Topological Transformations: The Co-Construction of an Open System

Topological Transformations: The Co-Construction of an Open System

Andrew Wenn (HPS University of Melbourne & Victoria University of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-64-3.ch002
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Abstract

This chapter describes some aspects of the development of VICNET, an assemblage of computers, cables, modems, people, texts, libraries, buildings, dreams and images. It is a system that is difficult to characterise, it is dynamic both in geographical and ontological scope, size and usage. I have attempted to capture some of its nature through the use of several vignettes that may give the reader a small insight into parts of its being, then using some of the techniques and explanatory and exploratory mechanisms available from the field of science studies such as heterogeneous engineering and Actor Network Theory (ANT), I reveal some of the ways that VICNET came into existence. Many computer systems are undergoing continual evolution and it is extremely difficult to discern their configuration and what objects have agency at any given point in time; they can be thought of as open systems as described by Hewitt and de Jong (1984). VICNET, an Internet information provider established in 1994 as a joint venture between the State Library of Victoria and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, is one such system; it is being used by a large number of people and public libraries, yet simultaneously it is evolving and being shaped by the technology, the users and the environment of which it is part. Consider the system, VICNET as it is called, as a node of a much larger network. I have attempted to unfold this node to reveal the social and technical worlds contained therein, but I also fold the VICNET node in itself so that it becomes part of a much larger sociotechnical system – the Internet. This process of folding I refer to as a topological transformation and it is by studying transformations of this type that may help us understand how open systems come into being and evolve. In what follows, I provide a brief background to VICNET and the data collection method I used. Next, I discuss some the analytical techniques that are available for those who wish to study the development of technological systems. Following this all-too-brief comment I then present a selection of vignettes that show the varied nature of this socio-technical system. Presenting these then allows me to develop further the idea of social topologies introduced in the section on analytical techniques. In the final section there is some discussion as to why this way of looking at socio-technical systems may be useful.

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Table of Contents
Preface
Steve Clarke, Brian Lehaney
Chapter 1
Steve Clarke, Brian Lehaney
This chapter seeks to cast light on the commonly encountered ‘human-centred’ versus ‘technology’ debate in information systems (IS: Clarke and... Sample PDF
Introduction: Information Systems as Constrained Variety-Issues and Scope
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Chapter 2
Andrew Wenn
This chapter describes some aspects of the development of VICNET, an assemblage of computers, cables, modems, people, texts, libraries, buildings... Sample PDF
Topological Transformations: The Co-Construction of an Open System
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Chapter 3
M. Gordon Hunter
There is evidence which suggests the software crisis still exists and is negatively impacting both information systems (IS) development and... Sample PDF
Excellent Systems Analysts: A Grounded Theory Approach to Qualitative Research
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Chapter 4
W. Hutchinson
Development techniques almost always use top-down approaches to develop software and business systems. Humans need to simplify the external world by... Sample PDF
Bottom-Up Management and System Design
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Chapter 5
Jonathan K. Lazar, Anthony F. Norcio
Errors are a major problem for users. In the distant past, the users of computer technology often were limited to computer professionals with... Sample PDF
System and Training Design for End-User Error
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Chapter 6
Ruth V. Small, Marilyn P. Arnone
As millions of people “search-and-surf “ the Internet, seeking needed products and services or just exploring to see “what’s out there,” businesses... Sample PDF
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Web Sites
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Chapter 7
Simon Bell
Information technology (IT) projects regularly fail. IT projects fail rapidly, spectacularly and with monotonous regularity. IT and related... Sample PDF
Vulnerability and the Aware IS Practitioner: A Reflexive Discourse on Unfinished Business
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Chapter 8
Dianne Willis, Elayne Coakes
This chapter looks at the use of enabling technology, in particular the Internet, to share experiences of socio-technical thinking and practice.... Sample PDF
Enabling Technology for Collaborative Working: A Socio-Technical Experience
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Chapter 9
Gill Mallalieu, Steve Clarke
The idea of the ‘wicked problem’ (Churchman, 1967), which advocates a pragmatic oscillation between problem and solution, rather than an attempt to... Sample PDF
Information Systems as Wicked Problems
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Chapter 10
E. Vance Wilson, Joline P. Morrison
A key determinant in the success of computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) and group support systems (GSS) is the task they are used for... Sample PDF
A Measuring of Task-Technology Fit for Computer-Mediated Communication
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Chapter 11
Elizabeth J. Davidson
Metaphors have long pervaded the discourse around information technology (IT) design (Johnson, 1994), helping developers to conceptualize... Sample PDF
The Metaphorical Implications of Data Warehousing
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Chapter 12
Lorraine Warren
Over the last four decades, information technology (IT) has permeated almost every aspect of our lives. From its origins in the data processing (DP)... Sample PDF
Critical Thinking and Human Centered Methods in Information Systems
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Chapter 13
Jose Rodrigo Cordoba, Gerald Midgley, Diego Ricardo Torres
Current practice in strategic information systems (IS) planning seems to be focused on surfacing an organisation’s vision and goals, exploring the... Sample PDF
Rethinking Stakeholder Involvement: An Application of the Theories of Autopoiesis and Boundary Critique to IS Planning
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About the Authors