First Monday

The Social Use of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid

For years pundits have predicted that information technology will obliterate the need for everything from travel to supermarkets to business organizations to social life itself. They have heralded the coming of the virtual office, digital butlers, electronic libraries, and virtual universities. Beaten down by info-glut and exasperated by computer systems with software crashes, viruses, and unintelligible error messages, individual users tend to wax less enthusiastic about technological predictions. Amid the hype and the never-narrowing gap between promise and performance, they find it hard to get a vision of the true potential of the digital revolution.

John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid in their book The Social Life of Information (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000) help us see through frenetic visions of the future to the real forces for change in society. Arguing elegantly for the important role that human sociability plays in the world of bits, this book, and the chapters published here in First Monday, gives us an optimistic look beyond the simplicities of information and individuals. The authors show how a better understanding of the contribution that communities, organizations, and institutions make to learning, knowledge, and judgement can lead to the richest possible use of technology in our work and everyday lives.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Tunneling Ahead
Chapter 1 Limits to Information
Chapter 2 Agents and Angels
Chapter 3 Home Alone
Chapter 4 Practice Makes Process
Chapter 5 Learning - in Theory and in Practice
Chapter 6 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge
Chapter 7 Reading the Background
Chapter 8 Re-education
Afterword: Beyond Information


This text is an excerpt of The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, published in March 2000 by Harvard Business School Press. Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business School Press. Copyright © 2000 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College; All Rights Reserved.

The book is available from Harvard Business School Press directly, fine bookstores everywhere, and other sources such as Please also visit the Social Life of Information Home Page at

A public forum to discuss The Social Life of Information can be found at

Contents Index

Copyright © 2000, First Monday