Harvard Law School professor Palfrey and Gasser, the executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, team up again (Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, 2008, etc.) for this look at interoperability in the era of information.
The authors examine the connections among technologies, data, human users and institutions (including laws and regulations), aiming to “define the optimal level of interconnectedness and to lay out a path for achieving it.” Palfrey and Gasser touch on a variety of topics, including the growth of Facebook and Twitter, the lack of interchangeability of cell-phone chargers, the difficulties of using radio-frequency identification in retail stores, and the slow adoption of high-definition television, and they devote a chapter to the problems surrounding the implementation of electronic healthcare records. The book covers so much ground, in fact, with problems and solutions varying widely for different technologies and circumstances, that the authors’ attempt at an overarching “interop” theory becomes overly vague. Their tentative prescriptions, usually involving combinations of private innovation and government regulation (“a mix of tools used in a range of ways”), are often uninspiring and lacking concrete detail. Further, the authors’ academic and repetitive prose style makes the narrative feel like a staid journal article padded out to book length. Technologists steeped in the subject matter will find the book scattered and elementary, while lay readers will think it dry and abstract.
An unfocused tech overview.