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The Information Age: Evolution or Revolution? MELVIN KRANZBERG Every time we pick up a newspaper or a journal or listen to the news we learn about new technological developments heralding major sociotechnical changes: "Microelectronics Revolution,'' "Postindus- tnal Society," "Computer Revolution," `'Automation Age," and so on. Since all of these involve the accumulation, manipulation, and retrieval of data by computerized electronic devices and their appli- cation to many facets of human life, it is no wonder that the headlines shout that computer developments are transforming industry and society to produce a new "Information Age." Is this transformation evolutionary or revolutionary? After all, most technologies are evolutionary in the sense that they derive from prior developments. The steam engine did not emerge full-blown out of James Watt's brain, but was based upon Thomas Newcomen's engine, which in turn rested on still earlier attempts. Similarly, Gutenberg's invention of printing derived from a whole series of previous innova- tions paper, block printing, inks, and movable type which he put together in a new way. Indeed, virtually every major technological innovation can be shown to have been the outcome of evolutionary advance, in that historians can trace the elements comprising them far back in time. Computers, the basis of the Infonnation Age, find their origins in earlier devices, such as the ancient abacus, the seventeenth-century calculators of Pascal, the work of Charles Babbage in the nineteenth 35
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36 MELVIN KRANZBERG century, and Herman Hollenth's development of punched-card oper- ations for the U.S. Census in the lS90s.~ Even though such technologies evolve over a long period of time, they can have revolutionary technical and social impacts even during the process of reaching full development and application. However, history indicates that changes in individual technologies do not by themselves have revolutionary sociocultural effects. Thus the medieval improvements in power sources—the introduction of the windmill and the waterwheel on a wide scal~did not produce a "revolution" because they remained based in a small-scale agrarian society. Most people continued to live in rural villages with farming as their chief occupation; hence there were no major changes in where and how people lived and worked. Not until the eighteenth century did a whole series of technological innovations come together to produce the classical Industrial Revo- lution. Although popular opinion credits Watt's steam engine with starting industrialization, many of its elements, such as power-driven machinery, the factory organization of work, and specialization of labor, had already begun in the textile industry long before Watt.2 Concomitant changes were occurring in mining and metallurgy, and transportation was being improved by the development of canals and roadways. Furthermore, the foundation of a national banking system and extension of joint-stock companies helped provide the capital and financial requirements for technical investment and commercial growth. The point is that a single major technical advance does not in itself constitute a technological revolution. There must be other and related technical advances plus major changes occurring in the political- economic-social-cultural context of the times. Nevertheless, scholars delight in labeling an era by its most advanced technology, even when that technology is at first very limited in its application. For example, even though the "Age of Steam" is said to have begun with James Watt, for almost a century after Watt's engine more aggregate power was generated in Britain by waterpower than by steam; and it took nearly 100 years after Fulton's creation ofthe "Steam- boat Era" before sailing vessels disappeared from oceanic commerce. Similarly, the Wright Brothers at the beginning of this century began the "Era of Flight," but then it was postponed for another 25 years until Lindberghts famous solo flight from New York to Paris; yet the "Aviation Age" really did not take off until after World War II. In similar fashion, the "Space Age" was said to have dawned with Sputnik, but more than a quarter of a century has elapsed since then,
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THE INFORMATION ACE: EVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION? 37 and we have scarcely begun to exploit space. That is indeed a long day's dawning! Obviously, a single technological feat, no matter how much attention is showered upon it, does not by itself constitute a complete techno- logical transformation. Indeed, one of the characteristics of a true technological revolution is that a great many innovations take place at about the same time. Their coming together creates a synergistic, indeed, explosive, impact upon the production of goods and services. But technology does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it takes place in a social matrix and interacts with society. Thus, despite the evolutionary nature of its individual technical components, the British Industrial Revolution marked a truly revolutionary transformation of society because it changed where and how people worked, lived, thought, played, and prayed. For millennia, agriculture had been the chief source of production. The home-and-hearth was the center of work, education, social relationships, recreation, and, indeed, all life. The Industrial Revolution changed all that. With the Industrial Revolution the factory became the workplace, and the city became the dwelling place. Family relationships changed as the father left home each day to earn wages in a factory while the mother stayed home with the children; other new social patterns emerged in the crowded cities, while some traditional institutions, such as the church, saw their hold on people's lives weakened in the urban environment. Technological and societal changes interacted, overturning old patterns of living, thinking, and working, and creating new institutional systems and cultural values. Using the classical Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as our criterion, we learn that an industrial revolution consists of two chief elements: (1) a series of fundamental technical changes in the production and distribution of goods accom- panied by sometimes caused by, sometimes reflecting, but in any event, interconnected with - 2) a series of social and cultural changes of the first magnitude. Both elements must be present; a series of technological changes alone would not constitute an industrial revo- lution, nor would sociocultural changes without concomitant techno- logical developments produce a new industrial era.3 To see if the much-heralded, incoming Information Age is truly a revolutionary phenomenon, let us analyze both the technological and sociocultural changes in the classical Industrial Revolution and see if parallel transformations are occu~nog today.
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38 MELVIN KRANZBERG THE CLASSICAL INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION Looking at the main technical features of the classical Industrial Revolution, we find: . . the use of new basic matenals, chiefly iron and steel; new energy sources, deriving from new prime movers and fuels, such as coal and the steam engine, and, later, electncity, petroleum, and the internal-combustion engine; mechanical inventions, such as the spinning jenny, the power loom, and machine tools, which increased production with a smaller expenditure of human energy; the centralized organization of work in the factory system, which entailed the further division of labor and specialization of function, and these, together with improved machines, making possible interchangeable parts and mass prodllction;4 the quickening of transportation and communication through the steamship, the steam locomotive, the automobile, and eventually the airplane; and in communications, the telegraph, telephone, and radio; and · the development of a science of technology.5 In the nonindustrial technological sphere, agricultural improvements embodying many of the same technical changes made possible the provision of food for a larger population. All these technological developments involved larger use of natural resources, increased efficiency, and the low-cost, mass production and distribution of food, manufactured goods, and accompanying services.6 Not so incidentally, all these technical advances also involved information. After all, technology is a form of knowledge—knowledge of how to make and do things—which is why we sometimes refer to it as "know-how.'' Technology implies hands and minds working together to produce more efficient machines, processes? products, and services. All of these require the application of new and better information or at least the bringing together of old items of information in a new and different way. Thus, the industrial transformation of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was based upon the application of new and better information to improve traditional methods and ma- chines and, in the process, to create new products and services. And their synergistic interaction accelerated the pace of change. While political revolutions occur rather quickly—or at least can sometimes be assigned definite dates sociocultural revolutions, in- volving dee~seated changes in the ways in which people work, think, and live, require somewhat more time for their ejects to manifest themselves. Nevertheless, they too are revolutionary in their impact. We can see that in the nontechnical elements the economic-social-
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THE INFO~ATIOA AGE: EVOL=lON OR EVOLUTION? 39 political-cultural transformations that accompanied and became part of the classical Industrial Revolution: · the decline of land as the chief source of wealth in the face of the immense wealth created by industrial production; · political changes reflecting this shift in economic power, as well as new state policies corresponding to the needs of an industrialized, rather than . . . almanac, society; and · sweeping demographic and social changes, including the growth of cities, the development of working-class movements (indeed, the birth of a whole new social class, the urban factory proletariat), and the emergence of new patterns of authority within the family and at work.7 There were other broad cultural transformations. Workers were forced to acquire new and distinctive skills, and their relation to their work shifted; instead of being craftsmen working with hand tools, workers became machine operators, subject to factory discipline. Also, there were major psychological changes in people's confidence in their power over nature, and, of course, in hedonistic satisfaction. For industrialization made possible a torrent of material goods, which ultimately brought about a higher standard of living. Advances in agriculture, combined withy progress in medical knowledge and public health measures, meant that hunger began to disappear as a major threat in the industrially advanced nations. People lived longer and better, In terms of material goods. This was indeed a revolution, because it transformed individual lives and society. And it was an Industrial Revolution because the devel- opment of industrial technology provided the basis for the sociocultural changes. A CURRENT TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION? Are the technological and the sociocultural changes occumog in relation to today's advances in computers of sufficient magnitude to hail ours as a revolutionary '`Information Age?" Certainly the technical foundation has been built, including a change in basic materials.8 Let us remember that the introduction of new technologies does not always mean the complete demise of older technologies, especially in the case of materials. After all, wood continued to be a major material source even when the Age of Steel developed. While today's improvements in materials composites, plastics, synthetic fibers, sophisticated ceramics, and the introduction of new alloys and lighter metals not mean that iron and steel are outmoded any more than the coming of the Age of Steel meant that
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40 MELVIN KRANZB~RG wood ceased being used, these do represent a transformation in and an augmentation of materials resources affecting many other technical changes. Furthermore, the development of these new materials is roughly concomitant with the emergence of computer-aided design and manufacture. There is a synergy between technological developments as new materials find use in improving the operating effectiveness of the computers used to control manufacturing of the materials and manufacturing processes that work with the new materials. In terms of energy, with the exception of hydroelectricity, the nineteenth century brought almost total reliance on fossil fuels. Within our own times, the fear that finite fossil fuels will eventually be exhausted has been somewhat alleviated by the possibility of almost limitless energy through exploitation of the power within the atom although certain problems remain associated therewith. Also, greater emphasis is being placed upon conservation, synthetic fuels, renewable sources of energy, and greater and more efficient use of solar power. So although recurrent "energy crises" might come about through political and economic forces, we possess the requisite technical knowledge and potential to produce an abundance of energy in different foes. This represents a truly revolutionary technological advance over the fossil fuel era. However, current changes in production mechanisms follow a somewhat different, yet nevertheless revolutionary, pattern than those of the past. The Industrial Revolution introduced power machinery and centralized production by multitudes of factory workers, and the early twentieth century further rationalized this process with Henry Ford's moving assembly line and Frederick W. Taylor's Scientific Management. But nowadays, computerized information devices form the heart rather, the eyes, hands, and mind the machine and allow for completely automated machinery, robots. Instead of a machine operator, the human worker becomes a machine supervisor, overseeing a multitude of dials while the robotized machine the steel- collar worker~oes the actual work and replaces many blue-collar workers. Robots can perform dangerous operations, relieving humans from tasks that pose a threat to health and safety. They can also perform the monotonous and routine tasks which, some people claim, had made factory workers into machine s.9 The older mechanical devices had taken the burden off man's back; computerized devices also take the burden off man's mind. In transportation too, information devices play a major role. So- phisticated jet engines—highly dependent upon electronic control and monitoring -have enabled airplanes to grow larger and speedier,
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THE INFORMATION AGE: EVOLUTION OR MVOLUTION? 41 replacing long-haul railroad and steamship passenger transportation. Also, we have completed the first voyages of exploration and are beginning to utilize space in new ways. These aerospace developments are linked with the microminiaturization of computerized information devices and are, indeed, dependent upon them. Still another example of the ubiquity of these revolutionary information devices is their application to the workings of automobiles and trucks performing very earthy tasks. Communications too are being transformed, with satellite transmis- sion of instantaneous information from all parts of the world. But that is only the most spectacular demonstration of how communication expertise has increased apace. Indeed, revolutionary advances in the flow, storage, manipulation, and retrieval of intonation, resulting from the improvements in computers, rightly entitle the future to be known as the Information Age. These contemporary major technical changes in materials, fuels and prime movers, machinery, the organization of work, transportation, and communication all involve more knowledge and more informa- tion. Our industrial and agricultural technologies are increasingly reliant upon the newfound and enlarged technical capacity given us by computerized information devices. As long as computers relied on vacuum tubes and were bulky, balky, and expensive, they had only a minor impact on industrial processes and structure. However, with the invention of transistors and their refinement into today's microchips, computers became omnipresent; their power was greatly multiplied, and they found many applications beyond computational number-crunching. It is this application of computerized infonnation to all facets of life and technology that makes it the centerpiece of the new technological revolution.~° The computer has repercussions far beyond the field of inflation and computer science narrowly conceived. Civil, mechanical, textile, metallurgical, chemical, ceramic, and, of course, electrical engineering also make full use of our new informational capacity and expertise. The old slide rule hanging from the belt of the engineering student has given way to the pocket computer. Increasingly at every engineering institution in the country, the students have access to desk computers wired into larger computer systems. Indeed, computer literacy is no longer a monopoly of a small group of technical experts; instead it Is being taught at the elementary school level, and it is fast becoming a necessary adjunct to liberal arts education, with personal computers becoming a ubiquitous item in educated households. Just as the old Industrial Revolution transformed agriculture as well
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42 MELVIN KRA:JZBERC as industry, so today there have been revolutionary improvements in agricultural production. Less than 3 percent of the American population now lives on farms, and one American farm worker now produces enough food to feed 84 people. This is because agriculture itself has become thoroughly industrialized in methods and scale of production; like industry, it is being computerized in the breeding and feeding of livestock and poultry and in the growing of crops. Furthermore, the development of genetic technology to improve varieties of vegetables, fruit, and grain, to say nothing of livestock, rests upon biotechnological advances, which in turn rely upon enhanced computer capabilities, as do new chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Agricultural technology is thus one of the chief beneficiaries of and contributors to the new Information Age. The R&D laboratory, which grew out of the German chemical industry in the latter part of the nineteenth century, helped create a science of technology engineering science and that is reflected in the education and practices of today's engineers.'2 Research and development, which has become characteristic of all technologically advanced industry, has, of course, been enhanced by our heightened informational capabilities. As a result our scientific/technical knowledge increases apace. In beef, the Inflation Age has indeed revolutionized the technical elements of industrial society. But does it have similar revolutionary implications for nontechnical institutions, values, and society as a whole? A CURRENT SOCIETAL REVOLUTION? Let us look at some of the nontechnical changes that are occurring, partly as a result of the technological changes but also causing the advance of technology because of the synergistic relationship between technology and society. We can see that revolutionary changes are occurring in the pattern of industrial society, just as it marked a vast transformation from the preceding agrarian society. Certainly, formidable economic changes are taking place which depart greatly from nineteenth-century industrial concentration. A1- though financial concentration is now occurIing on an unprecedented scale, the economics and production technology of the older Industrial Revolution, which favored the consolidation of production, are now giving way to decentralized facilities and on an international scale. Henry Ford's River Rouge plant represented the peak of the older development: raw materials went in one end, and finished automobiles
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THE INFORMATION AGE: EVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION? 43 came out the other end. It was a marvel for its time, and people came from all over the world to see the wonders of "Fordismus." But no one ever built another River Rouge; instead, it was discovered to be more efficient and economical to disperse production facilities. Today's greater reliance upon more sophisticated materials and technologies reinforces the tendency toward dispersion with, of course, profound impact upon the former centers of Amenca's smokestack industries. Similarly, when the first electronic computers were introduced some decades ago, their complexity, size, and expense seemed to dictate that the computerized information would perforce be concentrated and hence be susceptible to control by relatively few individuals. Indeed, this appeared to lend substance to George Orwell's vision of 1984 when all information and hence all thought would be controlled by "Big Brother.'' However, the introduction of the transistor and the development of the microchip allowed for the miniaturization of computing devices, so that today's small, hand-held computer can rival the past giants in information capacity and activity. As the young hackers at CalTech showed when they took over control of the scoreboard at the 1983 Rose Bowl game, the problem is no longer that Big Brother is watching you, but that "Little Brother" is messing up his program. As a result, while the dispersion of information capabilities makes impossible the centralized control of information and the power implied therein, new problems regarding the secrecy of data, the patentability of software, and a whole host of new socio-legal problems confront us. We are still engaged in the process of discovering these new problems, and seeing if the old legal maxims still apply or whether we must work out new legal mechanisms to ensure a proper balance between private rights and the needs of the public. Just as microcomputers make possible the diffusion as well as the centralization of inflation control, so industrialization, which had begun first on a regional, then on a national basis, is today being internationalized. Advancing technologies have made feasible the creation of new production centers, having different resource advan- tages, throughout the world. Partly this is due to the geographical dispersion of natural resources; today's sophisticated technology fre- quently requires exotic materials not available in the United States, so that we are no longer a self-sufficient nation producing all we need for our own uses and exporting to others. We even find it practical to import relatively commonplace energy supplies such as oil. Another resource advantage is lower labor costs, especially since some advanced manufacturing techniques, including those of assembling electronic
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44 MELVIN KRANZB~RG devices themselves, oftentimes require only low skill levels on the part of production-line workers. The result is an internationalization of production of revolutionary dimensions, the implications of which are still not clearly discerned. However, it has led to a debate on "industnal policy" dealing with new mechanisms in order to provide training and gainful employment to those thrown out of work by automated manufacturing processes or by the transfer of production abroad. ~3 Yet, while employment in traditional industries declines, the statistics on the total number of employed people in the United States continue to mount. For, while computerized production technology allows us to produce a cascade of material goods with fewer workers, there has been an enlargement of the service sector of the economy. As a result, for the past 30 years more people have been employed in the service trades than in factory production, and the service sector continues to grow. One reason is the enlargement of administrative and clerical activi- ties, many of which derive from the heightened productive capability offered by automated devices and the consequent enhancement of service activities. Information automation in the office is proceeding apace,~4 and we histonans, while having 20/20 hindsight, do not possess 20/20 foresight about its social impact. Other writers, however, apparently possess a clearer vision of the future. For example, Alvin Toffler points out that computers will enable information workers to do their work at home, being tied in with central computers at the office.'5 Yes, it is indeed possible for more people to work at home. But the fact is that, with very few exceptions in certain occupations, such as editing and writing and the piece-rate processing of insurance forms and the like, that is simply not happening on a wide scale. The reason is that, as the ancient philosophers pointed out, man is a social and political animal. People like to congregate together; they derive intellectual stimulus and social satisfaction from personal contacts. The workplace is not only a spot for making a living but is also the site of the social interchange that is apparently a hallmark of our human species. 16 SO, just because computers might offer us certain capabilities, this does not mean that we would want to take advantage of them, nor does it mean that they would necessarily be advantageous for the social interchange that, in the vast majority of cases, is essential for individual fulfillment. Besides, Toffler neglects the fact that new technologies do not im- mediately and completely replace older forms. Instead, as we can see from the example of the classical Industrial Revolution, old technologies
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THE INFORMATION AGE: EVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION? 45 do not immediately die, nor do they quickly fade away. Instead, the new technologies are superimposed upon them and in many cases are used to augment the older capabilities. My own guess is that we will be in the midst of the "Second-and- a-Half Wave" for a long time before we reach Toffler's "Third Wave," by which time the futurist scholars will already be talking about a "Fourth Wave." Nevertheless, we can already foresee some possible changes in political and economic power. The old Industrial Revolution shifted political and economic power from the landed nobility, whose own- ership of the land was the key to power and wealth in an almost totally agrarian society, to the industrialists. In England the new factory owners allied themselves with the old landed nobility to control the political apparatus. Yet at the same time the factory system, by concentrating workers, enabled them to organize and obtain consid- erable economic clout, not as individuals, but as a group. Then the enfranchisement of the workers in the industrially advanced states gave them a share in political power. In brief, industrialization carried with it political and social democratization and the Information Age, by facilitating widespread communication, might conceivably fortify democratic political control in the advanced industrial nations. Although we cannot be sure of that, we can be certain that governments will continue to be involved in economic policy and hence in technological activities. The nineteenth-century myth of laissez-faire blinded us to the fact that governments did in reality play a major role in developing the industrial economy: through tariffs to protect infant industries and by building or financing roads, bridges, and other elements of the transportation network and infrastructure. Indeed, the needs of a coordinated transportation system led not only to the adoption of a standard gauge for railroads but also to standard time zones. Furthermore, the increasing complexity of technology made governments encourage the development of measurement stan- dards, such as for screen threads, and then safety standards. Today's sophisticated information technology has required further government action, often on an international scale, to assign radio frequencies and thereby allow for a freer flow of communications. In addition, the widespread use of more powerful chemicals and the fears of water and atmospheric pollution require governmental policing of safety standards in many industries. Added to the technological need for governmental action is a growing public awareness of technology's importance to society, now and in the future, and hence the desire for some measure of public control.
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46 MELVIN K~ZBERG Partly this is an outgrowth of a rising level of education, itself made possible through previous technological advance. As the Industrial Revolution began producing enough goods so that young children no longer had to be in the work force, they could be sent to school. Besides, the increasingly complex nature of technological devices required an educated work force. As a result, we can trace the democratization of education throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the industrially advanced nations as a function of technological growth and complexity. At first elementary education became compulsory, then secondary education, and in the twentieth century America pledged itself to give equal access to higher education to all its citizens (sometimes irrespective of their ability to take advantage of it). The new Information Age requires even more complex and sophis- ticated technology, so there is need for a still higher degree of specialized technical skills including social skills as well as manipu- lative ones. Educational responses to the needs of the Information Age are already being discussed and fought over throughout the educational establishment including, and perhaps especially, among . . ~ engineering educators. Still another revolutionary social change has been abetted by the new Information Age: the entrance of women into the work force in unparalleled numbers. Before the onset of industrialization, women worked alongside the menfolk in the fields and in the home handcraft production of the times. With the rise of the factory system and its regimen of disciplined work and hours, men became the breadwinners, while the women remained at home and were responsible for home- making and child rearing. However, machine technology has advanced to the point that brute strength is no longer a special asset, so women no longer labor under any physical disability. Machines do not know or care whether the hands that guide them are those of a man or a woman—or, for that matter, whether they are white, black, blue, purple, or green. As a result, advancing technology means that racial and gender distinctions scarcely matter in the actual production process- although, for social and cultural reasons such distinctions unfortunately persist in many parts of the world. Women possess the physical stamina, intellectual qualities, and moral virtues that make them the equals of men in an Information Society where burdensome physical work has been taken over by machines. Hence, we are in the midst of a social revolution some call it a sexual revolution that is closely linked with the technical
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THE INFO~ATION AGE: EVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION? 47 advances which have given women technical equality with men, even though they may not yet have acquired the social and political power that goes with their technical equality, to say nothing of wage equality. Office automation will not only affect the clerical work that was the domain of women for almost the entire past century. Rather, it will extend to all aspects of production and distribution, since it allows for close monitoring of production processes as well as clerical tasks of billing and the like. Furthermore, it can give top managers fingertip access to information formerly supplied them by the middle managerial group. Here again, we cannot foretell with exactitude what will happen, but there will undoubtedly be further rationalization in the office procedures inherited from an earlier age, while the information user in the office will have more direct contact with the production process itself. What is equally interesting to social historians and cultural anthro- pologists is that many of the revolutionary information devices will be incorporated into the mechanisms of our daily lives without our being aware of them. Already microchips are being used in the thermostats for our home heating and air conditioning systems and in the ignition and carburetion systems of our automobiles. But we will still set our thermostat at 70°, without awareness that the microchip is increasing the energy efficiency of our heating and air conditioning systems; and we will step on the gas or on the brakes without realizing that the microchip enables us to achieve better control of the automobile. Of much greater significance than simply catering to our creature comforts are those major social changes occurring as an outgrowth of advancing information technology which will have a powerful effect upon our country's and the world's future. Among the most important are demographic changes resulting from public health, medical, and nutritional advances deriving from sophisticated computerized research in health technologies. As a result, people are living longer and this is already changing the character of American society. But there is a reverse side to this demographic coin, namely, rapidly exploding populations in the developing nations, where more than half the people are under 15 years of age. As a result, there are demands for technological development to meet the material needs of the world's growing population. At the same time there are apparently conflicting demands that this be done without plundering the earth of its resources or damaging the environment. In other words, the Information Age must stimulate technological growth to meet these demands and do so by new kinds of technical applications that will maintain the produc- tivity and salubrity of our planet for future generations.
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48 MELVIN K~ZBERG Finally, we come to the psychological changes, both social and individual, effected by technological changes. Until the Industrial Revolution people had always been fearful that the vagaries of nature would deprive them of life's necessities. With the plethora of material goods and foods made available through the technological advances of the nineteenth century, people were able to keep hunger at bay, and indeed overcome many of the hardships inflicted by nature through centralized heating and air conditioning systems, electrical lighting, and the like. Not surprisingly, the world's fairs of the past century emphasized the great accomplishments of science and technology. The notion that human technical abilities would enable us to accomplish anything we attempted was given further credence some 15 years ago when man first set foot on the moon. Here was the culmination of the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century and the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the actual fulfillment of one of man's most ancient myths and dreams. It is no wonder that we could be accused of the old Greek sin of hubns, inordinate pride. Paradoxically, however, at almost the very same time, we began discovering that many of our previous technological triumphs were despoiling the environment and that our military technology posed a threat to the continuation of life on our planet. As a result, the new Information Age has brought with it a somewhat more equivocal view of the human relationship to nature. Instead of man's being the master of nature, it is now realized that man is a part of nature and that our future depends upon a fuller recognition of both nature's and humanity's capabilities and limitations. But, that does not necessarily mean that doomsday is forthcoming, nor need it deprive us of hope. Unlike earlier ages when human technical capacities were prescribed by the availability of certain natural resources, limited in the forms of energy that might be applied, and constrained to do and to make things in the same way as their ancestors had done, our new technology provides us with many different ways of attacking problems. We now have many and growing options in regard to the materials that we wish to employ, the energy sources that we intend to utilize, and the ways in which we go about producing and distributing food, goods, and services. Because the scientific technology of the incoming Infonnation Age offers us manifold choices, we can make decisions about the future course of society with due concern for conservation of natural resources, the preservation of the environment, and the well-being of our fellowman now and in the future.
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THE INFORMATION ACE: EVOLUTIO ~ OR REVOLUTION TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURAL LAG 49 However, just because we have the ability to do new and wonderful things with our technology does not necessarily mean that we will actually do so. Many years ago the great sociologist William Fielding Ogburn postulated the concept of "cultural lag" in terms of human response to technical capabilities. ]7 He pointed out that the technologies developed in the preceding century gave mankind the opportunity to bring about a new and better social system, allowing the vast quantity of material goods being turned out by an advancing technology to redound to the benefit to all of mankind, rather than being confined to a narrow few. However, he also stated that cultural systems and human institutions governmental, legal, and the like tend to lag in responding to new opportunities offered by these technical innovations. Lewis Mumford's analysis, some 50 years ago, of the relations between technology and culture seemed to reinforce Ogburn's-thesis.'8 He claimed that the latest technical innovations were still being employed to further the aims and goals of the earlier industrial transformation based upon the exploitation of nature and of human beings. In other words, while our technology might enable us to make a better world for all, it was being employed in the service of institutions and values belonging to an older and more selfish age, one that considered neither humanity nor the natural world. The analyses of both Ogburn and Mumford were provocative when initially stated, but they appear simplistic in light of what actually happened. True, our new technology gives us capabilities to do many wonderful things, but we often continue to employ them in the service of institutions and values belonging to an older age. Mumford hoped our bright new technologies would point the way to a brave new world founded upon social justice and a concern for nature. Ogburn too felt that technology could better humanity's lot, and he deplored the "cultural lag', that prevented it from doing so. Both men implied that technology could do wonderful things for mankind, but things went wrong when we did not allow it to do so. True, but what they forgot is that technology is a quintessential human activity, so it bears the contradictions the "goods" and "bade" to be found in all complex human activities. It is designed for human use, but that means it is also subject to human misuse and abuse. If technology were the sole determinant of human actions, our current world might be a much better and certainly a di~erent- place. Here is an example of how an advance made possible by technology-
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so MELVIN K~ZBERG international goodwill through better communications and more contact among different peoples throughout the world bogs down under the "cultural lag" afforded by nontechnical factors that take precedence over technical capabilities. Electronic messages can flow across the globe in a fraction of a second, irrespective of the political boundaries; hence the technical element of modern communication is indifferent to national boundaries. Similarly, there are no technical barriers to prevent airplanes from transcending national borders. In other words, modern communication and transportation have made nationalism technologically obsolete; however, any glance at the headlines con- vinces us that while nationalism might be technically obsolete, it still remains one of the most powerful forces affecting the future of mankind. EVOLUTION AND REVOLUTION Acknowledgment of this and similar facts has led me to reformulate the concepts of my predecessors who pioneered in analyzing the interactions between technical and sociocultural elements and has led me to formulate "Kranzberg's First Law." Kranzberg's First Law reads as follows: Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral. By that I mean that technology's interactions with both the social and cultural milieus sometimes lead to developments that are far removed from the original goals of the technical elements themselves. For example, Henry Ford thought of his motorcar as a means to cheapen transportation and make personalized transport available to the masses. It did that of course, but it also did much more than that, transforming where and how we work, play, live, shop, eat, sleep, and for those of you who remember rumble seats—even where we made love. In accordance with Kranzberg's First Law, the Information Age will have similar and unanticipated impacts, as the computer goes far beyond the task of number-crunching and instantaneous communica- tion of data. The variety of functions that computers serve suggests that their consequences will be mixed, unevenly distributed, and diffused, assimilated, and modified at uneven rates. Hence, we still cannot foresee exactly what some of the consequences will be, any more than the prophets at the turn of this century could foretell that the automobile would lead to the suburbanization of American society, provide the prototype for the mass production of all kinds of material goods, do away with the old distinction between city and country dweller, and, with its related industries, help produce the richest society in the world's history.
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THE INFORMATION AGE: EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION? ~1 Furthermore, as a corollary to Kranzberg~s First Law, the same technology can have quite different results when introduced into a different cultural setting. Thus, some technologies developed in ad- vanced industrial countries have quite different effects when introduced into some developing nations. Because technology functions in a sociocultural matrix and depends upon an infrastructure that includes the educational level of the population, its political and economic institutions, and its value system (including religious beliefs), it can produce markedly different results when it interacts with a culture that differs from our Western industrial society. The point I am trying to make is that this new Information Age presents mankind with many different possibilities. But because people differ historically in their cultural and social institutions throughout the world, the new technology can have quite different results when applied in differing sociocultural settings. Besides, the technology itself is still evolving, and hence might interact with our values, institutions, and attitudes along quite different lines than expected. Even so, the historical record gives us some cause for optimism. The technical advances of the Information Age, if they follow the pattern of previous technical changes, could provide us with more goods and services, increase material well-being, and help do away with poverty and misery throughout the globe. And by giving us greater knowledge of the human, social, and environmental conse- quences of our technical options through the new informational tools available for technology assessment and impact analysis, the Infor- mation Age might help us avoid catastrophic assaults upon nature and upon our fellow human beings. For computer technology along with its associated cluster of increasingly sophisticated analytic software, simulation models, and data bases- permits more complex analyses than have been previously possible in the social sciences. Indeed, the more information people have about nature, technology, and society, the more it might not only enable them to improve their living standards but also to do away with hatred and fanaticism although we cannot be sure of that. One thing we do know. Despite the many defects we can find in highly industrialized societies, including our own, the fact is that the most technologically advanced nations are the ones that have aban- doned cruel and unusual punishments; have provided social welfare and medical services for all segments of society; have allowed for the greatest measure of racial, religious, and sexual equality; and have, in large measure, provided for freedom and a humane life for all. The Information Age promises to carry those hopes for the good
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52 MELVIN KRANZBERG life even further. While it might be evolutionary, in the sense that all the changes and benefits will not appear overnight, it will be revolu- tionary in its ejects upon our society. NOTES 1. Although it was written before some recent, major developments, Jeremy Bernstein, The Analytical Engine: Computers—Past, Present, and Future (New York: Random House, 1964) provides a good popular account of computer history. See also Nancy Stern and Robert Stern, Computers in Society (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1983). The Annals of the History of Computing, published by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, contains articles about the recent as well as the "ancient history" of computers. 2. Terry S. Reynolds, "Medieval Roots of the Industrial Revolution," Scientific American, Vol. 251, No. 1 (July 1984):122-30. 3. Melvin Kranzberg, "Prerequisites for Industrialization," in Kranzberg and Carol W. Pursell, Technology in Western Civilization, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), Vol. 1, Chap. 13. 4. Although Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, these developments were carried further in the "American System of Manufactures." See Otto Mayr and Robert C. Post, eds., Yankee Enterprise: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1981); and David A. Houn- shell, From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984). 5. A major article on this topic is Edwin T. Layton, "Mirror-Image Twins: The Communities of Science and Technology in l9th-Century America," Technology and Culture, Vol. 12 (Oct. 1971):562-80. 6. Standard accounts of the Industrial Revolution include David Landes, The Unbound Promotheus: Technical Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (London: Cambridge University Press, 1969); and T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution, 1760-1970 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1943). 7. See E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Random House Pantheon Books, 1963); and Raymond Williams, The Long Revo- lution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961). 8. Melvin Kranzberg and Cyril Stanley Smith, "Matenals in History and Society," Materials Science and Engineering, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan. 1979):1-39; National Academy of Engineenug, Cutting Edge Technologies (Washington, D C.: National Academy Press, 1983), part III; Philip H. Abelson, "Matenals Science and Engineering," Science, Vol. 225, No. 4675 (Nov. 9, 1984):613. 9. Larry Hirschhorn? Beyond Modernization: Work and Technology in a Posti~zdustrial Age (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1984). 10. See Tom Forester, ea., The Microelectronics Revolution: The Complete Guide to the New Technology and Its Impact on Society (Cambndge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981). 11. Charles J. Arntzen, "Biotechnology and Agricultural Research for Crop Improve- ment," NAE, Cutting Edge Technologies, pp. 52-61. 12. Melvin Kranzberg, "The Wedding of Science and Technology: A Very Modern Marriage,~' in John Nicholas Burnett, ea., Technology and Science: Important
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TlIE IN-FO~ATION AGE: EVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION? 53 Distinctions for Liberal Arts Colleges (Davidson, N.C.: Davidson College, 1984), pp. 27-37. 13. A good summation of the issues involved is provided in Bruce Babbitt, "The States and the Reindustnalization of Amenca," Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Fall 1984):84-93. Works featured in the debate include Lester C. Thurow, The Zero-Sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change (New York: Basic Books, 1980); Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone, The Deindustnalization of America: Plant Closings, Community Abandonment, and the Dismantling of Basic Industry (New York: Basic Books, 1982); and Roben B. Reich, The Next American Frontier (New York: Times Books, 1983). 14. J. David Roessner et al., Impact of Ounce Automation or Office Workers, 4 vole., U.S. Department of Labor R&E Grant/Contract No. 21-13-82-13 (Atlanta: Georgia Tech Research Institute, 1983); Vincent E. Giuliano, "The Mechanization of Office Work," Scientific American, Vol. 247, No. 3 (Sept. 1982):148 64. 15. Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (New York: Morrow, 1980). Similar optimism about the future role of information technology is to be found in John Diebold, Making the Future Work: Unleashing Our Powers of innovation for the Decades Ahead (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984). 16. Sherry Turkle, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) provides an interesting discussion of this point. 17. William Fielding Ogburn, On Culture and Social Change: Selected Papers, edited by Otis Dudley Duncan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964). 18. Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1934). Comments GUNNAR HAMBRAEUS Chairman Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences It is my film conviction that we are only at the beginning of a tremendous development which, in its eject on the individual and on society, will be more far-reaching than anything that we have witnessed until now. The following three facts support my belief. First, we cannot yet discern any slackening of the pace in hardware development, as illustrated in Or. Mayo's paper. This pace is in speed of operations, storage capacity, and reduction in pnce. Possibly we have not yet passed the point of inflection on the traditional growth curve. Second, we still only utilize a small fraction of the capabilities of our hardware. The reason is, of course, the lag in software production and systems architecture. Ultimately software improvements will increase the productivity of present existing computers at least 10-fold. The combined effects of machine and program development will indeed be dramatic. Third, the computer in combination with instant communications will multiply research and development productivity in all herds of science and technology. Already, data logging systems make possible the harvesting and interpretation of primary experimental data on a scale that we did not dare to
Representative terms from entire chapter: