The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
12(4) 1996

The Information Society (TIS) 12(4), includes articles about electronic media and universities, the politics of computer networking, privacy in telephone listings, and regional plans for major information infrast ructure initiatives, as well as a Forum and two book reviews. 

The issue opens with "The Virtual College: Computer-Mediated Communication and Scientific Work," by John Walsh and Todd Bayma. Walsh and Bayma interviewed 67 mathematicians, physicists, chemists and biologists to learn about the roles of CMC in their rese arch. They report evidence that CMC supports important scientific collaborations, helps establish new collaborations, and helps scientists who are in less central positions to maintain more effective collaborations when they have access to CMC.In addition they note important variations in the ways that scientists collaborate in different disciplines. 

The word "collaboration" invokes images of pleasant cooperation, although some collaborations are periodically stormy. One of my colleagues reports that his most stimulating co-author and he periodically slammed doors at each other when they were working together. Bryan Pfaffenberger reports about similarly stormy complications of large scale collaboration when effort of hundreds of system designers and administrators to develop and maintain a major set of network services -- the Usenet newsgroups. In "If I Want it, It s OK: Usenet and the (Outer) Limits of Free Speech," Pfaffenberger examines some pivotal events in Usenet's hist ory -- from a small technically focused discussion group in 1979 to a service that now connects about 7 million people though 20,000 topical discussion groups. Usenet's initiators and maintainers have created a libertarian culture of almost-anything-goes free speech. But there were periodic and often hostile disputes about the limits of free speech on-line. Pfaffenberger reports these stormy controversies in which two computerization movements struggled for control of Usene t's guiding policies via debates in an electronic medium. In addition to vividly reporting an important social history of "the net," Pfaffenberger also uses Usenet's history to critique a major theoretical position about the social construction of techno logies. 

Advocates of free speech policies for Usenet often anchored their arguments in their beliefs about the roles of speech in political democracies.In "Engendering Democratic Participation via the Net," Nancy Kurland and Terri Egan examine five assumptions th at undergird the claim that electronic forums will enhance democratic participation. They show how increased democratic participation on computer networks rests on three fundamental characteristics: equal access of stakeholders to leaders and government, voice with respect to policy creation and implementation, and repeated, reflective exchange or dialogue in exploring social concerns. They argue that educational, economic, and cultural barriers to access, voice, and dialogue mustbe overcome for electronic forums to effectively facilitate democratic participation. Their article advances our understanding about the ways that social structures on-line and off-line play pivotal roles in influencing the possib ility of electronic forums serving as democratizing media. 

Many people are interested in using telephones to give them a voice in their daily lives, but also want to limit who has access to them. In "Controlling Access" James Katz examines the demographic characteristics of people who subscribe to unlisted/nonpub lished telephone services in the United States. In one of the few studies with national samples, he examines a wide variety of demographic characteristics, including those that many believe would be most characteristic of having an unlisted telephone number, such as being female or having a high income. In contrast, he finds that being an African-American, not owning a home, metropolitan residence, lower income, lower education and living in a multifamily dwelling are the strongest correlates, in order of importance, of having an unlisted telephone number. Katz discusses the social aspects of subscribing to these services and proposes some new services that have similar social properties without the rigidities of unlistin g numbers. 

Since the late 1980s some regional U.S. telephone companies have been seeking reduced regulation in exchange for enhancing a region's telecommunications infrastructure. In "Regulatory Reform and the Promise of New Telecommunications Infrastructure in New Jersey" Jan Youtie and William Read examine the politics of a particular plan -- Opportunity New Jersey -- to deploy advanced telecommunications to all homes and businesses in that state in 20 years. Youtie and Read examine the evidence marshaled by the plan's promoters in light of a larger corpus of evidence about the state's economy, business relocation decisions, the complexities of distance learning, and the program's likely costs. They contend that the evidence supporting the plan was very weak, and that it was enacted into law based on its ideological appeals rather than the evidentiary basis. Further, they argue that it will take over 20 years to effectively understand whether Opportunity New Jersey was an opportunity worth making. 

This issue's Forum section includes three short articles. 

In "Short-term Memories: A Death in the Information Age," Professor Van Korenegay reports about giving a deceased colleague's written work to his widow. This poignant moment served as an opportunity for meditating on what traces people leave behind in an era when their notes, books, and articles can be passed along on a few diskettes. 

In 1995, economist Eli Noam published an article in Science about the ways that computer networking would soon erode place-based universities and replace them with electronic equivalents. Noam's article, "Electronics and the Dim Future of the University" was photocopied and rapidly spread from mailbox to mailbox. Those academics who cherished place-based universities and others who were comparably passionate about virtual universities used the article to alert their colleagues and raise their consciousness. In "The End of the University" Majid Tehranian criticizes Noam for ignoring five major social roles of universities. He argues that virtual universities cannot effectively replace all of these socia l roles. Tehranian does not simply defend the status quo; he also recommends that universities revitalize themselves by better preparing students for lifelong learning and to play a more systematic role in the education of mid-career professionals and social leaders. 

In the last forum article, "The Demise of Meaning-Making and Social Agency as Critical Concepts in the Rhetoric of an Information Age," Suzanne Iacono criticizes an intellectual shift in the concepts used to characterize social life in this era. She obser ves that 

In this short essay she offers some vivid illustrations to show how modeling groups first and foremost as information processors misses the central or critical element of how groups come to take on social identities and enact meaning in their environments. 

TIS 12(4) concludes with reviews of two books: 

TIS 13(1) will be a special issue on Electronic Commerce and was edited by Rolf Wigand of Syracuse University. Description of subsequent issues will be posted on TIS' new Indiana University web pag e as they jell (see 

I am pleased to welcome two strong scholars to TIS' editorial board: Dr. James Katz of Bellcore and Professor George Trubow of the John Marshall Law School. In addition, Ms. Anna Martinson and Ms. Dorothy Day have become TIS' book review editors. I appreciate the help of TIS' previous book review editors, Mr. Wayne Lutters and Dr. Lisa Covi in significantly increasing the number of books that we review each year tenfol d! As part of TIS' move with me to Indiana University, Ms. Carolyn Cheung has retired from TIS' after doing a superb job as managing editor and Mr. Kevin Bishop is now playing that role here. 

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