The information society

Lecture 4

The information revolution

Ewan Sutherland


Naisbitt - Megatrends

Kondratiev waves

First wave: 1787-1845

Second wave: 1846-1896

Third wave: 1896-1947

Fourth wave: 1948-200?

A third industrial revolution?

Is the present development of Information Technology different from other types of technological changes in the past, or are we suffering from what has been termed temporal provincialism? Are we sitting down and thinking never before has humanity been subject to such intense pressures as today? Are we just ignoring historical facts or is it really very different?

Johan Martin-Löf (1982) page 61.

Alternative technologies

Space age

Thee USSR launched Sputnik 1 in 1957.
... had lost a battle more important and greater than Pearl Harbour.
Dr Edward Teller
... a hunk of iron almost anybody could launch.
Rear Admiral Rawson Bennett
Rocket launch

Moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969.

Earth rise from lunar orbit

Atomic age

Post-industrial society

The terms pre-industrial, industrial, and post industrial societies are conceptual sequences along the axis of production and the kinds of knowledge that are used.

Daniel Bell (1973) page 11.

Post-industrial society

Changing composition of the Workforce in the USA.

Changing composition of the Workforce in the UK.

Differing views


To the technological utopians the new society would be totally different from the past in economic structure, life-styles, and personal value orientation. Our society will be free from pollution and traffic jams because a majority of the population will stay at home to work and receive education. As the computer frees human beings from all routine jobs, more time will be allowed for creative work and spiritual cultivation. Broad access to information will help bring about participatory democracy and a perfect market ....

Dordick and Wang (1993) p. 14.


The pessimists, on the other hand, see no major structural changes to justify a claim for a historical or social discontinuity. Competition for profit will persist, accompanied by continuing, even increasing alienation in the workplace, and surveillance by the bureaucracy will only revive painful memories of the industrial age. They see the coming of a dark age where information and information technology only serve to benefit the rich, such as multinational giants, for more profit exploitation ...

Dordick and Wang (1993) page 15.

Japanese conception

Neutral effect of jobs

In the first place, we could imagine a situation where the new technologies of the information society neither destroyed old jobs nor created new ones, but simply made the content of existing jobs more intellectual, creative and satisfying. Secondly, by contrast, we could imagine that information technologies had no impact on existing job specification, but that they made work more creative by destroying existing routine manual jobs and replacing them with entirely new intellectual, exciting jobs.

Morris-Suzuki (1988) page 106.


The reasoning behind this optimistic prediction is not precisely spelled out in the information society report, but it appears that the vision of future social harmony rests partly on the anticipated transformation of human values, and partly upon the effects of specific technological trends. The development of new communications networks, for example, is seen as having great potential for allowing the growth of decentralised regional information and entertainment networks which would strengthen the participation of individuals in and identification with their community. Morris-Suzuki (1988) page 15.

European Union initiatives

Pre-competitive research and development

ESPRIT - European Strategic Programme for Research in Information Technology
RACE - Research in Advanced Communications in Europe
FAST - Forecasting and Assessment in Science and Technology

Application of IT for example in:

De-regulation of telecoms.

Computer wars

The Europeans are no longer a factor and show no signs of becoming one.

Ferguson and Morris (1993), p 222.

Pacific Rim

Silicon Valley


Personal computers

The perception of coherence may be attributable, in part, to the conspicuous absence of coherence in the industrial policies of other countries. Compared to the industrial policies of Italy and Great Britain, Japan’s seems almost like a model of clarity and technical rationality. The contrast is especially striking if the scope of industrial policy is confined to the manufacturing sectors under MITI’s jurisdiction. But clarity, consistency and effectiveness are relative terms, and if Italy, Great Britain, or even France is the point of reference, the liberal use of such terms may mean relatively little. They may reveal less about the conceptual tidiness of industrial policy in Japan than they do about its ineptly conceived and disorganised nature in other countries.

Okimoto (1989) pages 3-4.

Failings in other countries

Graph of telephone lines.

Countries locked-out by

An information industry


Private sector

Public sector

Steel mini-mills

Lean production


We cannot yet tell if it is a revolution!

Certainly dramatic effects on:

Main geographic area is around the Pacific Rim.

What has it not done?


"Information Technology and Society" Heap at al.

  • Theorising the IT/Society Relationship Hughie Mackay
    Copyright © Ewan Sutherland, 1995.

    Ewan Sutherland's home page