Digital assemblages: Evidence and theorizing from the computerization of the U.S. residential real estate industry

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We theorize on industry-level computerization by drawing data from on-going empirical study of the United States’ residential real estate industry begun in 1997. Real estate serves us here as a "living laboratory" for studying information-intensive economic activity. In lieu of standard economic analyses, we advance computerization as the analytic framework for this study because it focuses attention to the take up and uses of information and communication technologies (ICT) in conjunction with related socio-economic changes. We find, as might be expected, that with the increased use of ICT real estate agents are less involved as information intermediaries and yet are more deeply embedded into the processes of buying and selling of houses: they are more socially embedded. We find, as expected, that uses of ICT are now pervasive in this industry. However, the ways in which these ICT are used help agents to embed themselves more deeply into the transacting of real estate rather than serving as vehicles for disintermediation. Building from these findings we theorize on the ways in which social embedding supports economic transactions. And, we theorize the ways in which ICT are brought together and used can more coherently understood as a ’digital assemblage’ than as some sort of formal information system or particular technology. Our conceptualization of a digital assemblage is characterized by distinct patterns of ICT collections that, in use, are functionally equivalent and structurally similar, relying on standardized and commodified ICT.