Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Theory of Information Systems

In 1839, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy had its opening night at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. The play tells the tale of France’s Cardinal Richelieu, generally considered to be the world’s first Prime Minister in the modern sense of the term. During Act II, Richelieu declares the adage ‘True, This! The pen is mightier than the sword’.

For centuries, in some form or other, the adage has been widely promoted. In 1792, the soon to be US President Thomas Jefferson is reported as ending a letter to Thomas Paine with ‘Go on then in doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword: show that reformation is more practicable by operating on the mind than on the body of man’.

Bulwer’s pen tells us that our behaviour as individuals and groups is fundamentally affected by the information we come into contact with. And in the new world structure of mass-connectivity, there are many, many pens!

Half the world’s population can readily communicate with each other, and the Web contains the largest accessible set of information in the history of humanity. Every day, billions of pieces of information are shared between people and machines. Communications are made; events are recorded, information is searched for, read, created and shared.

How does the mass of information we each come into contact with affect our individual behaviour? How does it affect the behaviour of a business, or a government, or a society? If we knew, could we predict what might happen, make better decisions, and better influence the outcomes we seek?

I hope to convince you that the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, that at the heart of the answer is understanding information systems, and that by applying the ideas we may be better able to understand where each other is coming from and work together to create the futures sought.

The ideas are described in this paper:
A Theory of Information Systems.pdf

I hope you might find it an interesting read, and comments are warmly invited.