Thursday, November 20, 2008

computing, culture, and catalyst

I dropped my Moto Q in the bath tub about two weeks ago-- as luck would have it, 4 days beyond the 1-year warranty of the handset. Because I've been indecisive about whether to replace or go iPhone, I've regressed to a pda-free state that only some of you remember once dominated. It's had a pretty profound effect on me:
It gives me some of the peace of being on a desert island.
  • No one can really reach me- at least not in an interuptive way; when they do, it's through more of a pull: email, Facebook, blog comments, Twitter (importantly, all via computer).
It makes me and others more committal.
  • There's no back and forth or last minute changes in plans. If I/you say we'll be somewhere, we best get there, on time, as planned.
It makes me more aware of my network.
  • I've essentially shifted my awareness from my shortlist of contacts to my broader network of weaker ties-- my email address book, FB friends, connections, etc.
Which made me think, to what extent can technology alone lead to change?

This may remind you of the classic Andrew McAfee stance on Web 2.0, that tools empower people, catalyze change. This has triggered an interesting cascade of heated discussion recently in the AU blogosphere questioning to what extent Web 2.0 is about the tools alone. Matt Hodgson, for example asked, If you build it, will they come? What about the group dynamics, organizational readiness, and interdependency of those two? Stephen Collins of Acid Labs and Stuart French at Delta Knowledge all have notable variations on his position, each highly worth reading and reflecting on.

As a social psychologist, I'm inclined to believe in the power of the situation over the person per se, the nurture over the nature, and perhaps thus, the culture over the technology. But clearly you can't equate "technology" with "person"-- that's the problem and why I so strongly believe,
when it comes to Enterprise 2.0, (like some of the others noted above) that technology is the least of it-- it's shifted thinking, fundamental reorganization, process reengineering, and massive cultural change akin to an intense corporate therapy session (cognitive behavioral, of course).

But as my simple experiment shows-- taking away my technological tools (phone) has illustrated the symbiotic nature of the two. I think technology profoundly affects our thinking and behavior (culture) as much as our culture affects the adoption and use of technology.

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