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At the time of the interview, John Leslie King was W. For many years prior, he had served as a faculty member and administrator in the information school at the University of California Irvine. He held both faculty and administrative roles at Michigan in both the School of Information and the university central administration. His main research deals with computerization in the public sector and municipalities, as well as other organizations.

He has also worked on privacy issues and some of the primary computerization projects. For the oral history with King, see John King oral history, April This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. Okay, we're on now. So, it is the 9th of August This is an oral history interview, a second session with John King. The interviewer is William Aspray. We're doing this interview over Zoom. In the first session, we talked about your career and some of your reflections about some of the institutions you'd been at during your career. In today's interview session, we're going to start by talking about your research, and the goal here is to get an overview of your research.

And I'm going to leave it largely to you to set the framework and run with this, though I will certainly have some follow-up questions. So, tell me about your research. Probably the best thing to do is to start with an old adage: "Everybody brings their autobiography to the table". What I am and what I do is the product of stuff that happened to me.

I had a bias toward biological sciences when I was in high school. This bias took me, basically, in the direction of a physician by training who specialized in occupational rehabilitation. This guy took a shine to me.

I don't know why. He asked me to come with him one time to an occupational rehabilitation technology fair. It was held near my home. This was before I had a to drive. I rode my bicycle down to this fair. My dad had been an engineer. He got his first engineering job because he could type.

He insisted that I take typing. So, I had. There was an IBM rep there, bored out of her mind, standing next to this thing. I was the only person interested, so, I asked her if I could play with it. I did and thought to myself, "Wow, this is a real huge improvement on regular typing. The doorway was at the time called office automation. That took me in.

My research since then has been characterized by three points. The first is that I flit from thing to thing. This has been a criticism of my work. My attention is not held for very long to any given thing. I usually am looking for underlying connections. I do flit from thing to thing. I lose interest perhaps too easily. But I'm looking for some underlying thing that catches the essence of what I'm looking at. Second, I do have a pretty strong sense of the old Texas expression, "Dance with the one who brung you.

If reviewers say you should do this, I usually do it, even if I don't agree with it. The final point has influenced my work from the start: whether my work matters is more a function of luck than my skill. If I am on a salient topic, it's going to be picked up and discussed more than if I'm not on a salient topic.

What determines salience is very hard to tell. As I was focusing on being a researcher, which you had to do in a PhD program, I started looking at policy issues: questions like, is the investment in computing technology worthwhile? Productivity issues, centralization, cost benefit analysis, staffing problems. Very nuts and bolts, how do you manage information technology?

Most of this, particularly when I got into the PhD program and started working on my dissertation, was under a NSF grant to older established faculty members or people who were trying to establish themselves. I was a doctoral student, but this grant was basically to study computerization in local government.

I couldn't understand why people thought that what I was doing was so boring. I thought it was really interesting. The line was, "Government is boring and local government is absolutely boring. There were two underlying themes in local government. One is it's an administrative gig. You have to get the trains to run on time and you have to send bills out to people and stuff like that. The other one is that there's a big de component that ranges from social engineering, which public safety is very concerned about, to de of the built environment, which planning and development is concerned about, to how people use their spare time, parks and rec and that kind of thing.

The big thing I learned from studying local government computing is you can't understand local government computing unless you understand local government. That is, you have to understand the domain of something before you can understand what difference information technology makes in the domain.

That was a really important lesson to me. It raised questions about why? What's going on in all of this? And that took me into the systems view, the first part of the systems view, which was heavily influenced by Wes Churchman, but it was also influenced by popular music: Donovan and Joni Mitchell.

This was in the early '70s. There was a notion in popular music that everything is circular. Everything comes back on itself, the Great Mandalla and all this took my attention and led me into a lot of presumptions and assumptions, things like the Sciences of the Artificial by Simon and the Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann. These are the things that really had an effect on my thinking. Also, I was working closely with somebody that we both know, Rob Kling.

Rob was one of the more remarkable people I've known. On the one hand, he had very precise interests in computing and electronics. He was an Electrical Engineering major, but he was also interested in social impacts. Rob introduced me to Joe Weizenbaum and Abbe Moshowitz and other people who were talking about the implications of artificial intelligence. My advisor, Ken Kramer was an architect by training, so I was very interested in concepts about de and the built environment and so forth.

I got intrigued by I didn't call it this at the time ,the banality of IT application. Most important IT application was incredibly banal. It had to do with things like efficiency of operations. One of the most important developments at the time was something called transaction processing. It's not only forgotten now, it was forgotten even then.

But it was really important. It changed the way things work. There was order entry and fulfillment, which laid the groundwork for electronic commerce. There was time definite delivery, which changed the world of distribution. And of course, there was all this speculation about artificial intelligence and this got me interested, broadly speaking. Part of what I became interested in, because I moved from management, which is where I started, into a computer science department. One of the most rapidly rising topics, which was software, was marginalized. And it was marginalized for a long time.

I knew it was marginalized because the computer science department lumped me in with software. Social impacts of computing and software worked together, known as area five. We didn't even have a name. We were area five. This intrigued me because I could see that stuff was moving towards software. I started thinking about the problematic of how do you be part of the solution rather than part of problem. I had read Lewis Mumford and Jacques Ellul and so forth and so on and I knew how to be a critic of technology.

And then maybe I'd read Langdon Winner and other people who were reflecting on this stuff. I was surrounded by people who basically have an engineering mindset in computer science.

Oral king looking

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