The Information Society
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This issue of The Information Society, 17(4) includes five articles, a Forum article, a book review essay and three book reviews. Four of the articles form a Special Issue on the topic " Issues of Authenticity, Social Accountability & Trust with Electronic Records" which was guest edited by Professor Wendy Duff.
The topic of electronic records may seem to be largely technical, but in fact it is deeply socio-technical. As a society digitizes an increasing fraction of records about people – their health, medical care, financial activities, educational experiences and so on – electronic records become critical and pervasive. But as the authors of these articles illustrate, electronic records are much less stable than their paper counterparts. Their instability is driven, in part, but the dynamics of organizations changing computer systems and record-keeping software. But migrating record systems from one computer or database system to another can introduce gaps or errors that reduce the records' trustworthiness. Further, there are usually few explicit links between electronic records and paper records, and cross checking is very labor (and skill) intensive. The four articles that were reviewed and organized by Wendy Duff (and the referees) examine these issues in a variety of institutional contexts. Duff's introduction to these four articles serves as much more extensive and integrative commentary on these topics.
The final two articles examine the information economy and conflicts over information policy and strategy in Singapore. In “Information Economy and Changing Occupational Structure in Singapore” Eddie C.Y. Kuo and Linda Low examine Singapore's employment patterns from 1921 to 1990. They follow sociologists, such as Daniel Bell, in conceptualizing an information society as a new social form that is discontinuous from previous social forms. Singapore stands out internationally in the extent to which its central government has tried to intensively foster an strong informational sector, with policy visions such as its “intelligent island” (National Computer Board: Singapore). Kuo and Low report that by 1990, over 53% of Singapore's workforce was employed in its information economy. While the period of their study pre-dates the “intelligent island” vision, plans, and investments, these are likely to further amplify the scope of Singapore's information economy. Kuo and Low's article offers a nuanced examination of these trends and policies that support them.
In our concluding Forum article, “Singapore's Dilemma: Control vs. Autonomy in IT-Led Development,” Mark Warschauer examines Singapore's IT policies in a more critical perspective. He notes that Singapore stands out for it's level of political control among wealthy nations, as well as for its intensive IT-led development policies. In particular, he examines the Singapore's media censorship, educational reforms that focus on information technologies, and language policies that try to limit the use of a local dialect that mixes English and some Asian languages – Singlish. Warschauer shows how each of these policies is linked to Singaporean economic development. He also questions the longer-term effectiveness of these policies. For example, the Singaporean government licenses all newspapers and has censored international newspapers and magazines that have published stories that its political leaders deem to be unfavorable to Singapore. However the policies to transform Singapore into an “intelligent island' by providing every household with Internet access can enable many people to read articles that are also critical of Singaporean political elites. Warschauer concludes with a call for analysts to adopt a “critical theory of technology” that examines how social values are part of the design of technological systems in use, and the ways that they are appropriated by different groups. In Singapore, a central tension to be examined with this critical lens is the extent to which current political elites will shape the character and thus influence the social consequences of new media like the Internet, and to what extent a much larger number of Singaporean citizens can utilize the Internet in ways that support a more open political system and more reflective and analytical ways of learning in schools as well as in other places.
This issue ends with several book reviews: Stephen McDowell's review essay about telecommunication policy and regulation, Leah Lievrouw's review of Progress in the Communication Sciences, Eric Monteiro's review of Rationalizing Medical Work, and Steve Sawyer's review of The Social Shaping of Technology.
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Center for Social Informatics
Indiana University - Bloomington
Feenberg, A. (1991). Critical theory of technology. New York: Oxford
National Computer Board: Singapore. 1992. A Vision of an Intelligent Island: IT2000 Report.
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