Ducatel, Ken; Juliet Webster; and Werner Herrmann, eds. The Information Society in Europe: Work and Life in the Age of Globalization.
This text, an outgrowth of the European Commission's High Level Expert Group, delineates how the information society--the conversion of computing and communication--developed, probes the manner in which it has impacted business and individuals in the workplace, and evaluates its effect on several policy areas within Europe. The editors' goals are to analyze information and communication technologies (ICTs) at all levels of society and to emphasize social considerations. They assert, "It is not enough to develop and implement appropriate technology policies in isolation. Technology policies and social policies have to be developed in a complementary way and strive for complementary objectives" (9).
The editors first review the waves of the information-society movement from the 1970s to the present. Though different in the extent to which their governments controlled telecommunications, the United States and European Union nations had similar plans and concerns for ICTs. For example, both regions wanted to take advantage of rapid advances in ICTs while not leaving segments of their respective societies without access or skills. Furthermore, both agreed on the necessity of regulating intellectual-property rights, privacy, and security as ICTs progressed. Finally, both areas witnessed support for ICTs from their media outlets and the public alike.
Part I of the book is divided into three chapters. Chapter 2 explains regional developments in the information society within Europe. In Chapters 3 and 4, Mark Hepworth and John Ryan investigate the extent to which ICTs have impacted large firms on the one hand and small and medium-sized businesses on the other. They find that ICTs "are necessary but not sufficient conditions for large firms and economies to improve growth, competitiveness, and employment" (p. 70). Rather, small firms must be relied upon for job creation, particularly when those enterprises with under 250 employees account for up to two-thirds of all business workers in Europe. According to Hepworth and Ryan, information-society policies for such firms must be decentralized and integrated to be successful.
In Part II (Chapters 5-7), one first finds an examination of how ICTs are utilized by new forms of work organization such as outsourcing and teleworking. In Chapter 6, Juliet Webster studies the relationship between women and work in the European information society. Though women are well represented in the clothing industry and in the financial-services sector, their jobs are insecure and inadequately compensated. Webster discovers that ICTs have perpetuated restructuring and relocation of many service-industry jobs held by women. The next chapter assesses whether active labor-market policies such as training, guidance services, job placement, and subsidies have helped workers to keep pace with technological modernization of European society.
In the final part of the book (Chapters 8-11), Jorma Rantanen and Suvi Lehtinen weigh the positive and negative consequences of ICTs on health systems throughout the European Union. They state that many issues related to ICT-based health care have to be resolved, including privacy, liability, and safety among others. These authors likewise recommend an ethical review of health-care practices involving ICTs. Next, two pairs of writers elucidate on the ability of ICTs to affect lifelong learning and everyday life, respectively. In the area of education, Gill Kirkup and Ann Jones observe that just as ICTs have great potential for increasing learning, they also present challenges to those persons with visual disabilities and to those with limited literacy and language competence. Leslie Haddon and Roger Silverstone postulate that ICTs such as personal computers have made European home life more interesting, though concern over how they may foster isolation, addiction, and undue influence remains. These authors also note gender and age differences in usage patterns. In the final chapter, Pierre Chambat studies the influence of ICTs on the political sphere. ICTs have been tapped by governments to speed up services and election results, and by politicians to transmit political information. Chambat contends that "by lowering the cost of political participation, ICTs offer fairly apolitical people and laypeople the possibility, or the illusion, of having an immediate influence on political decision making" (p. 269).
The Information Society in Europe may be compared to three recent publications that similarly deal with the information-society topic and concentrate regionally on Europe. Hans Van Zon, et al., Central European Industry in the Information Age (Ashgate Publishing, 2000) illustrates how ICTs have changed large-scale business activity over the past two decades. The Forward Studies Unit at the European Commission's Democracy and the Information Society in Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000) considers how media in the information society can expand political participation and replace traditional forms of democratic representation. In Democratic Governance and the New Technology: Technologically Mediated Innovations in Political Practice in Modern Europe (Routledge, 2000), editors Jens Hoff, Ivan Horrocks, and Pieter Tops employ case studies of three countries, Denmark, the Netherlands, and England, to show how ICTs have the capacity to alter political systems. Each of the aforementioned books is shorter and less comprehensive in coverage than the Ducatel, Webster, and Herrmann text.
The Information Society in Europe is not without flaws. First, there is some repetition of ideas between chapters written by different authors. Second, a few chapters do not pertain as directly to the overall subject of sections as others. Third, the book lacks a conclusion that could synthesize ideas and furnish an agenda for future inquiry. Still, the editors should be commended for infusing a social and moral focus into the examination of the information society. Their attention to the ways in which the information society impacts human development and public policies constitutes a superior approach, one that should be applied to research on the topic regardless of region.
Samuel B. Hoff, Ph.D.
George Washington Distinguished Professor of Political Science and History
Delaware State University
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|Author:||Hoff, Samuel B.|
|Publication:||International Social Science Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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