University of Wales


Centre for Informatics

1it0220 The information society

Module tutor: Ewan Sutherland .

This is an optional module worth 20 credits at Level 1, open to all honours students at Lampeter.

It is a core module for students intending to take the Information Technology stream of the Informatics degree.

Who should take this course?

The module is intended for students of the Arts and Humanities who do not necessarily have any significant background in or experience of computing, IT or telecommunications but who are interested in the economic, social and personal consequences of the increasing use of those technologies and of our growing dependence on them. The module is relevant to students of liberal arts and those intending to pursue a career in business.




The module is intended to give students in the Arts and Humanities an understanding of the issues which arise from the use of information technology at four levels: societies, economies, organisations and individuals. Students will have the opportunity to study many different aspects of the information society and to see how these interact. The problems presented are complex and must to tackled in a multi-disciplinary way.


On completion of the module, students should be able to discuss and to evaluate:

Teaching methods

The module will comprise a series of lectures and seminars. The seminars will primarily be used for the discussion of case studies in which individual students are expected to analyse the case material provided. In order to do so they will require to read the material well in advance of the seminars and to have identified and read related material. The seminars themselves are highly interactive and all students are required to participate.

The total number of hours of work is 160, comprised of:

Students are expected to work in their own time, reading background material and performing work related to the course.

There are no hands-on classes for this course.

The staff teaching on this module are Ewan Sutherland and Daniel Chandler (UW Aberystwyth).


The module sets the technological developments of information and communications technologies and services into their historical context in terms of the industrial revolution. It identifies the forces driving the changes of the last fifty years and the technological advances made during that period and tries to show how those forces will operate in the future. The effects of the adoption of the technology are considered in terms of economies, societies and cultures, from effects on employment to the ever greater availability of broadcast and on-line entertainment. Patterns and changes in employment are examined, both at the overall level of employment and job creation rates and at the personal elvel where changes occur in the ways in which we work. The ways in which education is affected by the use of technology are examined. Every effort is made to relate the module to the problems of the contemporary world.


The assessment comes in two parts. The first is a set of three equally-weighted essays worth 50%. The second is either a two hour exmination or an extended essay for the second 50%.

Students must notify in writing the Informatics Secretary by 7 February whether they intend to take the examination or complete the extended essay. After that date their decision is irrevocable. If students do not make a choice, it will be assumed that they are sitting the examination.

Failure to submit coursework by the given deadline will result in no marks being awarded.

Receipts must be obtained from the secretary for all work submitted.

Requests for extensions can only be granted by the moudle coordinator on the appropriate form and, except in special circumstances, only on production of a medical note. Extensions can only be granted in advance of deadlines.

Assignments must be the work of the student submitting the work. Plagiarism will be severely penalised.

All assessed work is double marked and returned to students with letters indicating a provisional grade:

A	70-100		First class		
B	60-69		Second class - Upper division		
C	50-59		Second class - Lower division		
D	40-49		Third Class and Pass Degree		
E	0-39		Fail

The final grades are only awarded at the examination board at the end of the academic year. Every effort will be made to return work to students promptly and with constructive comments on the work.

The marking criteria for coursework and examinations are:


The three assignments are equally weighted and should be of approximately 1,500 words in length.

Assignment 1 (of 2)

One of the following:

Deadline: 21st February 1996.

Assignment 2 (of 2)

One of the following:

Deadline: 22nd March 1996.

Extended essay

This is only for students not sitting the examination.

The extended essay should be approximately 5,000 words in length.

Deadline: 30th April 1996.

  1. Identify the characteristics of an "information society" and show how different countires fit with these.
  2. Discuss how authors of fiction use information technology in order to explore social themes.
  3. Explain how changes in information technology have influenced political processes in the past forty years.
  4. Discuss how at least twocountries have used the vision of an information society in their general framework of other policies.
  5. Develop scenarios for the future of the newspaper, reflecting the ways in which technology is influencing the production of newspapers and its rivals.
  6. Evaluate the ways in which the adoption of information and communications technologues are changing the home, both in physical and conceptual terms.
  7. Discuss how the adoption of information technology is changing the ways in which retailers operate.
  8. Account for the impoartance of Silicon Valley in the global information technology industry.

Specimen examination paper

This is only for students not attempting the extended essay.

Candidates should not attempt more than two questions. Time allowed: two hours.

  1. Although many individuals seem reluctant to adopt new technologies, societies seem to have little reluctance and, perhaps, less choice. Discuss.
  2. Discuss how the use of advancing technologies is affecting the jobs market in the 1990s.
  3. Critically evaluate the reasons for wanting to work and to shop at home. How is this being influenced by IT?
  4. The aircraft eliminated the traditional rôle of the ambassador; recent technological advances could signal the end of the representative in democracy. Discuss the possibility of direct electronic democracy.
  5. Critically evaluate how changing technologies and changing markets are alteing our choice of television viewing. What are the social consequences of this?
  6. Using examples, discuss how science fiction can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  7. Using examples, analyse the causes of growth in the computer and communications industries; what drives its expansion and development?
  8. Is educational technology a threat to teachers?
  9. Does it help to categorise as revolutionary the changes brought about by the use of IT?
  10. Critically evaluate the use of technologies in the writing process.
  11. Information is power. Discuss.
  12. The Information Society does not exist in the Third World. Discuss how it might be developed.

Teaching programme

Copies of all OHPs used in lectures will be available in Powerpoint, Postscript and/or HTML formats.

1 Introduction

To set the scene for the module it is necessary to establish the frameworks against which the material will be considered and which will help you in understanding and in assimilating the material. A variety of frameworks are necessary to understand the issues: historical, sociological, spatial and temporal. Indications of the pace of change, the forces driving invention and those influencing adoption.

2 Technological trends and social change

An understanding of change requires an analysis of the forces which have in the past and which are currently influencing the world. Equally important are the sources of resistance and inertia. The results of the changes can be seen in individual events and in patterns of the distribution of events through time and over space. However, it is also important to look at other changes, to see how significant are IT and related changes.

3 Second industrial revolution

The existence and significance of the second industrial revolution is even more contentious than the first. It was a continuation of the industrial and social changes, though the locus shifts from the UK to the USA and to Germany. The appearance of new industries (e.g., automobiles, chemicals and electricity) and new organisational forms (e.g., multi-divisional, multi-national). For the first time there was truly 'big' business and following from that anti-trust issues.

4 The information revolution

The most recent industrial revolution and one still underway. The rise of industries based on information. A shift from meeting needs to wants. The contribution of Daniel Bell to the idea of the post-industrial society. Possible definitions of information revolution, information economy, information industry and infosphere.

5 Managing the changing computer

The changes in computer technology and the consequences for its applications in organisations. From the mainframe computer to the workstation of today. From impersonal and remote to the desk-top or palm-top. The immense advances in telecommunications. The challenges of management information systems. Nolan's model of crises in the management of information systems. Can information be managed? What is a chief information officer or an IT director and do they perform any useful rôles?

6 Jobs and technology

One of the key arguments put forward by Marx was that capital was used to substitute for labour, a view which reached its ascendancy in so-called Fordism and Taylorism. The result was dramatic changes in the workforce, in the skills required and in career opportunities. An international division of labour emerged, with manual work transferred from North America and Europe to the third world. Recently, flexible manufacturing created new ideas about the factory of the future, including some repatriation of work from the third world. Mass employment which was once required by industry is now declining.

7 Offices and organisations

Recently, it has become possible to replace human labour in offices, an area where the definition of work and efficiency have proved much more difficult. What do people do in offices? The rise and fall of the typist. Finally, the oft predicted demise of the middle manager. The current trends for down-sizing, restructuring and business process redesign.

8 Teleworking

For decades the vast majority of white collar work has required attendance at an office, usually located in a city centre. Much of that work has now been automated and as a consequence of the technology can be undertaken at alternative locations, including suburban work centres or the home of the worker. Beside the dreams of electronic cottages stands the reality of social and organisational inertia and a continued huddling together in city centres.

9 Educational computing

Microcomputers were introduced into British schools in the early 1980s and have spread widely since then. How do educational uses differ from non-educational uses? Computer Aided Instruction or Computer Assisted Learning ?

10 National policies towards computers and the information society

The development of European national computer industries in the 1950s and 1960s was followed by the slow recognition of failure. Later there was the search for inward investment from the USA and more recently from Japan and South Korea. Programmes for national and international research and development were conjured up, with a significant rôle for the European Union in pre-competitive R&D. The rapid growth of Malaysia. A significant part in this is played by educational policies, creating the information workers and the information handling skills. The Bangemann Report for the European Union indicates the importance attached to building the Infobahn in Europe.

11 Management of change

The introduction of new technology requires change at personal, organisational, economic and social levels. For the introduction to succeed, it is essential that the processes be 'managed', through programmes for those involved. Resistance and inertia can be reduced or overcome by education, training and re-training. Process consultancy is a particularly valuable approach. Intelligent job design also helps.

12 Technology in the home

The enormous growth of the consumer electronics industry has been achieved by a flood of electronic goods into the home, from chips controlling kitchen appliances to systems for entertainment and education. One consequence is that the external world is seen through electronic eyes, images acquired from television and games. A second consequence is that control over the distribution of information is increasingly difficult.

13 Watching television

Surveys indicate that the source of information on which adults rely most heavily is television, moreover it is heavily trusted. Children watch even more television than adults, providing an alternative curriculum to school. How do people make sense of television?

14 Ethics and morality

In recent years there has been a rise in interest in business or organisational ethics. Companies have formulated codes of practice and chairs in business ethics have been founded at Harvard and London Business Schools. The use of IT raises many ethical issues for organisations and for individuals.

15 Writing and word processing

The choice of tools for writing includes pens, typewriters and computers, each tool is best suited to particular uses. Some writers seem to need the informality of handwriting at the early stages. Some people like to scribble all over draft printouts, others feel this reflects their inadequacy. Some critics reject the word processor feeling 'used' by it.

16 Privacy and hacking

In many countries privacy is defined by laws and enshrined in constitutions. Judges and politicians have been forced to come to terms with changes brought about by the adoption of new technology. Ease of handling information has created whole new areas where rights and crimes have never existed. The potential to combine information from different sources makes it increasingly difficult to hide from governments and from marketers. Most developed countries now have legislation to control the use of data or at least to register users. The approaches taken have been quite different and the effectiveness is open to question. The proliferation of computer networks made it clear at an early stage that international legislation would be necessary. There is another side to this, in that the technology makes it possible to open up government to much greater scrutiny.

17 Fictive futures

Members of the 'Artificial Intelligentsia' lack the breadth of imagination and sensitivity to map out the future of computing and robotics, it is better left to literary writers. The best science fiction writers tell us something about the issues facing us. For example, the Frankenstein complex, a deep-seated fear of creating something too autonomous. How have computers and automata been portrayed and what can we learn from these creative insights?

18 The telecommunications industry

In the not so distant past telecommunications was a rather staid and dull, if profitable, industry, buried away in the Post Office and its foreign equivalents. Today it is a dynamic industry, the subject of massive investment and technological advances. Globalisation has replaced national operations, while attention to the needs of customers has become paramount. Technological bureaucracies have undergone restructuring and massive changes in organisational culture. The future of the industry is very challenging as it collides with computing and entertainment.

19 The humanness of being human

Radical critics of the dominant metaphors of our age have argued that we deny our humanness when we focus on information, rather than on meaning, when we treat information as something which is stored in computer and retrieved from computers rather than as an active process of interpretation. Is this merely semantics?

20 The computer industry

A new industry has appeared since the 1940s, characterised by dynamism, growth, change, uncertainty and cannibalism. Companies have risen to great heights only to fall back into oblivion. Despite its recent troubles, IBM remains the biggest name and is again reviving. The Japanese and South Koreans continue to grow, seemingly inexorably. Computing converges with communications and entertainment.

21 Business strategy and information technology

Applications of information systems in organisations have moved from the operational to take an increasingly strategic rôle, this can be seen in sectors such as newspapers, airlines, retailing and many more.

22 Conclusion and overview

To draw together the diverse strands of the module, it is necessary to look at current levels of change against the historical patterns. The processes of change are beyond easy control and are, perhaps, unstoppable. It seem clear that many countries are locked out of the information society and that only conscious action by those in it will cause them to be admitted. Equally many individuals are locked out, with no better prospect than a job as a personal fitness instructor or a burger-bar operative.

Seminar programme

Students are required sign-up for seminar slots on the noticeboard in the Centre for Informatics.

Written material will be provided on each of the following topics:

Reading list

An important part of all university courses is the reading of books and journals. The breadth of this module is too great for any one student to cover it in any significant depth so that choices have to be made. A significant part of the reading list is easily read and can be quickly dealt with, these are marked with an asterisk. You are strongly advised to read as much as you can, though also to make decisions and focus on particular topics of your interest. Should you wish further advice please ask the module coordinator.

The recommended text for this course is:

Heap, Nicolas et al. (1995) "Information Technology and Society" Sage, London.

Alternative texts are :

Forester, Tom (1989) "Computers in the Human Context: information technology, productivity and people" Basil Blackwell. 301.243 COM (3 copies on overnight loan.)

Rowe, Christopher (1990) "People and Chips" Blackwell, Oxford. 301.243 ROW (4 copies on overnight loan)

General reading

Berleur, Jacques et al. (1990) "The Information Society; evolving landscapes" Springer-Verlag, New York. 301.243 INF

Boyd-Barnett, Oliver and Scanlon, Eileen (editors) (1990) "Computers and Learning" Addison-Wesley, Wokingham. 371.39445 BOY

Brödner, Peter (1990) "The Shape of Future Technology: the anthropocentric alternative" Springer-Verlag, London. 301.243 BRO

Castells, Manuel (1989) "The Informational City: information technology, economic restructuring and urban-regional process" Basil Blackwell, Oxford. 301.243 CAS

Chandler, Alfred J (1990) "Scale and Scope: the dynamics of industrial capitalism" Harvard University Press and Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA. 338.644 CHA

Dordick, Herbert S and Wang, Georgette (1993) "The Information Society: a retrospective view" Sage, London. 301.243 DOR

Lyon, David (1990) "The Information Society: issues and illusions" Oxford Polity in association with Basil Blackwell, Second edition. 301.243 LYO

Martin, William J (1995) "The Information Society" Aslib, London. To be ordered.

Martyn, John, Vickers, Peter and Feeny, Mary (1990) "Information UK 2000" Bowker-Saur, London. 025.520942 INF

Masuda, Yoneji (1990) "Managing in the Information Society: releasing synergy Japanese style" Basil Blackwell. 301.243 MAS

Reich, Robert B (1991) "The Work of Nations: preparing ourselves for 21st century capitalism" Alfred Knopf, New York. 330.905 REI

Roszak, Theodore (1986) "The Cult of Information: the folklore of computers and the true art of thinking" Lutterworth Press, Cambridge. 001.64 ROS

Salvaggio, Jerry L (editor) (1989) "The Information Society: economic, social and structural issues" Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ. 301.243 INF

Wurman, Richard Saul (1991) "Information Anxiety: what to do when information doesn't tell you what you need to know" Pan, London. 301.243 WUR

Students will find occasional articles in the 'quality' daily newspapers, such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the Financial Times, together their Sunday equivalents.

Students will also find useful material in the following magazines: Business Week, Intermedia and The Economist. Current copies and back issues can be found in the Library and should be consulted.

Prepared by Ewan Sutherland, 1995.


an electronic version of this document can be found at: