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Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
16(1) 2000

The Information Society, 16(1) contains six articles and one book review. Two of the articles examine IT and business practice,  one examines the geographical foci of  the Internet, two examine IT use in households and the last examines  IT and social inequality in international perspective.

This issue opens with an article about Dell Computer’s business model for Internet-based sales, by Kenneth Kraemer, Jason Dedrick, and Sandrar Yamshiro. Dell Computer was one of the first major PC manufacturers to develop the means for allowing people to purchase custom-configured PC’s online. In “Refining and Extending the Business Model with IT”, Kraemer, Dedrick and Yamshiro  show how Dell’s have proven successful in minimizing inventory and bringing new products to market quickly. As a consequence, Dell has increased it market share and achieved high returns on investment.

The authors examine how this case illustrates how one business model may have inherent advantages under particular market conditions. But, more seriously, they  also show the importance of high quality execution in exploiting the advantages of an abstracted business model.  In particular, Dell’s use of  IT has been vital to executing both elements of its business model— direct sales and build-to-order. At the time of this study, for example, Dell’s managers had reduced their relative inventory investment to be one-fourth  to one-half of that of competing firms. .  The authors examine a number of Dell’s organizational and IT strategies in the 1990s, including some – such as “enterprise resource planning” with SAP – that were halted after very expensive investments. The authors report how Dell’s managers sometimes erred in their judgements, although they did many tings very well. Dell’s behavior provides valuable insights into ways for applying IT  to achieve speed and flexibility in an industry in which time is critical. The authors argue that many of the insights from the Dell Computer case can be applied more generally to other time-dependent industries. Their findings from the Dell case will have implications for a growing number of companies and industries.

In “Predicators of Downsizing in the US Telephone Industry,” Hyun-Oh Yoo and Bella Mody examine the fifty- per-cent decline in the number of  people employed by telephone exchanges in the U.S. during the last two decades. Yoo and Mody note that many people predicted a rise in the number of  information services jobs as the number of manufacturing jobs declined.  However,  the occupational shifts within the information service sector have been uneven in the U.S. For example, the demand for computer programmers in the U.S. seems to be much larger than the number of programmers, while other occupations, such as telephone operators have declined in size. Yoo and Mody are studying the total number of  people working in local telephone exchanges and they include technicians and office staff, as well as operators.

They test several alternative explanations for this employment decline from labor economics, industrial organization, and political economy. They evaluate the contribution of six potential explanatory factors (wages, sales, technological change, competition, productivity, and profit rate) with   regression equation models. They analyze cross-sectional time series data on 50 local carriers who provided 90% of the service between 1988 and 1995.  They  found that investments digital switching equipment and productivity increases (calls per employee) were the most important factors in explaining employment reductions by firms. In contrast, wage increases and investments in general purpose computer systems were significant sources for employment reduction only in the short-term. Yoo and Mody are specially interested in employment shifts. But their study is also relevant to debates about “the productivity paradox” since different forms of IT investments --  digital switching and office computerization – influence employment (and costs)  in different ways. Studies that aggregate different kinds of  information technologies into one overall indicator of IT investments.

In their article, “The Internet Backbone and the American Metropolis” Anthony Townsend and Mitchell Moss shift our attention from the behavior of organizations to  the geographical diffusion of Internet-based services.  Some pundits have argued that the Internet will enable many professionals to work from small town and even rural settings.  In fact, thousands of  people have moved their work long distances from their offices, often to small towns,  and telecommute via the Internet. But, are these patterns scaling up to tens of millions of workers and their families? Despite the rapid growth of Internet and other telecommunications services, we have little systematic data about the geographic diffusion of these new technologies. The Internet may catalyze the restructuring of the production and delivery of vital services including finance, retailing, and education – and understanding their geographical structuring is critical.

Townsend and Moss give us some provocative insights into these issues by analyzing the development of Internet backbone networks in the United States between 1997 and 1999. They focus upon the inter-metropolitan links that  provide transcontinental data transport services. Between 1997 and 1999, Internet backbone capacity was quintuled in the U.S. two thirds of this capacity is concentraded in the 20 largst metroplitan regions. They also found that a select group of seven highly inter-connected metropolitan areas consistently dominated the geography of national data networks despite massive investment in this infrastructure in the late 1990s. While prosperous “global American cities” lead the nation in adopting and deploying Internet technologies, interior regions and economically distressed cities have failed to keep up.  Their evidence suggests that the Internet may aggravate the economic disparities between regions, rather than level them. Although the capacity of the Internet backbone system has slowly diffused throughout the metropolitan system, the geographic structure of interconnecting links has changed little. The continued persistence of large metropolitan areas – both large cities and their adjacent post-suburban regions --  as the centers for telecommunications networks illustrates the need for a more sophisticated understanding of the interaction communications innovations and societal change.

Martin Higgins shifts our attention to the ways that “ordinary citizens” make sense of the public discussions of telecommunications, the Internet, and social change. In “Divergent Messages in a Converging World” he reports the results of a study in Scotland about “ordinary citizens’ interpretations of  the discussions of media convergence.  The mid 1990s was a period when the development of the household market for new information and communication technologies (ICTs) was of paramount importance for producers and suppliers.  There were significant discussions about the extent to which telephone companies or cable TV providers would dominate the markets for Internet access at home. Higgins  advocates an approach to studying new media technology which analyses the 'full life cycle' of technology. In practice this means utilizing theories from a range of disciplines focusing on a number of different points in the 'cultural circuit' within which all technology is located. His article presents an overview of his research into the domestic consumption of new media technology. During the course of this discussion  he reports differential rationales for buying and using different media that are differentiated by age and gender.  For example, men’s interests in sports drove the decisions to acquire cable TV services in Higgins’ study; urban Scottish women were “much less enthusiastic” about it. While adults and parents were often enthusiastic about computer use, their preferences for how to see them used differed. For example, children often liked computer games while many parents saw gaming as “wasting an expensive computer.” Throughout the article, Higgins situates information technology use in the context of social class, gender and age and identifies variations in preferences and practices. 

Valerie Frissen continues the focus on information technology and homelife in “ICTs in the Rush Hour of Life.” She notes that many Dutch women have entered the labor market in the last two decades and this has lead to substantial shifts in the time that families spend on paid labor and 'caring tasks' and also on leisure activities. This task combination has caused serious time pressure and coordination problems among dual income families with children. She labels this stage of life as the 'rush hour of life'. In this article she examines the acceptance and use of  information technologies in the everyday life of  these busy dual-career households.  She asks whether information technologies  can be a solution to time pressure and coordination problems. She reaches the paradoxical conclusion that information technologies are not explicitly perceived as solutions to the communication and coordination problems of these households, although they are used for solving some of these problems. This ambiguity seems characteristic for the acceptance of information technologies in everyday life. She shows how the concept of  domestication, an artful integration of technologies into the routines of everyday life,  helps us to understand these ambivalent and paradoxical processes of (non)acceptance and use.  Part of the tension derives from conflicts between marketing images of how a technology, such as cell phones, are to be used, and the very personal and different modes of use by families.

The last article is in TIS’s Perspectives section. Perspectives articles are synthetic and tightly argued, but they may also reflect a refined and disciplined speculative imagination. They may also be as long as regular articles, in contrast with the shorter Forum articles. Our Perspectives article by Rubin Patterson and Ernest J. Wilson, III examines  information technologies and social inequality in international perspective, and with special attention to developing countries.  They are concerned that an economics of trade liberalization dominates much of the research and policy agenda both in first world countries and in poorer countries as well. Unfortunately, social inequalities between countries and within them are often ignored. Patterson and Wilson  organized an international conference of researchers, policy analysts and some policy-makers at the University of Maryland in early 1999 to discuss these issues and to help form a  more connected research community. 
Their article, “New IT And Social Inequality: Resetting The Research And Policy Agenda” is an integrated report based on the conference.  They briefly characterize key ideas from the most significant talks. These summaries provide a variety of intriguing views of telecommunications and social life in Asian, South American and African countries. Patterson and Wilson conclude with a research model that separates the “upstream issues” of differential access to new information technologies (based on factors such as geography, wealth and education) from “downstream issues” about the impacts of socially configured IT uses on the structuring of major social resources such as educational systems, employment opportunities and community life. 

This issue ends with Cheryl Knott Malone’s review,  of the Dowler’s book, Gateways to Knowledge: The Role of Academic Libraries in Teaching, Learning, and  Research.  The next issue of TIS 16(2) will be a special issue on universal access to telecommnications technologies that was guest edited by Professor Harmeet Sawhney.  TIS issue 16(3) will be a “standard issue” like this one. We will conclude this volume with issue 16(4) focussing on "New Multimedia in Europe" and guest edited by Dr. Robin Williams.

TIS’s publisher, Taylor and Francis,  is now making an electronic full text version of this journal available at no additional cost with an institutional subscription that is priced at less than $200. This new service is an exceptional bargain for large organizations, such as  universities. It is possible to site license one electronic subscription for  the use of  all students, faculty, and staff for the price  of one institutional subscription. TIS’s web site (URL above) includes additional information about this opportunity.

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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