Interactive Business Communication

Information Ecologies

I have mixed feeling towards the readings in Information Ecologies – using Technology with Heart by Bonnie A. Nardi and Vicki L. O’Day. On one hand the create a very sound argument in defining the abstract concept of how technology functions as an entity of our society. On the other hand I personally found parts of their argument to be a bit dated. I feel technology has evolved and become much more commonplace that they thought necessary in the 12 years since the book was published. That being said I think the crux of their argument and their explanation of the ebb and flow of technology is just as relevant today.

Their discussion of technology as a tool is central to the ecology of information as they see it. They open the chapter with the explanation of how many people see “technology as a tool” (pg. 25). Further a tool is a way of carrying out a desired task. Establishing a metaphor in relation to technology is to highlight the properties technology possesses to accomplish a task. The metaphor serves as an understanding to what the technology is doing for its users. The emphasis on comprehending what purpose the technology is serving allows the users to evaluate the necessity of said technology or lack there of.

This concept is all too relevant today. In an environment filled with the technological advancement in there internet, we find a multitude of tools within a single technology. It’s all to easy to get caught up in the “bells and whistles” of it and forget to evaluate the need for it. We must evaluate it in all the ways described by Nardi and O’Day, a tool, a text and a system. Being able to evaluate and decipher the tool as a text is vital to seeing the system it functions in. Understanding the meaning of all the pieces of the tool is what allows for the users to best use the tool. All of which help us to use metaphors to understand the system technology functions it. The system is all the concepts that go into the technology to function as it does. The metaphor provides a compact way to look at and evaluate a complex idea.

I feel the authors see the metaphor as a path to understanding why to use a technology or why to avoid it. By streamlining the function it is providing to use as a tool, the meaning behind it as a text and the system it functions in one can look at technology away from the glamour and inventiveness of it and evaluate for the purpose it serves. All of which leads to the individual users being able to make a more informed choice of how relevant a technology is. While I feel the authors seem to understand and emphasize the complexity of the system I felt at times they were trying to evaluate when technology was necessary and when technology wasn’t. Yet, in 2012 I think sometimes a better question is which technology is relevant to my task. By today’s standards there may be more technological options that non-technological options. So while the simplification of the metaphor still greatly applies today, I think the system has largely transformed.

Leave a comment to let me know why you think of how metaphors simplify technology and about how it relates to today!


Nardi, B. A., & O’Day, V. (1999). Information ecologies: Using technology with heart. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

This entry was published on January 23, 2012 at 10:13 PM and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Information Ecologies

  1. I agree with your statement about not whether technology is relevant or not, but rather which option to use in what situation. It is similar to data in a sense that there is so much and many different options (especially with new technologies popping up every day) that is it hard to figure out which to use. In this instance, it is nice to understand the metaphors the authors put in place, but I feel like the user truly has to try each type of technology to see what is right for them. It also might be that the user doesn’t know what’s best for him and there truly could be another technology available that would be easier to use, which is why users also need to be able to adapt to different situations.

  2. betsyburch on said:

    You say technology is more commonplace since the book was written 12 years go. What do you mean by this? Do you think more people can access technology so it isn’t as formal?

  3. I think you make a great point in the need for re-evaluation of the metaphors used (even if the ecology metaphor is quite provocative and largely accurate today) to examine technology, especially when more tasks and processes today harness technology than not. Your alternative seems pretty sound. I like the idea of the central question moving from “should we use technology here?” to “which technology would be best used here?” This seems especially relevant for online ventures, with every site a different portal with different strengths and weaknesses for use.

  4. Jim Porter on said:

    I think the authors’ point of view might be a bit naive, idealistic, so 1960s — but I think their metaphors still have explanatory traction.

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