Technological diffusion or cultural imperialism? Measuring the information revolution.
The Internet is like a 20-foot tidal wave coming, and we are in kayaks.
(Grove, cited in Schlender 1996:46)
These are the words of Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, the company credited with launching the PC microelectronic revolution in 1971 (Gilder, 1989:91-112). By most accounts, we are deeply ensconced in a technological era in which all of us are (or can be) interconnected via the information superhighway. What, then, is Grove talking about?
As a preliminary reality check, I asked my students to search the index of the local Yellow Pages to identify evidence of the information sector, i.e., "the part of the economy that produces, processes, and distributes information goods and services" (Hedley, 1992:20). Although they uncovered numerous examples of information products, services, occupations, and organizations, the overwhelming majority of these predated 1960. In fact most entries were illustrative of an earlier information era spawned in the mid-fifteenth century by Gutenberg.
The now overused term, "information highway," only came into being during the 1970s as a result of scientists at Coming Glass who "created a medium [optical fiber] that could transport unprecedented amounts of information on laser beams for commercially viable distances" (Diebold, 1990:132). "Today's most advanced light wave systems can relay data at 1.7 gigabits per second - fast enough to transmit the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in just two seconds" (Diebold, 1990:148; emphasis in original). While this speed is impressive, should current work in developing "high temperature" superconducting material yield the results anticipated, such a resistance-free communications line could "transmit the text equivalent of one thousand Encyclopedia Britannicas... [in just one second].... Such a transmission line could transmit the entire 25 million books of the Library of Congress, the world's largest library, in two minutes" (Meredith, 1987:25; emphasis added). Clearly, we have come only a brief distance along the information highway.
I open in this way to emphasize a number of key points. First and most important, if we are interested in charting the effects of a particular phenomenon, it is essential to develop measures of its presence and extent. This statement seems obvious, but the history of social change is filled with case after case in which conclusions have been drawn on inadequate or even nonexistent measurement (Hedley, 1992:34-40).
Second, contrary to many studies, careful analysis of the information revolution reveals that it is still very much in a nascent stage. Grove's analogy is appropriate. While the information technology (IT) market is growing quickly, it is limited primarily to the developed countries. Just five G-7 nations (US, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK) accounted for 80% of the IT market in 1994 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1996:7). Furthermore, even within these countries, more than 90% of households do not have access to the Internet (OECD, 1996:106). In other words, most of us are facing Grove's tidal wave without any boats at all. Consequently, effects that we can now attribute to the information revolution are likely to intensify as IT permeates the mainstream.
Finally, if we examine how information technology is developing within the countries where it has taken hold, we can extend Grove's analogy. While some of us may be in kayaks (Americans and Canadians), others are in life boats (Japanese, and possibly Germans), and still others are in craft yet to be clearly identified. In other words, information technology is being introduced and adapted along now familiar cultural fault lines; this aspect forms a major focus of my paper.
My analysis first conceptualizes and then measures the multidimensional term "informationalization." This allows us to observe both similarities and differences in this phenomenon as it is manifested in each of the G-7 countries. Of particular interest to the analysis is Japan because of its non-European heritage. It serves as an important theoretical case to ascertain whether characteristics thought to be inherent in the informationalization process are in fact integral to it or are instead artifacts arising out of a common (Western) cultural response to it. In other words, a comparison of Japan with the other G-7 nations allows us to address the question: "What is peculiar to the structure of... [an] informational society and what is specific to the history of a given country?" (Castells and Aoyama, 1994:9). This line of reasoning extends also to other significant structural features: we should not expect exactly the same informationalization process to occur in often quite different empirical contexts (Hedley, 1996). The paper concludes with a brief look at some possible repercussions of the new information era.
Conceptualization and Measurement
Marc Porat (1977) conducted one of the first efforts to define and measure the information economy. Using the Standard Industrial Classification Codes, Porat found that information goods and services accounted for approximately half of both GNP and employment in the United States. However - similar to my student assignment with the phone book's Yellow Pages - Porat's classification grouped both modern and traditional information activities. Most of the industries he identified either predated the original industrial revolution (e.g., real estate, insurance, banking, law, accounting, and architecture) or grew out of the transportation and communication revolution which occurred at the turn of the 20th century (e.g., publishing, telephone, radio, photographic, and motion picture industries). Consequently, Porat simply reconfigured the existing economy to emphasize its informational component. Although this is a legitimate endeavor, as it illustrates a general transformation from physical to intellectual activities, it does not reveal the direct impact of the modern IT revolution. Porat's analytical strategy and others like it (Bell, 1976) adopt an inclusive view of the information society.
A more exclusive approach focuses on that part of the economy that emerged directly as a result of the microelectronic revolution of the late 1960s. For the purposes of this paper, information technology refers primarily to computer hardware, components, software, and services, but also involves the new telecommunications infrastructure essential to computer networking. The OECD (1996:3) adopts a similar approach in defining the information sector. While admittedly conservative in its specification of what to include and exclude in the information revolution, this strategy offers two definite advantages: (1) it permits a clear analytical distinction between "old" and "new" information technology; and (2) it provides an explicit empirical base for comparative research.
A major problem in measuring the modern information revolution is that economic and labor force data are classified into traditional industrial categories. Thus, while we can identify the manufacturing component of this technological innovation in terms of computers produced and numbers employed in producing them, it is next to impossible to measure the application of this innovation within the economy. These data are "hidden" throughout all the standard industrial and occupational codes. As a result, we are limited to those applications specifically identified as "computer services." Commenting on this problem, a recent article in Business Week states that "government statistics track goods and jobs, not flows of information. . . [which] means. . . [there is] a large and vibrant 'ghost economy' that traditional economic indicators don't measure" (Mandel, 1994:26). Consequently, the actual impact of computers in the economy is vastly underreported. However, until data are organized into categories more indicative of the microelectronic transformation, this is the only reliable way to measure it.
Table 1 presents a number of dimensions to help conceptualize what an information revolution entails. For example, there must be a discernible body of information workers who are organized in some fashion to produce innovative goods and services. In turn, this requires infrastructural support. Finally, to the extent that a revolution does take place, its effects should be noticeable in the larger society. Table 1 specifies each of these dimensions along with available empirical indicators that can be used to measure them.
Table 1 thus provides the conceptual and empirical foundation for an analysis of the G-7 nations. Comparative data on each dimension allow us to assess the extent of the information society, and to highlight differences among nations that have taken place in its implementation.
The Information Society in Comparative Perspective
Tables 2-7 outline the realization of information technology within each of the G-7 nations. Taken together, the data indicate that the computer industry has had relatively little impact to date. For example, few workers are employed directly in computing, and revenues from the industry contribute only marginally to each country's economy. Although there is a sizable IT infrastructure in place within the G-7 nations, just a small fraction of the general populace actually use computers. Rather than revealing that we are fully engaged in the information era, these data suggest a more modest conclusion.
I will now deal with each table separately, highlighting the major differences that have emerged between countries. As in so many other analyses, the polar cases in this data set are Japan and the United States.
Tables 2 and 3 show that in all G-7 nations the computer industry directly accounts for no more than two percent of numbers employed and revenues generated. While the indirect contribution of computers in each country is undoubtedly much greater, clearly these data corroborate Bill Gates' contention that "the information revolution is just beginning" (1995:21). The previous technological revolution in automobiles still influences more heavily the economies of the G-7 nations. In the United States, for example, "auto manufacturers and allied industries account for almost 15% of all jobs" (Kurian, 1991:156).
[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED]
Table 3 G-7 Computing Revenues % Contribution of % Contribution of G-7 country OCA equip. mfg. computer services to GDP(1) to GDP(2) c. 1991 c. 1992 Japan 1.05 - US 0.50 - Canada 0.16 0.7 Germany 0.62 0.4 UK 0.50 1.0 France 0.50 - Italy 0.25 - 1 Calculated from OECD, 1996:64. 2 OECD, 1996:73.
Tables 2 and 3 also highlight important differences in the implementation of IT technology within the G-7 countries. Although there are some missing cells, these tables as well as other data reveal that Japan concentrates much more on the manufacture of computers and components than does the United States and the other G-7 countries. In contrast, the U.S., Canada, and European countries (with the possible exception of Germany) are more heavily involved in computer services and software (Gates, 1995:235). This different emphasis on hardware and software constitutes a major underlying cultural difference between Japan and the other G-7 nations, especially those whose native tongue is English.
Table 4 presents data on the organization and structure of the computer industry among the G-7 countries. Immediately apparent is American and Japanese dominance. Of the top twenty IT firms which together accounted for 68.7% of total revenues in 1993 (OECD, 1996:36), ten were American and seven were Japanese. Recent trend data indicate that the American lead is increasing, as industry growth is highest in software and services. Column 2 reveals the major advantage in computer services that the United States enjoys over Japan. However, these data also show the marked superiority of all English speaking countries in this segment of the industry.
Column 3 of Table 4 indicates the average number of workers computer service companies employ. Here again, Japan differs from the other G-7 nations. On average, a computer services firm is much larger in Japan. This is somewhat surprising given that the average number of employees in all manufacturing establishments in Japan is considerably smaller (N = 14) than it is in either the U.S. (57) or Britain (60) (Hedley, 1992:165).
The final two columns of Table 4 present results from a 1995 cross-national survey of executives who were asked to rate their country (on a ten-point scale) relative to forty-eight other developed and newly developed countries (World Competitiveness Report, 1995:22). With regard to both exploiting information technology by [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 4 OMITTED] companies and the level of computer literacy among employees, American executives rated their country more highly than executives from the other G-7 nations evaluated theirs. On both questions, English-speaking countries tended to score more highly.
Table 5 presents measures of the extent of an information technology infrastructure. Two dimensions are reflected - raw computing power and the presence of a telecommunications network - both dominated by the United States. The U.S. has more than three times the computing power of Japan as measured by millions of instructions per second per capita. Given the results in Tables 2 and 3, it appears that Japan exports much more of its computer hardware than does the U.S. Generally, the English-speaking countries occupy the top three positions on this indicator.
Columns 2, 3, and 4 of Table 5 measure the magnitude of telecommunication networks. The most revealing of these data involve the number of Internet hosts (computers connected to the Internet) per 1000 inhabitants. As of January 1995, the Internet is overwhelmingly North American and therefore communicates in English. The United States has almost sixteen times the number of Internet hosts per capita than Japan, and together the three English-speaking G-7 countries dwarf the presence of any other language on the Net. According to a recent article in the magazine, Wired, more than 90% of what is available on the Internet is Western in focus (Kotler, 1996:62).
[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 5 OMITTED]
Table 6 G-7 Technological Innovation in Computing R&D in OCA equip. Computing pro. & IT patents as % of G-7 as % of total tech. workers as all patents country R&D in Mfg.(1) % of all P&T granted in US(3) workers(2) 1992 1994 1993 Japan 9.0 .- 29.4 US 12.8 - 17.4 Canada 9.8 - 12.8 Germany 3.8 8.9 12.4 UK 7.2 6.6 16.0 France 3.9 9.7 20.1 Italy 7.2 7.4 11.5 1 Calculated from OECD, 1996:75. 2 OECD, 1996:69. 3 OECD, 1996:79. Table 7 Diffusion of Computers in G-7 Countries, 1994 Computers % households Hardware spending G-7 country per capita(1) with PCs(2) per capita (current US$ PPP)(3) Japan 0.118 12 160 US 0.319 374 275 Canada 0.221 41 145 Germany 0.152 28 130 UK 0.182 24 170 France 0.147 15 125 Italy 0.087 - 70 1 World Competitiveness Report, 1995:602. 2 OECD, 1996:25. Canadian data from September 1995, Angus Reid poll (Carroll and Broadhead, 1996:489-490). 3 Calculated from OECD, 1996:21. 4 Estimate provided by IDC, Computer Industry Report, 30 (10): 28 April, 1995. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration estimates that 25.5% of households had PCs in 1994 (OECD, 1996:25).
Although Table 5 indicates a substantial start to the information era, Table 6 suggests that more progress is still required before it constitutes the new reality. The three measures of R&D in computing as a percentage of all R&D indicate that proportionally little effort was devoted to innovation in IT during the early 1990s. In contrast to previous tables, this conclusion applies universally.
Finally, Table 7 provides three indicators of the diffusion of computers within the G-7 nations. The data reveal relatively little penetration, certainly in relation to older technological innovations. For example, compared to 1994 per capita computer consumption throughout the G-7 countries, the number of TVs per capita was almost twice as high in 1970 (UNESCO, 1995:Table 9,2), and per capita car ownership was more than double in 1985 (World in Figures, 1988:23). It appears that the adoption of computers by the populace has yet to achieve critical mass.
However, within the English-speaking G-7 countries this threshold may already have been reached. Approximately one-third of American households have a personal computer, half of them further connected by modem to the Internet (OECD, 1996:106). Although personal ownership figures are not as high in Canada and the UK, these countries too appear to be well on their way.
Conversely, Japan is an anomaly among the G-7 countries. Although it leads in computer production, it lags in the business and personal application of this technology. In the following section, we examine some of the possible reasons for this apparent contradiction.
This empirical analysis, albeit imperfect, suggests we have not yet experienced the full impact of the modern information revolution. Although we have increasingly engaged in information activities since the invention of the printing press, further discoveries and applications in microelectronics will radically alter our way of life (Gates, 1995; Gilder, 1989; Negroponte, 1996; Tapscott, 1996). Significant changes have occurred, but still, "we see through a glass, darkly." However, in our insatiable quest to make sense of things, this analysis may afford some insight. Realizing that it is dangerous to predict revolutionary outcomes based on past experience, let us briefly examine the structure of previous technological revolutions to uncover principles that may apply to the revolution at hand.
In 1960, Clark Kerr and his colleagues set out "the logic or imperatives" of the original industrial revolution (Kerr et al., 1964). They argued that because the results of technology can be precisely measured in terms of quantity and quality of output, it is possible to determine which technology is superior in accomplishing specific objectives, and consequently the superior technology becomes universally adopted. Their central proposition stated that the introduction of technologically superior industrial techniques leads to structural adaptations that in turn affect other aspects of society until eventually all industrialized societies, no matter how dissimilar they were initially, converge in certain patterns of social organization and behavior.
Forty years earlier, William F. Ogburn (1922) coined his now famous term "cultural lag." Ogburn theorized that changes in material culture or "the applications of scientific discovery and the material products of technology" (1956:79) occur at a faster rate than changes in the nonmaterial, adaptive culture (values, norms, patterns of social organization, etc.), thereby causing maladjustment in the nonmaterial culture, or cultural lag.
Employing these two perspectives on social change, it is useful to compare the oncoming revolution with earlier technological transformations. Concerning the introduction of computer and telecommunications technology, Kerr and his associates are correct in that incremental technical standards of power, capacity and speed (at reduced cost) have been generally acknowledged throughout the process (Tapscott, 1996:95-121). However, unlike previous technological revolutions, a significant part of the technical process itself constitutes what Ogburn would define as nonmaterial culture. Even though it commands a computer in binary code, computer software originates in words, the effective currency of culture. Furthermore, according to George Gilder (1989:328), we are now reaching the stage where "the distinction between hardware and software will all but vanish."
Although earlier technologies incorporated aspects of nonmaterial culture into their design in the form of standards and regulations, these were more limited in scope. But information technology, by its very nature, is largely nonmaterial. Consequently, to the extent that only one culture or one linguistic group produces the bulk of software, as is presently the case, and "as hardware designs increasingly embody software concepts" (Gilder, 1989:329), then certainly the possibility exists for cultural convergence (control?) on a massive scale.
Three coordinated sectors will drive the new information economy: "computing (computers, software, services), communications (telephony, cable, satellite, wireless), and content (entertainment, publishing, information providers)" (Tapscott, 1996:9). Of these, except for the actual language that is used, only communications is "material" in Ogburn's sense of the term; computing is both material and nonmaterial; and content is entirely part of the nonmaterial culture. In terms of revenue and employment, projections estimate that the communications sector will comprise only one-quarter of this tripartite; computing and content will assume the major share (Tapscott, 1996:325-327). Thus, the information revolution will probably be quite different from previous technological revolutions. Rather than producing physical products in a technically neutral fashion, it will involve rapid and widespread transmission of information in a culture-laden, asymmetrical way (Straubhaar and Do, 1996:368-372). "The notion that information and communication are, in fact, culturally neutral is the greatest myth of our time" (Mowlana, 1996:179).
To illustrate my argument, let us look at the present day Internet, the precursor of the information highway (Gates, 1995). "By January 1995, 65% of the [4.85 million] hosts connected to the Internet were in the United States, 22% in Europe, and a mere 7% were in the Asia-Oceania region (of which 2% were in Japan)" (OECD, 1996:33). This means that the Internet, both its "material" foundation and its "nonmaterial" content, is overwhelmingly American-based, English-speaking, and Western-focused. Although "the fastest-growing number of Internet hosts (percent change) in the third quarter of 1994 were [in] Argentina, Iran, Peru, Egypt, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, and Indonesia" (Negroponte, 1996:182), the large, affluent, Western foundation of the Internet is unlikely to be affected. It will simply have more sites to infuse.
Microsoft leader Bill Gates (1995:263) speaks directly to the evolution of information technology and the prospects of cultural convergence:
American popular culture is so potent that outside the United States some countries now attempt to ration it. They hope to guarantee the viability of domestic-content producers by permitting only a certain number of hours of foreign television to be aired each week. In Europe the availability of satellite and cable-delivered programming reduced the potential for government control. The information highway is going to break down barriers and may promote a world culture, or at least a sharing of cultural activities and values.
What will this "world culture" look like? Which "cultural activities and values" will be adopted? Perhaps Grove's analogy should be rephrased:
The Internet is like an American (or Western) tidal wave coming, and the rest of the world is in kayaks.
Although it has attracted many critics in the past, the theory of cultural convergence (inundation?) will breathe new life when it enters the information era.
But what about Japan? How does it fit into the present scheme, and what accounts for its seeming lack of participation in the emerging information society? As was revealed by the empirical analysis, the Japanese are very heavy producers of information goods and services, but relatively light consumers. This pattern is not unique. For example, although Japan is a world leader in automobile production (Kurian, 1991:157), it owns fewer cars per capita than any other G-7 nation (World in Figures, 1988:23). However, Japan's history of production and consumption does not reveal the whole story.
The structure of the Internet itself provides a clue as to why the Japanese are not avid "surfers." The Net is a loosely configured, continuously evolving, largely uncharted constellation of horizontally connected computers accessed mainly by individual and lone corporate users via personal computer. Contrast this "structure" with the cultural quintessence of Japanese organization and society: a clearly delineated, highly formalized, benevolently paternalistic arrangement of people bound together in predominantly face-to-face dependency relationships (Hedley, 1992:352-363). The Internet is far more culturally geared to the American creed of "antistatism, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism" (Lipset, 1990:26).
While Americans have enthusiastically taken to the Internet and its means of "universal" access - the PC, the Japanese have loyally remained attached to the mainframe and its sense of security (OECD, 1996:23). The personal computer permits individual initiative, the mainframe collective enterprise - hence the reference to "kayaks" and "lifeboats" in the introduction.
The Japanese have not forsaken the mainframe to the same extent as other G-7 countries for additional cultural reasons. For example, space is very scarce in Japan; it is more economical to install one large mainframe than thousands of PCs (OECD, 1996:135). Also, representing kanji characters on a standard keyboard creates another space-related problem (Gates, 1995:237).
This analysis reveals that not only are there different cultural responses to technological innovation, but in some cases the innovations themselves are culturally packaged. As evidence of this assertion, imagine for a moment the Japanese and not the Americans were pioneers of the Net. While technological advantage now appears to reside with the Americans and other English-language countries, it would be foolish to draw any firm conclusions. One has only to remember the oil shocks of the early 1970s and the strategic entry of Japanese small cars into the automobile market. However, we can conclude from this analysis that several distinct forms of an information society are likely, and that the form chosen will in all probability coincide with the cultural fault lines identified in earlier research.
Also flowing from this analysis is the potential for cultural dominance that the information revolution may foster. However, unlike previous technological revolutions, what is at stake are the very minds and thought processes of those dominated. Only powerful nations currently have the ability to choose the type of information society most compatible with their cultural institutions. However, given the high stakes involved, perhaps all countries could enter into dialogue about how information technology can be introduced in culturally harmonious ways. By these means, we could finally begin to reduce the growing disparity among nations that earlier technological revolutions have imposed.
Dimensions and Measures of an Information Society
1. Economic activity/labor
a) Percent of labor force in computer hardware, software, and services industry
2. Economic output/productivity
a) Percent contribution of computer industry to GDP
b) Percent share of value added in computer manufacturing to GDP
a) G-7 share of top information technology companies
b) Computer companies as a percent of total business corporations
c) Number of employees per company in the computer industry
d) Use of information technology in business
e) Computer literacy among employees
4. Technological infrastructure
a) Computer power per capita
b) Investment in telecommunications as a percent of GDP
c) Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants
d) Digital main lines as percent of total main lines
e) Adequacy of technological infrastructure
5. Technological innovation
a) Computing R&D as a percent of total manufacturing R&D
b) Computing professional and technical workers as a percent of all professional and technical workers
c) IT patents granted as a percent of total patents
6. Technological diffusion
a) Computers per capita
b) Percent of households with personal computers
c) IT spending as a percent of GDP
Sources for measures of the information society: World Competitiveness Report, 1995; OECD, 1996.
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|Author:||Hedley, R. Alan|
|Publication:||International Journal of Comparative Sociology|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1998|
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