Book Review: Divining a Digital Future

I read the book Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing by Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish almost cover to cover last year and I have to say that finally gave me some understanding of the research agenda being pursued at the 3A Institute at the ANU.

I hope I am not butchering things too much, but here are the ideas in the book that are new and useful to me:

  • the application of technology in our daily lives as a site of cultural production worthy of its own anthropological / sociological analysis, as opposed to the engineering-centric view of using anthropological / sociological methods to elicit user requirements for technologies¬†
  • the distinction between inter-disciplinary approach vs multi-disciplinary approach, and the acceptance or even embrace of messiness in complex systems
  • whole-of-system thinking, lifted to its logical end to encompass people, society, culture, and history
  • making new by making strange (I can see that idea more clearly in Divining a Digital Future).

Applying these fresh methodologies and perspectives to understand and ask new questions around the issues of Autonomy, Agency, Assurance is interesting. In a few ways, Bell and Dourish’s Divining a Digital Future reminds me of Martin Lindstrom’s Small Data. I remember feeling impressed but somewhat unsatisfied after reading Lindstrom, because he explained the what and the why but not the how. In Divining a Digital Future, I think I now have a glimpse of the how.


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