Why do we find ourselves living in an Information Society? How did the collection, processing, and communication of information come to play an increasingly important role in advanced industrial countries relative to the roles of matter and energy? And why is this change recent or is it?James Beniger traces the origin of the Information Society to major economic and business crises of the past century. In the United States, applications of steam power in the early 1800s brought a dramatic rise in the speed, volume, and complexity of industrial processes, making them difficult to control. Scores of problems arose: fatal train wrecks, misplacement of freight cars for months at a time, loss of shipments, inability to maintain high rates of inventory turnover. Inevitably the Industrial Revolution, with its ballooning use of energy to drive material processes, required a corresponding growth in the exploitation of information: the Control Revolution.Between the 1840s and the 1920s came most of the important information-processing and communication technologies still in use today: telegraphy, modern bureaucracy, rotary power printing, the postage stamp, paper money, typewriter, telephone, punch-card processing, motion pictures, radio, and television. Beniger shows that more recent developments in microprocessors, computers, and telecommunications are only a smooth continuation of this Control Revolution. Along the way he touches on many fascinating topics: why breakfast was invented, how trademarks came to be worth more than the companies that own them, why some employees wear uniforms, and whether time zones will always be necessary.The book is impressive not only for the breadth of its scholarship but also for the subtlety and force of its argument. It will be welcomed by sociologists, economists, historians of science and technology, and all curious in general."
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(229mm x 152mm x 31mm)
Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
USC Professor Beniger persuasively argues a strikingly original thesis, i.e., that the First World's ongoing transition to a global information society is really one of long standing. The industrial Revolution made it "necessary to control [the] processes and movements [of a material economy] at speeds faster than those of wind, water, and animal power - rarely more than a few miles per hour," he observes. By no coincidence, he points out, almost all of the basic communications technologies now in use emerged during the 19th century: photography and telegraphy (1830's); rotary-power printing (1840's); telephone (1876); motion pictures (1894); wireless telegraphy (1895); and magnetic tape recording (1899). Radio, television, and computers appeared during the first half of the 20th century, consequences of a Control Revolution under way for a century. Rapid changes in telecommunications and mass media, which greatly expanded the information-processing capabilities of government and business, represented innovative, longer-term solutions to the loss of economic and political control resulting from the Industrial Revolution. The immediate response, he notes, was brisk growth in administrative bureaucracies. In a programmatic effort to maintain its authority "at all levels from interpersonal to international relations," government supported the new technologies in various ways. In 1890, for example, the Commerce Department used punch cards perfected by Herman Hollerith (whose invention helped launch IBM) to tabulate US census data. This accessible text offers engrossing perspectives on the roots and implications of today's so-called knowledge industries. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - James Ralph Beniger
James R. Beniger is Associate Professor at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.