The Consequences of Information: Institutional Implications of Technological Change

Jonny Holmström (Department of Informatics, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 6 June 2008

328

Keywords

Citation

Holmström, J. (2008), "The Consequences of Information: Institutional Implications of Technological Change", Information Technology & People, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 205-207. https://doi.org/10.1108/itp.2008.21.2.205.1

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


These are the best of times, and the worst of times, to study information and communication technologies (ICT). On the one hand ICT penetrates many aspects of our lives while the complexity of the technologies, together with the information produced by means of these technologies, have profound implications for organizations and society. On the other hand, it is often argued that “IT doesn't matter”. The decline in the numbers of undergrad students in our field could be construed as a sign of this, at least a sign of how IT does not matter in the minds of prospective students. Taken together, these developments illustrate how the expectations tied to the IS field have changed over the years weakening considerably the vision of a strong academic IS field. The recent debate on the identity of the IS field (King and Lyytinen, 2004; Lyytinen and King, 2004; Truex et al., 2006; Weber, 2003) shows that we may need to advance to a new level of relevance in our research while retaining high levels of rigor. To this end, Jannis Kallinikos's new book is a welcome contribution.

In The Consequences of Information Kallinikos provides a detailed analysis of the variety of ways in which information gets involved in social and economic life and the consequences such an involvement has for people and organizations, the development and use of ICT. A key theme of the book pivots around the spectacular growth of information that has been taking place for some time now. The deepening involvement of information in social and economic life, he claims, constructs a new functional habitat in which the ability to review, process, edit and recombine information sources proves crucial. Google forms the example par excellence but information processing and editing is key to the production of most online services. While supporting many new companies and initiatives, information expands to penetrate most walks of life, restructuring the operations of corporations, public agencies and governments. The book contains a couple of chapters on networks and organizational change that in many respects transcend the established wisdom (e.g. Castells, 1996) in that area.

Kallinikos's work does not rely on a series of empirical illustrations. The author feels and makes a compelling case for the need to move beyond local contexts with the view of grasping and analyzing the wider changes information growth brings to organizations and society. In so doing, he draws on an impressive variety of social theories. Kallinikos starts out by underlining how we are lacking an adequate theoretical understanding of the driving forces behind the information growth dynamics we are experiencing today. Kallinikos eloquently explains the driving forces behind the escalating growth of information that has been going on for decades. Throughout his analysis Kallinikos addresses the key issues associated with the growth of information. In this impressive project of his, Kallinikos develops a theory of information based on three pillars:

  1. 1.

    the self‐referentiality of information;

  2. 2.

    the permutability of information; and

  3. 3.

    the disposable character of information.

The value of information, Kallinikos argues, is related to its informativeness, that is the capacity of information to bring forward something new. However, a large part of the current information production machinery cannot be explained from such a perspective. On the contrary, information is typically identified as useful only after it has been produced, and new needs are born out of the use of such information, leading to the production of new information in an ever‐expanding spiral. The possibilities to produce information out of information (e.g. metadata), the expanded permutability of information items and sources, and the perishable and disposable character of information, are the pillars behind such escalating information growth.

In many ways, central ideas of the book were first articulated in Kallinikos's paper in Information Technology & People (Kallinikos, 2006) but in the book Kallinikos takes his time to explore the theoretical roots of information growth, and most crucially its implications, in substantially more detail. In doing this, he embarks on a journey that will take the reader along a challenging itinerary crossing the IS discipline, landscapes of organization studies and sociology up to the highlands of philosophy, and back. This is indeed a challenging journey for any reader, but a journey worth while taking. In many ways Kallinikos's analysis resembles Ciborra's pioneering work of the ways in which ICT does not always work out as planned, and how the side‐effects in fact are defining features for individual, organizational and societal ICT use (e.g. Ciborra, 2002). Like Ciborra (with whom Kallinikos worked closely together several years at the London School of Economics), Kallinikos approaches his object of study from a philosophical perspective. But Kallinikos finds his own niche, different not only from Ciborra but from all IS scholars. While most IS scholars are preoccupied with the design and use of ICT, wider societal and to some degree organizational concerns that are tied to the consequences of information on a larger scale have remained underdeveloped. In his critique of Castell's work (Castells, 1996) it is apparent that Kallinikos feels that sociologists also failed to conceptualise information growth adequately and assess the consequences of that growth.

The Consequences of Information makes an important contribution to the understanding of contemporary use of ICT and its relation to escalating patterns of information growth. In particular, Kallinikos's analysis highlights how information growth largely is unexamined, and to this end Kallinikos's book provides us with a good start. Kallinikos's idea for a vision for the IS discipline is to take information more serious in IS research. In the day and age of Web 2.0, metadata, RFID and RSS flows, I would say he has a point. To this end, the book is an excellent resource for IS scholars in formulating innovative and relevant research questions, taking into consideration the complexities related to new ICT while building on sound social theories.

References

Castells, M. (1996), The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. I, Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.

Ciborra, C. (2002), The Labyrinths of Information, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kallinikos, J. (2006), “Information out of information: on the self referential dynamics of information growth”, Information Technology & People, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 98115.

King, J.L. and Lyytinen, K. (2004), “Reach and grasp”, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 53951.

Lyytinen, K. and King, J.L. (2004), “Nothing at the center? Academic legitimacy in the IS field”, Journal of the Association for Information Systems, Vol. 55 No. 6, pp. 22046.

Truex, D., Holmström, J. and Keil, M. (2006), “Theorizing in information systems research: a reflexive analysis on the adaptation of social theory to information systems research”, Journal of the AIS, Vol. 7 No. 12, pp. 797821.

Weber, R. (2003), “Still desperately seeking the IT artifact: Editor's comments”, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. iiixi.

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