Monday, March 17, 2008

Computerization as a movement

Regular readers know of my ties to UCI and its pioneering studies on computer adoption over the past 40 years. The “UCI School” even had an article about its influence on the IT field. Two pillars of the school were Ken Kraemer (nominally retired) and his student John L. King (who left for U. Michigan to be a dean and now vice provost). John King was my dissertation co-chair, but I’ve remained close to both men.

The third pillar was Rob Kling, who I did not know very well because he left UCI in 1996 to go to U. Indiana in 1996 to transform their library school into an “information school”. That’s where he worked until he held his untimely death in 2003.

In 2005, Kraemer and others at UCI hosted a workshop of papers in honor of Kling, building on his most famous stream, that on “computerization movements.” The stream began with a 1988 paper with Suzi Iacono (later updated in 1994) and culminated with the 1998 book Computerization and Controversy.

The point of the “computerization movements” stream is that computers are not just adopted as the result of individual utility-maximizing decisions, but instead are often promoted to enable some form of social change. Examples include personal computers (empowering the individual), computer-based education, and internetworking.

Kling (specifically this work) is considered a founder (at least in the US) of the field of research now called “social informatics”. His doctoral students have spread this social view of IT adoption across the US, and are affectionately known as Kling-ons.

The workshop was a no-brainer for my co-author (and band partner) Jason Dedrick and I. In our workshop paper, we looked at the open source and free software movements — noting how the movement ideologies are much more different than the actual artifacts or IP regimes. We then remarked how little impact that ideology had upon the decisions of firms that we interviewed to adopt Linux servers, which was instead driven by a utiliarian driver for cheap Unix.

The papers were published this month in a book edited by Margaret Elliott (a Klingon) and Kraemer. I found the earlier workshop versions of these papers to be an interesting cross-section of how IT is adopted — and how a purely economic view of adoption is (gasp!) undersocialized.

My copy of the book arrived Friday, so I finally got a chance to see how it turned out. My first reaction was its heft — both quantity and quality. The hardback book spans 540+ pages across 20 chapters. The topics include a wide range of computer adoption issues: virtual teams, online communities, open source, ubiquitous computing, even the mortgage industry. It also reprints two of the seminal Kling & Iacono papers from 1988 and 2001.

We know that it’s not going to make the NYT (or Business Week) best seller list, but it is a serious work of scholarship and (if we’re lucky) will influence how researchers think about technology diffusion over the next decade.

No comments: