New Technology And Productivity

Barjak (2006a; 2006b) has examined the influence of new technology on productivity. In his 2006a paper, Barjak outlined two ways in which new technology can impact on scientific academic writing. He notes that:

1 In general, more information is available over computer networks, and the search for, and retrieval of, information is faster.

2 Access to remote instruments and data sets is easier and faster.

However, he also observes:

1 Learning to use new technology can slow people down.

2 There is a problem with information overload.

3 More productive academics become more visible to their peers, and thus receive more requests for publications, more comments and correspondence.

Barjak (2006a) reported the results obtained from a survey carried out with approximately 1,500 scientists from five academic disciplines (astronomy, chemistry, computer science, economics and psychology) in seven European countries. The participants were asked to describe their use of new technology over a period of two years (2001 to 2002). The results showed quite clearly that the respondents using new technology produced significantly more working papers, journal articles, book chapters, monographs, reports and conference presentations than did the respondents who did not.

In his 2006b paper, Barjak reports that these results were nonlinear, with the very productive scientists using the Internet more, and the much less productive ones using it less, than would be expected according to their productivity. In short, the more productive these scientists were, the more they used new technology.

Such results of course, as Barjak points out, do not necessarily imply a causal factor, and the participants who used multiple methods to communicate did not necessarily achieve higher publication rates than those who used only one method (such as email) a great deal. Furthermore, new technology has replaced a lot of the old technology (email for the telephone and the letter, for example), so that it is inappropriate to say that new technology (in this case, email) has actually changed what academics do. In most cases, new technology allows academics to do what they did before more efficiently. It is when we get to the next generation of new technology that changes in how we write and publish will seem much more radical.

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