Rob Kling, researcher of computers' influence on society

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Rob Kling, an Indiana University professor, author and educator who was a pioneer in the study of how computers influence social change, has died. He was 58.

Kling, who became the head of IU's Center for Social Informatics seven years ago, died May 15 at his Bloomington home.

His wife, Mitzi Lewison, said he died unexpectedly in his sleep of cardiovascular disease.

From 1971 until 1973, Kling taught at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, then joined the faculty of the University of California, Irvine.

Blaise Cronin, dean of IU's School of Library and Information Science, called Kling "quite simply the brightest bloke with whom I have had the pleasure of working."

Concerned that all discussion of computers focused on technology, Kling studied government, manufacturers and insurance companies to determine how computers affect society.

His studies convinced him that "there is an underside to computer technology," he said.

He said employees are sometimes improperly trained in computer use, causing worker stress, and said dependency on computers for communication eliminates creative, stimulating social interaction.

Another major downside, he said, can be loss of privacy.

"Many people, particularly white-collar workers, have a view that the best factory is one where almost nobody is there," Kling said in a 1985 speech. "In this view the factory is a production machine, a gadget, and there's no honorable role for people except to fill in where the machines aren't good enough yet."

He moved to IU in 1996, teaching classes in computerization in society, digital libraries and the seminar in information science. He also headed the information sciences master's program.

In addition to his wife, Kling is survived by a sister.


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