Review of The Social Life of Information

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8 Overall

8 Applicability

8 Innovation

8 Style


John Seely Brown, former Xerox chief scientist, and Paul Duguid, Berkeley adjunct full professor, revisit their groundbreaking 2002 analysis of the information age in this 2017 update and revision. They’ve added a comprehensive new preface to explain where they were right and wrong and how you can apply their insights to today’s world. The theme that inspires and grips them is the idea that humanity – with its irrationality, illogical behavior, selfishness, kindness, privacy and communalism – will increasingly lose value as information replaces knowledge. 

About the Authors

Former chief scientist of Xerox Corporation John Seely Brown is a visiting scholar and adviser to the provost at the University of Southern California. Paul Duguid is an adjunct full professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.


Information, the authors argue, is facts, numbers and incidents – anything written, codified, digitized and passed around. Knowledge is what resides in every person’s head, available only through shared human contact. And that will be the salvation of humanity in the face of the digitization of everything. While everyone else was praising the rise of digitization and arguing that “economies of scale” would make life better, the authors pointed out the social, political, emotional and psychological traps awaiting those who prioritize antiseptic data over life’s messy, meaty, unpredictable processes.

Brown and Duguid based their predictions about societal change on the relentless juggernaut of Moore’s law, which holds that computer processing power doubles every two years. In their new preface, they note that Moore’s law still holds and drives change in every aspect of society. Though the authors originally wrote in a pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter era, their warm-hearted intellectualism will ring true to social scientists, students and anyone interested in maintaining a human identity in a digital world.

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