The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
13(3) 1997

This issue of The Information Society, 13(3) emphasizes information policy and IT development policies in Europe, North America and Asia. 

The issue opens with a non-policy article. In "Battle of the Sexes on E-mail," Celia Romm and Nava Pliskin examine the role of e-mail lists as a medium of political mobilization during policy debates in a mid-sized university. They report how e-mail facilitated an illusion of proximity and intimacy within competing coalitions and the sharpening of their group identities. They also observe that e-mail was a medium of systematic mis-information by some of the parties in this dispute. The study indicates that we have to conceptualize e- mail as more than a set of communication services that connect and inform people; it can also serve as a medium of political mobilization, identity formation and disinformation. 

"The Adequacy of Privacy" by Colin Bennett and Charles Raab examines the European Union's 1995 Data Protection Directive and the its likely influence on privacy regulations in the U.S. and Canada. A key provision of this Directive (95/46/EC) of the European Parliament and of the Council effectively couples North American privacy laws to European laws. It requires that "Member States shall provide that the transfer to a third country of personal data ... may take place only if ... the third country in question ensures an adequate level of protection." Until now, Western European privacy laws have been relatively proactive, and North American privacy protection have ben much laxer and reactive. The EC Directive is likely to force numerous changes in US and Canadian privacy laws that will have strong repercussions for public and private organizations. Bennett and Raab's discussion of the policy repercussions of the new EC Directive is critical reading for anyone who is interested in personal privacy or electronic commerce in North America. 

You can find the full text of the EC Directive on a web site maintained by the Data Council of US Department of Health and Human Services: Bennett and Raab note that the Directive's text is highly technical and not very reader-friendly: "It is exactly the kind of document one would expect if a large and fluctuating number of European bureaucrats tried to cobble together the provisions of the German and French laws, add on a few provisions of from the British and Dutch, spend five years taking it through the European legislative process, and subject it to analysis and lobbying from almost every conceivable interest." In contrast, Bennett and Rabb's policy analysis seems almost poetic! Even so, I believe that you will find Directive's text to be a useful adjunct for a close reading of their analysis. 

The final two articles focus on public policies about telecommunications and industrial development in India. In 'The Socioeconomic Implications of Telecommunications Liberalization," Ben Petrazzini and Girija Krishnaswamy examine the way that India's telecommunications policy approaches are an unusual mix of central regulation and privitization. The place India's telecommunications policies in the context of the privitization approaches that are common in Latin America and the strong regulatory approaches that are common elsewhere in Asia. They examine several important repercussions of this more complex strategy, such as the costs of services, network growth, the risk of private investments, universal service, and employment. 

In "'The Information Based Global Economy and Socio-Economic Development," Shirin Madon examines the case of Bangalore. The Indian government has selected Bangalore -- a rapidly growing city with a population approaching four million -- for special treatment as a hi-tech center. Today, Bangalore's firms account for almost 40% ofia's hi-tech production. However, Madon argues that Bangalore's industrial dynamism has not yet had a major impact on the economy of its surrounding region (Kanakarta State), which remains not simply rural, but also relatively poor. (This situation differs from Silicon Valley's location in California -- a major agricultural producing state where the all but the very Northern forested mountainous region share the state's wealth.) Madon examines the ways that Bangalore's well educated elites are well integrated into a vibrant global economy, while there remain serious structural inequities both within the city and the region. This article complements Petrazzini and Krishnaswamy's macroeconomic policy analysis by examining the living and working conditions in one city that has been especially favored by India's information technology policies. 

The next section of TIS issue 13(3) is a Forum that examines Thailand's national information technology plan whose organizing theme is "Social Equity and Prosperity." Thailand is one of several Asian countries that developed a national information plan, in part as a response to the promoion of National Information Infrastructure by Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1993-1995. 

TIS' Associate Editor Professor Kenneth Kraemer arranged to have the official Thai planning document reprinted, along with analytical commentaries by three international scholars: Russel Pipe, Seymour Goodman, and Heinrich Reinerman. He also obtained a commentary and update on the pan's implementation by Professor Pairash Thaychayapong of Thailand. 

This Forum on Thai information policy can be read on its own. It is also useful to read it along with the two articles about information technology and social policy in India that precede it in this issue, since they add a vivid appreciation of the social dynamics of Asian development. Asian countries differ from each other (ie. there is no caste sytem in Thailand comparable to that of India). But the coupling of social equity and prosperity with new technological developments is an elusive goal whose complexities we can learn from various experiments worldwide. 

Asian countries are not the only ones to have articulated ambitious national information policy plans. The European Commission initiated an Information Society Project Office ( that has been issuing a stream of reports, that range from the famous Bangemann Committee report ( through an April 1997 report of "High Level Group of Experts on the Social and Societal Aspects of the Information Society" ( Like the Thai national information technology plan, this recent report also seeks to develop information technologies so as to couple social equity and prosperity (within the EC). I am looking for articles that examine the politics and prospects of these European plans with an analytical depth similar to the articles in this issue. 

TIS issue 13(3) ends with reviews for four books: 

Immersed in Technology by MA Foster (Ed.) (reviewed by Jill Beck). 

Android Epistemology by Kenneth Ford, Clark Glymour and Patrick Hayes and Knowing Machines by Donald MacKenzie (reviewed by Steve Fuller). 

The Science of Writing by C. Michael Levy and Sara Ransdell (reviewed by Andrew Dillon). 

The next issue of TIS will be a special issue about "Virtual Societies: Their Prospects and Dilemmas" that was guest edited by Professor Magid Igbaria. Its empirical and theortical articles advance our understanding about the character, value and viability of virtual social forms in a variety of arenas, including worklife, education, and community life. 

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