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Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
15(1) 1999

The Information Society, 15(1), includes five regular articles, a Forum article about public access to advanced Internet services, and two book reviews. Three of these articles examine how new communications networks and services influences shifts in international relationships -- by weakening sovereignty in countries that face large scale humanitarian emergencies, in strengthening ties between ethnic diasporic communities and their homelands, and in reinforcing industrial era financial relations in consumer banking.

The issue opens with "Home Computers and School Performance" by Paul Attewell and Juan Battle which assesses the effects of home computers on school performance, and examines inequalities in educational payoff among those children who have home computers. Their data comes from a large scale sample survey of eight-graders which included data about the students' academic accomplishments, their families' socio-economic status, interactions between children and parents, and educational materials at home (including computers). This study finds that students with computers at home have higher test scores in mathematics and reading, even after controlling for family income, and for cultural and social capital. However, children from high socio-economic status homes show larger educational gains with home computers than do lower SES children. Boys' performance advantage is larger than girls'. Ethnic minorities show far less of a performance boost than whites. Attewell and Battle examine the possibility that home computing may generate another "Sesame Street Effect" whereby an innovation which held great promise for poorer children to catch up educationally with more affluent children, in practice is increasing the educational gap between affluent and poor, between boys and girls, between ethnic minorities and whites, even among those with access to the technology.

In "Sovereignty, Globalism, and Information Flow in Complex Emergencies" Rebecca Knuth examines how the flow of information across national borders is raising significant questions about the character of national sovereignty. She notes that the number of major humanitarian emergencies has increased from about five per year in the mid-1980s to about 15-20 per year in the late-1990s. These emergencies draw upon the help of international agencies, and make new demands upon national governments to provide systematic data about their natural resources, populations, and health conditions which has never been collected, which has been collected is not in a usable form, or which the governments are reluctant to share with outside agencies. She examines the clash of political and social values emerging from the use of information within the international community's involvement in high-profile crises -- such as those in Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, and the resultant rethinking of government's power within national borders, sovereignty. Knuth argues that the life-and-death stakes of these large scale humanitarian emergencies requires a free flow of information during disasters and that it can be based on a global human rights mandate.

In "The Internet and Ethnic Press: A Study of Electronic Chinese Publications" Kewen Zhang and Hao Xiaoming examine the roles of online publications in promoting ethnic communication in a diasporic community. Through a case study of the online Chinese language publications, they examine the potentials of such publications in supplementing and expanding the functions of the traditional ethnic media, strengthening cultural and communal ties of the ethnic groups, and mobilizing them for action. They argue that on-line media enable ethnic media to fortifying the cultural traits of ethnic immigrants. As a result, ethnic groups are more likely to be assimilated into the mainstream culture without losing their own cultural roots and ethnic identity.

The emergence of the global service economy has altered the flows of information and capital among the world's nations. Electronic international banking networks now provide the economic infrastructure for the "global village" as millions of financial transactions are processed daily. In, "The World System of International Monetary Flows: A Network Analysis" Joseph Salisbury and George Barnett describes key features of the world system based on the financial transactions of an international credit card network. The use network analysis methods and data about credit card transactions a network analysis to produce a structural analysis of international consumer credit flows. These results indicate that the world's monetary flows based on consumer credit-card transactions is a system is composed of a single group with the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Canada at the core. The periphery is formed by former members of the Eastern block and less developed countries. A few nations are marginal in the network with only a single link to a core member of the network. This pattern is similar to that of the world system when the data are based on flows in international telecommunications and trade networks. Salisbury and Barnett argue that the structural organization of the world system is one in which monetary flows are still geographically organized. They see this pattern as similar to that in the industrial era, and that international banking networks are extending old industrial patterns rather than serving as catalysts for financial redistributions. 

The world is wired with numerous specialized data networks. Salisbury and Barnett examine the implications of consumer credit transaction networks on international relations. In "A Framework for Electronic Coordination in the Air Cargo Market," Stefan Rheinheimer and Freimut Bodendorf examine the possible role of telecommunications networks in reorganizing air freight coordination into a more market-like system. These two articles do not simply employ different social paradigms, but also emphasize different social values. Salisbury and Barnett are concerned with major inequalities and dependencies among nations; Rheinheimer and Bodendorf are primarily concerned with allocative efficiency in a transportation system in which the major participants are national and multinational firms.

Rheinheimer and Bodendorf argue that the increasing demand for faster, cheaper and better logistical air freight service has brought forwarders, carriers and related services such as customs, banks and handling companies closer together. They rest their analysis on neoclassical microeconomic theory which considers market-oriented coordination superior to hierarchical if the necessary information and communication processes can be transparent and efficient. They believe that many of these coordination tasks can be taken over by software instead of human agents. Their article examines how coordination mechanisms can be redesigned by employing well understood communication infrastructures and by considering qualitative aspects in price-finding mechanisms.

 The last article, Can the "Next Generation Internet" Effectively Support "Ordinary Citizens"? Rob Kling examines some of the complexities of public access to a new generation of Internet technologies that are now the subject of advanced research. The "next generation internet" (NGI) is not simply a "fatter pipe" to relieve traffic congestion. It is also supposed to be more secure and also to enable users to schedule channel capacity, so they can organize events such as a videoconference which can degrade rapidly if there is unexpected network use and congestion. The NGI research is being funded with public monies because of a market failure. When the U.S. Federal government privatized Internet access several years ago, it was expected that private firms would also fund research into new networking architectures. This expectation was not realized. Firms such as America On- line, Netcom, AT&T and MCI were eager to provide network services to the public. But NGI research seemed very expensive and hard to justify in terms of likely profits. However, with Federal funding paying for NGI research, the question of public access and use is a legitimate issue. 

Kling brings several bodies of research together in examining whether the recent history of rising computer skills and declining technological costs will be sufficient to insure broad public access to NGI services in the next few decades. The argument that "time and markets" will expand NGI usage is most plausible for technical access to networks. Kling contrasts technical access with "social access" and observes that the effective routine use of computer networks often rests on people having very high levels of skill, discretionary time to fiddle with equipment, or skilled assistants to work through bottlenecks. Networks in practice are socio-technical configurations. Kling argues that some of the publicly funded NGI research should emphasize socio-technical configurations that can be used and useful by ordinary people and low-tech organizations. 

This issue ends with the review of two books Internet Economics, by L.W.McKnight and J.P. Bailey and Internet Digital Libraries: The International Dimension, by Jack Kessler.

Please check our Indiana University-Bloomington web site for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. Prospective authors may reach us via email at tisj@indiana.edu.

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