientist to make the robot look like Maria, a leader of the revolutionists underground. The goal of the Master is to incite violence so the workers can be killed off and replaced with robots. Robot Maria does the job and chaos ensues and things get totally out of hand as the workers destroy the machinery that runs the city above. As both worlds are now literally collapsing, the movie's protagonist - who is the son of the Master and who is also empathetic to the workers' plight and in love with the real Maria to boot - becomes the mediator between the two worlds. The Master's son stands between his father (the world of technology) and the foreman of the workers (the world of the people), and he holds his hands out to both men, bridging the worlds.

Nardi and O'Day set this scene to express their belief that we must also have a mediator between ourselves and technology, and this mediator is the heart. Information Ecologies has a clear twofold purpose. First, the book is a call to action regarding the ways in which we interact with technology. And second, the book argues that we have to rearticulate the way we define ourselves and our relationships with the devices we use. Before the authors go into any significant detail about their call to action - their claim about the human heart as mediator - they create a framework within which to view our interactions with technology, and this is where the idea of information ecologies comes into play. Nardi and O'Day break down the metaphors that we often use to explain how we process the idea of technology, such as "technology is a tool" or "technology is a text" or even "technology is a system." In their analysis, the authors deconstruct these commonly held metaphors as a preamble to the introduction of their own ecology metaphor. However, the authors don't just dismiss or disprove the commonplace metaphors we associate with technology; they simply point out both their flaws and merits. This allows the authors to demonstrate the need for a new, more complete representation of technology in our lives, it allows them to build on the ideas about technology we've become comfortable with, and it allows them to really stress the need for a metaphor when describing the complex connections we have with technology and information in our everyday lives.

From Chapter 3 on, Nardi and O'Day entrench their work in the belief that we are active participants in a complex and diverse ecosystem of information. The authors identify the five necessary components for their information ecology: system, diversity, coevolution, keystone species, and locality. This metaphor is both unique and apt, but it is not until the second half of the book, the case studies, that it is clear just what information ecologies are and how we fit into them. For me, the most salient case study was the authors' examination of librarians as a keystone species in the library ecosystem. Nardi and O'Day note that as libraries become more equipped with computers and digital technologies the librarian actually becomes a more important person to the system, despite the notion that technology will force the librarian into obsolescence. The librarian provides "information therapy...to help clients understand their own needs." The librarian provides "strategic expertise...technical skill and knowledge of where information lives and how it is organized." And, the librarian is an agent of "building relationships" and encouraging "repeat clients." According to the authors, librarians hold the library ecosystem together by facilitating both its human and technological elements. The library as an ecosystem is somewhat easy to imagine. It's a system because it is made up of different parts - books and other print, technology, and people who contribute "practices and values" - and all of these parts are interconnected. It has diversity in its people and tools. Its people and tools evolve with each other, if not by choice then by necessity. It has a keystone species in the librarian. And, it is defined by the people who participate in its existence; by the people who physically interact with the ecosystem. Understanding Nardi and O'Day's theory in an applied example helps to see all the information ecologies we participate in, from school to work to our interactions on the Internet - which the authors address in another case study.

After the introduction of the information ecology metaphor and before the case studies, the authors directly address the call to action they started the book off with; namely, that people and technology must be bridged with the heart. Chapter 6, "How to Evolve Information Ecologies," is nothing less than a call to arms for critical literacy, which is the heart and mediator for Nardi and O'Day. The authors ask their readers to "work from core values," to "pay attention," and to "ask strategic questions" - questions about power structures and cultural hegemonies. For Nardi and O'Day, critical literacy is essential in avoiding many either/or paradigms that they find inherent in our relationships with technology. The main example they give is the "technophilia/dystopia" dyad, and it is probably in this part of the book, Chapter 2, where the authors' argument is weakest. Nardi and O'Day explore two extreme relationships with technology; technophilia is examined through the work of Clifford Stoll, and the dystopic view is examined through Nicholas Negroponte's work. After analyzing these two extremes, the authors advocate the middle ground. I can recognize that the authors set up this framework to help explain their idea that critical literacy is essential to understanding technology beyond its extremes; however, their argument suffers in this section because they briefly ignore the complex psychologies behind the ways people interact with technology.

Ultimately, I liked Information Ecologies and I would recommend it as a book that is enjoyable for leisure reading and a book that also addresses scholarly concerns. However, my strongest recommendation for this book is to anyone who feels frustrated with technology or is experiencing a tech overload. This book offers a nice, calming perspective that assuages a lot of the confusions that come with interacting with technology as it continues to rapidly evolve and influence our lives.
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