söndag 18 september 2011

Books I've read lately

"Books I've read recently" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I actually read most of the books below before the summer, but I like to gather some books together in these blog posts and for some reason it took a couple of months to read the last 25 pages of one of the books below. All three books below are books that I have owned for some time, but for one or another reason have not come around to read until now.

T. L. Taylor is an acquaintance of mine, I think we met at a conference in Australia in 2003 for the first time. She present results that has afterwards been incorporated into her ethnography of the massively multiplayer online game Everquest, "Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture" (2006). Five years is a long time and the position of the one-time king-of-the-hill Everquest has long ago been usurped by World of Warcraft and other more modern games. Fortunately, that doesn't matter much as the book focuses on people (players, gamers) and their behaviors, rather than on the technology itself. It is right up my alley and I very much like the perspectives she presents in her book, including how she attends an Everquest convention, the description of networks of relationships spanning and tying together both the online (game) and the offline (real-life) worlds, on the instrumental play of power gamers and raiding/uber guilds, on women gamers and on combining the dual roles of being a player as well as a researcher.

Malcolm Gladwell's "The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference" (2000) is one of those popular science/pop culture books that you just have to have read (much like Levitt and Dubner's "Freakonomics" or Anderson's "The long tail"). I had high hopes, but feel that the book didn't live up to these. Trying to transfer characteristics of medical epidemics into the world of trends and ideas, the book is supposed to explain how small changes (can) have big effects, but to me it just didn't come together, but rather came out as a muddle of half-baked ideas, bloomy language and not-very-stringent chains of reasoning. The book tried to bite off too much, trying to explain too many phenomena with a long string of interesting, perhaps even captivating stories (anecdotes), but without enough backing. Or perhaps there were just too many ideas, making it difficult to see a red thread or discern what ideas are more and what ideas are less important to Malcolm's line off reasoning. While the book was entertaining (lots of examples), it just didn't come together for me.

I bought Albert Hirschman's "Exit, voice, and loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states" (1970) quite some time ago but can't remember exactly why. I do however think the title says it all - who hasn't worked or interacted with an organization or a company where their products or services were less than perfect? The book is mostly about the tradeoff between "exit" and "voice" strategies - when should you complain in order to try to change things (voice - a political choice) and when should you just move on (exit - an economic choice)? Voice covers the whole gamut from faint grumblings to violent protests, and exit includes everything from switching to another brand/product/service to quitting your job (or deserting from the army). Albert for example asks questions about what difference a monopoly does, and under what conditions will one option prevail over the other:

"When the consumer has been dissatisfied with an inexpensive, nondurable good, he will most probably go over to a different variety without making a fuss. But if he is stuck with an expensive durable good such as an automobile which disappoints him day-in and day-out, he is much less likely to remain silent."

"the role of voice would increase as the opportunities for exit decline, up to the point where, with exit fully unavailable, voice must carry the entire burden of altering management to its failings"

"Latin American powerholders have long encouraged their political enemies and potential critics to remove themselves from the scene through voluntary exile. The right of asylum [...] could almost be considered as a 'conspiracy in restraint of voice'."

Have you read any of these books (or would you like to)? What is your opinion about them?

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