The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
12(3) 1996

The Information Society (TIS) 12(3), include articles about NII policies in Taiwan and the cultural construction of NII developments in Japan. It also includes an article that focuses on the social conditions und er which people elect not to have home telephones. Associate Editor Mark Poster has organized a Forum that examines the controversial position paper, "Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age" by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler. 

The issue opens with Joel West's "Utopianism and National Competitiveness in Technology Rhetoric: The Case of Japan's Information Infrastructure." He notes that technological utopianism and national competitiveness are two common strands of 20th Century t hat inform technology policy in developed nations. Both are rhetorical strategies that can and have been used to sell technology policies to government, industry, and the public at large. He examines the role of these rhetorics in shaping the emergence of the "multimedia"/information infrastructure boomlet in Japan in the mid 1990's, and in the context of the country's history and institutions. West's wide ranging and provocative paper loc ates Japanese technology policy within the last century of Japanese trade history. He notes that many Japanese government policies have been justified by perceptions that Japan must "catch up" with Western economies. He examines the role of MITI in supporting R&D in semiconductors, artificial intelligence (especially the Fifth Generation project), and computer networking. He ends his paper with a detailed examination of Jôhô-Ka. The phrase jôhô-ka usually translated by the quasi-English word "informatization" and denoting change to an information-oriented society (jôhô shakai) has been a slogan of Japanese government policy for more than two decades. It is generally associated with two threads the abstract concept of Japan as an information society, and a shift in government industrial policy away from heavy industries in the late 1960's and early 1970's. He argues that Japan's recent NII efforts blossomed not because of a maturation of the earlier jôhô shakai vision, but as a direct reaction to 1993 U.S. plans for "information superhighways." 

The second article for this isssue examines Taiwan's information technology industry ("Entrepreneurship, Flexibility and Policy Coordination: Taiwan's Information Technology Industry," by Kenneth L. Kraemer, Jason Dedrick, Chin-Yeong Hwang, Tze-Chen Tu a nd Chee-Sing Yap.) In just fifteen years, Taiwan has emerged as a leading producer of hardware for nearly every major computer vendor in the world, despite little previous experience in high-technology industries. By 1995, Taiwan ranked fourth in the wo rld in computer hardware production and exports through its strategy of being a fast follower. Kraemer and his colleagues examine how Taiwan's success in the computer industry has been due to a coordinated government strategy to support private entrepreneurship by a large number of small, flexible, innovative companies. They believ e that Taiwan's computer companies have responded rapidly and effectively to continuing changes in the international market and avoided many of the problems encountered by their counterparts in Japan and South Korea in recent years by emphasizing close su pplier relationships with multinational computer companies all over the world. They also examine the role of government agencies in collecting and disseminating market intelligence. They suggest that Taiwan is Asia's best positioned country for continued success in the global computer industry. 

In the third article, Milton Mueller and Jorge Schement report why some (poor) people avoid having telephones at home, even when they have other information services, such as cable TV. Mueller and Schement's findings are especially important in assessmen ts of "basic communications services" and "universal access" since their data counter the conventional assumptions that people acquire telephone services before the subscribe to cable television, and which, in turn, is more basic than computer networking. 

This issue also includes a Forum, organized by TIS' Associate Editor Mark Poster, that examines the regulation of commerce on the Internet. The Forum includes the controversial position paper, "Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age" that was published on-line by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler in August 1994. 

The dominant form of new knowledge in the Third Wave is perishable, transient, customized knowledge: the right information, combined with the right software and presentation, at precisely the right time. Unlike the mass knowledge of the Second Wave -- "p ublic good" knowledge that was useful to everyone because most people's information needs were standardized -- Third Wave customized knowledge is by nature a private good .... If this analysis is correct, copyright and patent protection of knowledge (or a t least many forms of it) may no longer be unnecessary. In fact, the marketplace may already be creating vehicles to compensate creators of customized knowledge outside the cumbersome copyright/patent process. 

And all of those confront a set of constituencies made frightened and defensive by their mainly Second Wave habits and locales: Command-and-control regulators, elected officials, political opinion-molders, philosophers mired in materialism, traditional interest groups, some broadcasters and newspapers -- and every major institution (including corporations) that believes its future is best served by preserving the past. 

TIS 12(3) concludes with reviews of five books: 

A description of the next issue will be posted on TIS' web page as it jells (see 

Home | Table of Contents | Editorial Letters