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Virtual individuals, virtual groups
Oravec J., Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 1996. Type: Book (9780521454933)
Date Reviewed: Aug 1 1997

Sociology studies the effects of the group on the individual, so one would expect that sociologists and other academics who share their perspective would not allow the development of the virtual group and the virtual individual--which, of course, precedes the recent intrusion of the computer into personal and business life--to go unnoticed. In fact, a huge literature has burgeoned, and Oravec, in her competent but not very enlightening survey, seems to have read it all.

The pragmatic focus is on groupware and other network applications, but the tension between the individual and the group that inevitably arises in these new collaborative efforts fostered by an emerging technology forms the larger issue. While various managerial theorists can be cited in support of collaboration, more creative personalities, such as Gide and Twain, favor individualism. Along with the mundane issues of efficiency and productivity, social and ethical questions abound.

Anyone unfamiliar with the literature in human-computer interaction, sociology of the self, computer ethics, computer culture, and software design might find this volume a useful starting point, if only as an introduction to the sources listed in the 46-page bibliography. They will, however, be frustrated by the dullness of the author’s style, featuring ugly jargon, imprecise concepts, long quotations, and innumerable lists and typologies, but little structure.

The literature reviewed by the author may be largely a conceptual morass and a theoretical wasteland, with an occasional foray into what C. Wright Mills has called ÔÇťabstracted empiricism,” but an analysis of it should rise above the material and offer something more meaningful.

Reviewer:  A. Blackman Review #: CR120668 (9708-0567)
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