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Gina Neff – Why Technology Fails: A Modest Theoretical Proposal from Two Empirical Cases

Thursday, November 8, 2012
12:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map

Food and discussion begins at 12:30 pm. Everyone invited.

This talk begins with the premise that the rhetoric of “disruptive” power of information technologies within industries neglects the enduring power of social institutions like industries. Based on five years of field research on the experience of major adoptions of new information technologies in the commercial construction and the healthcare industries, I develop the theoretical argument of why technologies fail. Of course, information technology tools such as social media tools, new knowledge management systems, and sophisticated database and “big data” predictive analytic solutions do not roundly and routinely fail all the time and in all ways. But this talk will develop the thesis that technological solutions are commonly proposed for social and organizational problems, creating misalignments between technology and existing practices within companies and industries. This is the failure: tools being adopted with the expectation that social arrangements will realign around them. I put forth three ways these misalignments are being resolved in the industries I study and suggest lessons for technology designers to reconsider so-called barriers to adoption as social, organizational and institutional probabilities for failure.


Dr. Gina Neff is an associate professor of communication at the University of Washington. She studies the contemporary economics of media production by examining the relationship between work and technology in both high-tech and media industries. Her book Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries (MIT 2012) examines the risk and uncertainties borne by New York City’s new media pioneers during the first internet boom. She also co-edited Surviving the New Economy (Paradigm 2007). With Carrie Sturts Dossick, she runs the Project on Communication Technology and Organizational Practices, a research group studying the roles of communication technology in the innovation of complex building design and construction. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and she is currently at work on a three-year project funded by Intel studying the impact of social media and consumer health technologies on the organization of primary care.

She has a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, where she remains an external faculty affiliate of the Center on Organizational Innovation. She is also a visiting scholar at NYU’s Media, Culture and Communication department. She has held appointments at UC San Diego, UCLA, and Stanford University. In addition to academic outlets, her research and writing have been featured in The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Fortune, Dissent, The American Prospect, and The Nation.