Steps toward a Digital Ecology: Ecological Principles for the Study of Digital Ecosystems

Attila Marton*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The notion of digital ecosystems has become a fruitful metaphor for examining the effects of digitalization across boundaries of organization, industry, lifeworld, mind, and body. In business-economic terms, the metaphor has inspired IS research into new business models, while in engineering terms, it has led to important insights into the design and governance of digital platforms. Studying digital ecosystems in these terms, however, makes it difficult to trace and explain those effects of digitalization, which do not materialize predominantly in economic and engineering patterns. Important relationships and their effects may therefore go unnoticed. In response, I draw on the ecological epistemology of Gregory Bateson and others to contribute an ecological approach to digital ecosystems. Such an understanding, I argue, expands the possibilities for tracing and explaining the wide-reaching, boundary-crossing effects of digitalization and the runaway dynamics they may lead to. I suggest to do this based on three principles: (1) part-of-ness—phenomena are to be observed as always part of a larger ecosystem; (2) systemic wisdom—ecosystems have limits, which need to be respected; and (3) information ecology—ecosystems are not mechanical but informed, cognitive systems. As my contribution, I propose six avenues for future IS research into digital ecology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Information Technology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)250-265
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 18. November 2021.


  • Digital ecosystems
  • Digital ecology
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Future IS research
  • Ecological thinking
  • Responsible digitalization

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