When digital culture meets print culture
March 11, 1999
by Peter G. W. Keen
(IDG) -- The "information economy," "intellectual capital" and related buzzwords really are about four things: Talking, listening, searching and reading. They're the four ways information comes to us. IT has already expanded our information space in the first three. The next opportunity is reading.
We expand talking through audio and videoconferencing, e-mail, voice mail and groupware. We expand listening in many ways: through CNN and ESPN, by digitizing and distributing education courses and through conference speakers. Obviously, IT makes it practical and easy to look up information. Just think of the convenience of Amazon.com. And consider AltaVista and Yahoo, which accomplished what the Encyclopedia Britannica and your college library never did -- made it fun and easy to look things up and play with information.
So far, technology has had little impact on reading. Readers still rely on paper and will do so for years to come. Books, magazines and newspapers offer an ease of access, portability and level of resolution that personal computers still can't match. Take Computerworld: It's a primary information medium for its readers, with the Net version a secondary resource. I doubt if more than a few of its subscribers would, at this time, prefer a fully electronic version.
Over time, the advantages of paper will erode. The first generation of electronic books, such as the Rocket Ebook, aren't yet satisfactory substitutes but will get better fast, just as the Apple Newton failure was the dry run for the wonderful PalmPilot. They promise attractive storage capabilities: from 10 to 30 books easily downloaded from the Web.
I'm sure they will transform how college students work. Soon -- three years at the most -- when students register, they'll have all the reading for a semester's courses on the equivalent of a laptop, with facilities for searching and annotating the text.
When this happens, IT will begin to have the same impact on reading as it's having on talking, listening and searching. Think of an electronic Book of the Month Club: What could be the IT equivalent for both IT professionals and businesspeople? What books would IT like its users and clients to browse through? Is there a core library of books that should be distributed across the business?
Take a look at the office bookshelves of any senior business managers you visit. From my own eyeball survey, I don't think you will find many books that help you and them build the business-IT dialogue your firm needs.
You don't need to wait for e-books. Use technology now to communicate your recommendations. All you need is to add a Books to Read page to any relevant intranet, sign up to be an Amazon Associate and add a message: "To buy any of these books, click here" -- where "here" is the link to Amazon.com. Amazon.com even pays you a good commission for any sale emanating from your site.
In this way, you can improve understanding between IT and business by using books to get the IT message across or by directing IT's own attention toward the best IT-relevant business books.
Why haven't companies done this, even though many managers use Amazon.com? My guess is that it's because the process of reading physical books isn't seen as part of IT. But it is, and IT doesn't have to develop anything. The authors did that.
Books are the most powerful information catalysts of all. Das Kapital and Mein Kampf are evidence of that in the political history of this century. In Search of Excellence and Reengineering the Corporation are business examples. Jeffrey Moore's The Gorilla Game and Clayton Christiansen's The Innovator's Dilemma are the most influential intellectual forces in Silicon Valley today.
What's on your bookshelf is far more of an information asset than what's on your firm's intranet.
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