This profile supplies background to several guides by
looking at past communications and information revolutions.
in this profile
The following pages cover -
telegraph - the shape and impact of the telegraph
- and its heir the telephone
press - books, journals and newspapers
- woodcuts, etchings, lithographs and mechanical reproduction
of images before the photograph
- instanteity and accuracy?
- the moving image
- the first broadcast revolution
television - and
its tamer heir?
- electricity networks as a metaphor for the web
- a world made by railways?
- and by the bicycle and automobile?
- communications revolutions on the waves
- activity in the air as a model for cyberspace
space - the 'last frontier' and other paradigms
and indicators - studies of the economic and cultural
impacts, along with a selection of measures
- communication bodies
- metaphors for the web
- categorising epochs in the history of the 'mediasphere'
Those revolutions are a reality check in considering claims
made about the web or the information economy.
They suggest ways in which governments and other institutions
adapt to new opportunities, new challenges.
They also reflect ways in which people have characterised
new technology and its impacts. Much rhetoric about the
net for example echoes utopian or dystopian forecasts
from earlier generations about radio (or earlier communications
developments) as a catalyst for revivifying community,
enriching culture, destroying morals, enriching small
business, "returning power to the people" or
a "new frontier" ...
the revolutionary experience
Although it is easy to succumb, like Negroponte (Being
Digital) and Gilder (Life After Television),
to a sort of digital delirium it is important to remember
that law, government, economy and culture have experienced
It is also useful to recognise that the ramifications
of political and technological changes may be subtle.
Revolutions begin with a blaze of fireworks (or dot coms)
but quickly become bureaucratised - colonised by existing
institutions, embraced by regulation - and assimilated
into day to day lives. We have suggested in our profile
on the web that such a 'normalisation'
is occurring online at the moment.
The most powerful effect of the French Revolution may
have been the diffusion of the Code Napoleon, ie the new
legal framework, rather than blue-bloods having a nasty
encounter with Madame Guillotine. Similarly, large-scale
adoption of the typewriter
and the bicycle prior to 1900 arguably had a greater economic
and social impact (eg inclusion of women within an international
white collar proletariat) than anything we'll seen from
the Web during the next decade.
As a result, we suggest that in considering the nature
of the 'internet revolution' you avoid the dot com gurus
and instead consult The Social Life of Information
(Boston: Harvard Business School Press 2000), an outstanding
work by John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid. It is based
on a real understanding of technologies and their impact
on society and economy.
For other thoughts on the adoption of new communication
technologies and freedoms dip into Vincent Mosco's The
Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2004), Arenas of Innovation: Fringe Groups
& the Discovery of New Liberties Of Action - a
by Harmeet Sawhney & Seungwhan Lee - or Media Use
in the Information Age: Emerging Patterns of Adoption
& Consumer Use (Hillsdale: Erlbaum 1989) edited
by Jerry Salvaggio & Jennings Bryant and the somewhat
reductionist Information Revolutions in the History
of the West (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 2008) edited
by Leonard Dudley.
Elsewhere in this site we have noted the incisive Information
Rules (Boston: Harvard Business School Press 1999)
by Hal Varian & Carl Shapiro for its exploration of
the 'new' and 'old' economies. It is essential reading.
A Nation Transformed By Information (New York: Oxford
Uni Press 2000) is an outstanding collection of essays,
edited by Alfred Chandler and James Cortada, on the use
and impact of information technologies.
Another perspective is provided by the invaluable Understanding
the Digital Economy: Data, Tools & Research (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2000), edited by Erik Brynjolfsson & Brian
Kahin, particularly the essays by Hal Varian and Paul
David, Paths of Innovation: Technological Change in
20th Century America (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press
1998) by David Mowery & Nathan Rosenberg and Communication
and Empire: Media, Markets, and Globalization, 1860–1930
(Durham: Duke Uni Press 2007) by Dwayne Winseck &