The Information Society

This course was designed by: Daniel Chandler and Ewan Sutherland.


Lectures are be held on Mondays at 14:00 and on Thursdays at 10:00 in the Cliff Tucker Theatre.

Full details of the lecture programme and a comprehensive reading list are available at the first lecture on Monday 17th January 1996.

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.

WWW version of notes

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.

WWW version of notes

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.

WWW version of notes

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.

WWW version of notes

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?

WWW version of notes

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.

WWW version of notes

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.

WWW version of notes

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.

WWW version of notes

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?

A hand-out was provided at the lecture.

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.

WWW version of notes

Speeches by Al Gore, US Vice-President

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.

lecture notes

The Silicon Handshake

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.

WWW version of notes

Transcript of a talk by Kavner on the data superhighway.

Essays by George Gilder.

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?

A hand-out was provided at the lecture.

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.

WWW version of notes

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.

A hand-out was provided at the lecture.

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.

Rather than give slides in Postscript, I am linking this page to a presentation I gave at the University of Birmingham on a similar subject.

List of emotocions

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?

[sound 2001 theme

[sound] HAL

[sound] HAL being disconnected

Lecture notes

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.

Lecture notes

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?

A hand-out was provided at the lecture.

20 The computer industry

A new industry has appeared since the 1950s, 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.

Lecture notes

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.

Lecture notes

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.

Lecture notes

Copyright © Ewan Sutherland, 1995.

Ewan Sutherland's home page