Elin Whitney-Smith, Ph.D

Throughout my career I have followed my ideas. Those ideas have been understanding the dynamics of change in complex human systems. This strategy has resulted in an employment and educational history which may be difficult to trace through time, so I have provided this narrative and associated time line to supplement my curriculum vitae.


While attending school (Brookdale, Rutgers) I held various part-;time and full-time jobs, including: substitute teacher in the Long Branch Bi-Cultural Program,, school bus driver for Murphy Transportation,, reporter for the Red Bank Daily Register, and field Archaeologist for the Abbott Farm Survey for Rutgers University. My major intellectual interest was how cultures change. I believed that the basic dynamics of cultural change would be easier to trace in the simpler cultures of the past and that understanding the dynamics would help me understand change in current day organizations.


After completing my undergraduate education, I was employed by Asbury Park - New York Transit, as an interstate bus driver, the only woman driving in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. I was active in the union affairs of Teamsters Local 701, organizing a committee which formulated and presented the drivers´ point of view. This gave me an appreciation of how organizations change, how much line workers know about what makes good business, and how business and union organizations function.


I returned to school to do graduate work (University of Maine at Orono). I worked as an Archaeologist in the field and laboratory. Course work in Quaternary geology, glaciology, and climate change introduced me to the techniques of modeling complex systems. I wanted to use these techniques to analyze change in cultural systems, but the program lacked suitable advisors - those who knew modeling knew nothing about cultural change and those who knew about cultural change knew nothing about modeling.


The Cybernetic Systems Program (San Jose State)gave me the opportunity to learn modeling. While studying for my masters there, I worked as an Archaeologist, field supervisor, and faunal and ecological analyst (Basin Research Associates). After completing my degree in 1985, I taught in the Cybernetic Systems Program and served as graduate advisor and acting chair while the regular faculty were on leave. For this I was awarded the Norman O. Gunderson Award. I developed an educational methodology focused on output criteria and observable behavioral goals and objectives.I pursued my interest in cultural and organizational change, focusing on business organizations and started a consulting firm with a colleague.

The combination of working in Archaeology and studying cybernetics in business organizations led to the insight that people in groups use two basic survival strategies:

  1. Hunter/gatherers are Information- or I-adapted. For them, survival depends on information, i.e. knowing where plants and animals are. They perceive a world of plenty, sharing material goods in order tocreate networks of relationships and information.
  2. People since the invention of agriculture are Material goods- or M-adapted. For them, survival depends on possession and manipulation of material goods. They perceive a world of scarcity, using information to gain increasing amounts of material goods.
These are strategies are opposites. I hypothesized, if information technology changes the way information circulates in a culture, there should be major changes in cultural organization associated with the introduction of information technology. This, in turn, led to my interest in how information technology changes the structure of organizations.


I have pursued the I- and M-adaptation insight in two doctoral programs: at Old Dominion University, my dissertation examined how business structure has changed with each major advance in information technology; at George Washington, I am now examining the dynamics of ecological conditions that led to the shift from I- to M- adaptation.


Currently, I use my practical and theoretical background in information technology and organizational change as an independent consultant on information technology and national security (Vision 21, Joint Military Intelligence Training Center, Arlington Institute)on networking and communications as part of Vice President Gore´s Electronic Town Hall for the National Performance Review, and helping to hook Hine Jr. High School, to the internet, and working on various forms of electronic communications and presentation tools and systems including a standard setting SGML tool kit for Computer Science Corporation, and NASA Goddard, and a standard breaking catalogue production system for the Combined Federal Campaign.

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