Examining Information Ecologies

Last week, I briefly referenced the book Information Ecologies by Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day in relation to analyzing social media platforms. This time let’s take a broader look at how to effectively examine the use of technology to incite positive change.

Do you think that the new instant messenger program at work is more distracting than beneficial? Does your team need new software to drive better business results? Are you unsure about speaking up? Nardi and O’Day will boost your confidence.

Technology in itself is an overwhelming idea and change can seem near impossible when you aren’t rallying the masses. Nardi and O’Day move beyond this broad scale view to empower the individual. In your workspace or group dynamic, you serve as a member of an information ecology. Being a member comes with “opportunities and responsibilities for shaping the way technology works in our lives” (55).

Nardi and O’Day use the term ecology because these are environments composed of many members serving individual roles and a single change has the potential to affect all those involved. That repercussions point can also be intimidating but understand that an ecology is not static. You and your team are continually evolving – introducing new devices and programs to accomplish your goals.

That said, there should be significant consideration of the impact of new technologies. If you feel there is a misuse or missed opportunity for technology in your information ecology, dig a little deeper. But first review these tips from Nardi and O’Day.

To effectively examine an information ecology and its use of technology, you need to be:

In the Ecology

This does not mean you need to be a member, but it does mean you need to inhabit the space for unique insight. The same technology can be used across departments or functions, but it is referred to and utilized in a local manner. Direct interaction is also necessary to grasp core group (company) values, which should be the driving force behind technology decisions.

Ready to Talk

People are nervous to talk about technology because they do not feel qualified. Looking at this logically, how do we make or know if we made the right decisions if no one is talking? Do not think of technology as something that happens to you. Take control by being aware of what and how technologies are used. Speak up if something is amiss.

Balanced

Technology can be a polarizing topic with technophiles waiting in line at the Apple store and dystopians fleeing for the woods. Nardi and O’Day refer to their perspective as a “critical friend of technology” (14). Within an information ecology focus on the specific scenario rather than sweeping excitements or concerns into the larger ideals of technology.

Inquisitive

Nardi and O’Day note a common foolish assumption: “the way something is now is the way it has always been and must be” (68). Obviously this is not true so ask whether this technology supports current motivations and values. Move beyond logistics – ‘how will we implement’ and ‘how will we train’ – to the deeper questions associated with why and what.

Aware of the Invisible

One of the most intriguing points of Information Ecologies is how technology can impact informal activities. Consider aspects of work that are invisible, like the impact on team collaboration when moving from in-person meetings to Google docs. Looking at the technology alone does not provide the full view. Technology is a site of social action.

Realistic

Inciting change, even in the smaller scale ecology, can seem overwhelming. Start small and build from there. I will be kicking off my exploration with an interview with my boss. That seem too bold? Start with simple observation, but first consider office sensitivities to avoid pushing past appropriate boundaries.

Stay tuned for more on my information ecology experiment next week. In the meantime, did you play a significant role in removing or implementing technology in one of your information ecologies (from promoting Skype meetings with satellite locations to no cell phones at the dinner table)? Comment on your experiences below!

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