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########## ########## ########## | MEGATRENDS OR MEGAMISTAKES?
#### #### #### | What Ever Happened to
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########## #### #### |EFF EXPLAINS ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES
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EFFector Online December 17, 1992 Issue 4.01
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
MEGATRENDS OR MEGAMISTAKES?
What Ever Happened to the Information Society?
(Part 1 of 2 Parts)
by Tom Forester, Senior Lecturer,
School of Computing & Information Technology,
Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
What ever happened to the Information Society? Where is the
the "paperless" office and the "cashless" society? Why aren't we all
living in the "electronic cottage," playing our part in the push-
button "teledemocracy" - or simply relaxing in the "leisure society,"
Remember when the microchip first appeared on the scene in the late
Remember the Siemens report, which allegedly predicted that 40 per
cent of office jobs would soon be sacrificed to the "job destroyer"?
And the plan by one Dutch political party for a new tax on
automation? Remember, indeed, the US Senate committee report which
earnestly discussed the social implications of a 22 hour work week by
Recall, too, how we have been regularly assaulted with trendy buzz-
over recent years, promising us that the videodisc, the video
telephone, electronic mail, teleconferencing, videotex, desktop
CASE, MAP, JIT, CIM, CD-ROM, DAT and HDTV would be the next "hot"
long-awaited productivity pay-off from the huge expenditure on
nformation technology (IT)?
The truth is that society has not changed very much. The microchip
the talk about "future shocks", "third waves", "megatrends" and
"post-industrial" societies must now be taken with a large pinch of
old way. Computers have infiltrated many areas of our social life,
but they have not transformed it. Computers have proved to be useful
tools - no more, no less. None of the more extreme predictions about
the impact of computers on society have turned out to be correct.
Neither Utopia nor Dystopia has arrived on Earth as a result of
consequences of the IT revolution predicted by the pundits with what
the workplace and at home. After this review, I will look at some
tentative explanations of why so many technology forecasters seem to
unintended consequences of the IT revolution, which weren't predicted
by the pundits. These include: the new social problems of unreliable
viruses and the invasion of privacy; and some psychological problems
associated with computer-based communication technologies - who could
"spreadsheet junkies", "electronic mail addicts" and "fax potatoes"?
between humans and technology, arguing that we need to reassert the
THE WORKPLACE IN THE "LEISURE" SOCIETY
Since so many of the early predictions about the social impact of IT
envisaged dramatic reductions in the quantity of paid employment
and/or large increases in the amount of forced or unforced leisure
time available to the average person, work and leisure would seem an
appropriate starting point for an assessment of the actual social
mpact of IT.
First, the microchip has not put millions of people out of work
- although it is steadily eroding employment opportunities. Mass
unemployment has not occurred as a result of computerization chiefly
because the introduction of computers into the workplace has been
much slower and messier than expected - for a variety of financial,
technical and managerial reasons. In some companies, computerization
Unemployment may be regarded as unacceptably high in many OECD
countries, but economic recession and declining competitiveness are
mostly to blame. However, many manufacturers now have an active
ts former levels, labour will not be taken on pro rata and increased
nvestment in IT may actually reduce the number of jobs available.
There is also concern about the service sector's continuing ability
to create jobs and a growing realisation that the high-tech sector
tself will remain small relative to total employment.
Second, the vast majority who are in the workforce appear to be
leisure time enjoyed by the average US citizen shrunk by a staggering
to nearly 47 hours - a far cry from the 22 hours someone predicted in
computers, robots, word processors and other "labour-saving" gadgetry
ncreasing, due to inflation and other pressures on the domestic
The Japanese, of course, continue to work longer hours than almost
everybody else and rarely take more than very short holidays.
We are still awaiting the "workerless", "unmanned" or "fully-
automated" factory. The "factory of the future" remains where it has
always been - somewhere in the future. Take industrial robots, for
example: analysts confidently predicted that the US robot population
because users have found that the care and feeding of robots is more
costly than that of people. General Motors wasted millions on
numerically controlled) machine tools, which have been around for
found that only 11 per cent of machine tools in the US metalworking
ndustry were CNC; 53 per cent of the plants surveyed did not have
even one automated machine! (Harvard 1988).
While the robot revolution has been stalled, other panaceas such as
"FMS" (flexible manufacturing systems) and "CIM" (computer-integrated
manufacturing) have been stillborn. FMS has rarely progressed beyond
the "showcase" stage and has proved to be an expensive headache for
those few companies who have tried it in a real commercial
enterprise. CIM remains a direction or a dream: connecting up all
the "islands" of automation is taking much longer than expected.
Full implementation of CIM would require the encoding of all relevant
management expertise into decision-making devices which would then
control fault-free machines without human intervention - this seems
machines to "talk" to each other, but it was slow to catch on and it
their automation strategies - steady upgrading seems to have replaced
the 1980s concept of total automation.
The "paperless" office now looks to be one of the funniest
are being felled to satisfy our vast appetite for paper, in offices
consumption has rocketed 320 per cent over the past 30 years, ahead
of real GDP which has gone up 280 per cent (Tenner 1988). In absolute
terms, this means that US consumers gobbled up about 4 trillion pages
of paper last year, compared with only 2.5 trillion in 1986 - about
the time that word processors and personal computers were becoming
times - the photocopier and the fax machine - are of course enormous
users or generators of paper, while technologies which do not use
catch on. The overall market for "office automation" equipment is
not as strong as it was in the 1980s, but sales of desktop laser
of paper. EDI (electronic document interchange) might help reduce
becomes a significant force.
Despite the huge increase in telephone usage and the existence of
electronic mail and videotex, old-fashioned surface mail - much of it
ndustrial countries. Paper-using "junk faxes" are also on the
ncrease. Banks still rely on paper to a surprising degree, despite
EFT (electronic funds transfer) and plastic transaction cards. A
business enterprises is still in paper form (Markoff 1988). It has
also been suggested (Business Week, 3 June 1991) that only 1 per cent
of all the information in the world is stored on computers. The US
cope with the huge amounts of documentation which go with complex
While with hindsight it was perhaps unreasonable to have expected
that automated factories and offices would be a reality by now, are
on productivity? Unfortunately, the studies available all indicate
that the productivity pay-off from IT has been somewhat slow in
coming - in fact, it is hard to detect any pay-off at all! This
certainly appears to be the case in manufacturing. In the service
(although this conclusion is apparently based on aggregate figures
There are many possible explanations for this apparent paradox: the
favourite is that there is a "learning curve" associated with IT.
Thus it will be some time before we - and in particular, IT managers
- learn to use the stuff properly. Typically in offices, potential
excessive re-drafting of documents, endless retraining, idle chatter
and even game-playing: in one recent survey of 750 US executives, 66
for playing games - this did not include playing around with
actually admitted to playing games in office hours - in fact, this
and intra-office sex (which is, of course, very tricky in modern,
THE HOME: WHERE IS THE "ELECTRONIC COTTAGE"?
One of the most pervasive myths of the IT revolution is that large
numbers of people will "soon" be working from home, shopping from
cottage" was first made popular by writers such as Alvin Toffler (who
"waffle"). The general idea was that the Industrial Revolution had
taken people out of their homes - and now the IT revolution would
allow them to return. It has since become a recurring theme in the
literature on the social impact of computers and has become firmly
mplanted in the public consciousness as an allegedly widespread
The only problem with this attractive scenario is that it is not
numbers of people are working from home full-time, although some
briefcase". Most surveys would seem to indicate that only about 10
full-time on a variety of tasks, just as they have always done.
Despite some well-publicized high-tech homeworking experiments -
abandoned after a while - the number of actual "telecommuters" who
use IT equipment to process and transmit their work rather than
concluded that it is "not a significant phenomenon"(Olson 1989).
The reasons why high-tech homeworking has not taken off are
nstructive. Proponents have glossed over basic problems like the
are not many occupations which can be carried on at home and the
managerial problems faced by the employers of homeworkers. But most
mportant of all, the technocrats who have advocated increased
telecommuting as a possible solution to traffic congestion and air
conflict, neighbourhood noise, loneliness, inability to divide work
from leisure, workaholism, stress and burnout - I should know, I
family and experienced most of them! (Of five other homeworkers I
followed in the UK, only one continued to work at home on a long-term
entertainment purposes, to access videotex information services, and
to bank, shop and even vote from their living rooms? Certainly, the
consumer electronics goods. But in general the evidence of increased
overestimated the market for home banking, shopping and information
Fewer than 1 per cent of US households use any kind of videotex
nformation service, even though it was predicted in 1980 that 5 per
cent of all US households would be hooked up by 1985 (Brody 1991).
Britain's Prestel still languishes with a small and declining user
base. Even videotex boosters now admit that information services
offering such things as constant news and weather updates, current
Moreover, videotex is not easy to use, it is slow and it is
nflexible. It is also costly and most consumers have been unwilling
to pay for mere information. The only videotex system in the world to
attract a mass audience is the French Minitel system which boasts
about 2.5 million terminals. But even in the case of Minitel, there
are signs that the novelty of, for example, exchanging sexy messages,
s wearing thin.
Home banking has failed to take off in the US and Europe. The two
most successful US experiments were the Bank of America's service in
San Francisco (with 15,000 claimed customers) and the Chemical Bank's
Verbraucher Bank of Hamburg, Germany, claimed the most subscribers in
the world (50,000) for its service. But these totals were a far cry
from the massive numbers envisaged when the services were launched in
the early 1980s. Chemical Bank closed down Pronto in 1988. Several
Japan of home banking being re-launched using the millions of
Nintendo consoles in Japanese living rooms, but basically home
banking must be deemed a flop. Home banking has two basic drawbacks:
t can't be used for cash transactions and most consumers don't do
enough banking to justify the initial costs or recurring charges.
Quite simply, it's not very useful and customers aren't demanding it.
(automated teller machines) have become very popular with consumers -
circulation shows no sign of diminishing - and in Australia, for
example, is in fact increasing in line with GDP.
Home shopping or teleshopping has also failed miserably. The most
famous home shopping schemes were Knight-Ridder's Viewtron experiment
n Florida, Times-Mirror's Gateway service in California and Centel's
Keyfax service in Chicago. Many saw Viewtron as the pioneer and it
and access databases without leaving their living room. But Knight-
Ridder managed to sign up only 5,000 customers and Viewtron was shut
Attempts to get home shopping going in the UK were also unsuccessful.
Home shopping failed because of practical problems such as
complicated on-screen instructions, difficulties over payments,
also failed to meet the psychological needs of shoppers: many people
enjoy shopping, especially the social aspect. Shopping offers people
the chance to get out of the house, to perhaps bump into friends and
to re-acquaint themselves with their local community.
Likewise, suggestions by, for example, Toffler, Naisbitt and Williams
that the IT revolution would lead to "push-button voting", to the
"teledemocracy" have proved to be wide of the mark. Despite
ncreased access to information and communication technologies,
electoral turnout in the US and most other Western democracies
continues to decline. Arterton (1987) recently looked at 13 major
"teledemocracy" experiments in the US and found that their impact on
fact that people are so bombarded with media messages that they
actually absorb less and less. Teledemocracy is unlikely to cure
America's severe turnout problem, let alone lead to a transformation
of the political system.
Thus it seems that many commentators have overestimated the capacity
for IT-based gadgetry to transform domestic lifestyles. The argument
that developments in consumer electronics, computers and
telecommunications will dramatically alter the nature of economic and
evidence. Despite the arrival of microwaves, food processors, VCRs,
CD players, big-screen TVs, answering machines, home faxes, word
Moreover, a succession of revolutionary "homes of the future"
ncorporating various "home automation" systems have been built in
the US and Europe in recent decades, but by and large they have left
consumers cold. A recent UK study found that people could do with a
few extra warning lights and such on their cookers, but they were not
bothered about home robots, futuristic wall-based screens, home
terminals and automated lighting systems.
The same sort of miscalculation has been made in relation to schools.
There is as yet not much sign of the "classroom revolution" taking
teaching machines still sounds just as fanciful as it always did. A
out that classrooms have changed very little in the last 50 years -
unlike, say, offices or operating theatres. Despite a huge influx of
queried by some educationalists, who argue, among other things, that
more money should be spent on books and better teachers rather than
computers, that much educational software is trivial and of limited
educational value, that the use of computers in class tends only to
"computer literacy" does not stand up to close examination (eg,
WHY TECHNOLOGY PREDICTIONS GO WRONG
Obviously those industry analysts, forecasters, academics and writers
completely wrong do not tend to publicize their own mistakes, let
alone examine in public just where and why they went wrong. But
forecasts go awry.
Schnaars (1989) re-examined major US efforts to forecast the future
of technology and found they had missed the mark not by a matter of
futurists in the 1960s had predicted that by now we would be living
n plastic houses, travelling to work by personal vertical take-off
aircraft, farming the ocean floors and going for holidays on the
moon. Robots would be doing the housework, working farms, fighting
chiefly, says Schnaars, because the authors had been seduced by
technological wonder. They were far too optimistic both about the
abilities of new technologies and the desire of consumers to make use
of them. The forecasts were driven by utopian visions rather than
the 1960s predictions was to assume that existing rates of
technological innovation and diffusion would continue. Schnaars thus
comes to the astonishing conclusion: "There is almost no evidence
that forecasters, professionals and amateurs alike have any idea what
our technological future will look like."
Likewise, Brody (1988a, 1991) went back and looked at the forecasts
made by leading US market research firms about the commercial
on. In almost every case, he found that the market researchers had
factor of hundreds. The main reason for this appallingly low level
of accuracy was that the researchers had mostly got their information
from vested interests such as inventors and vendors. A second lesson
offered only a marginal improvement on the old. Predictions based on
often neglected to watch for developments in related fields. They
also failed to distinguish between technology trends and market
forecasts and they greatly underestimated the time needed for
nnovations to diffuse throughout society.
(Part 1 of 2 Parts. Part 2 will be published in EFFector Online 4.2)
Opening Address to International Conference on the Information
Society, Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute / Green Meadow Foundation,
Zurich, Switzerland, 18 November 1991
THE 24-STAGE SOFTWARE TEST:
alpha: It compiles!
beta: It runs on Joe's machine.
epsilon: It's stopped running on Kate's machine.
zeta: It runs on all machines, but Report crashes.
eta: It crashes with HIMEM.SYS.
theta: It crashes without HIMEM.SYS.
ota: It crashes with a serial printer.
kappa: It works! But the spec has changed.
lambda: It runs, but mysteriously at half the speed of before.
mu: It crashes the network.
nu: It crashes Kate's machine with HIMEM.SYS, Joe's without.
xi: It runs, but the printout is garbage.
omicron: As above, but crashes after printout sometimes.
tau: Aha, sorted out the printout.
upsilon: Nearly there -- jus tneed to tidy up the help text.
chi: Yippee! It runs perfectly on all the machines in the world.
from Basingstoke with the customised Amstrad and DOS 4.01.
omega: It won't compile.
EFF EXPLAINS ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES
Mitchell Kapor, Chairman and President of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation (EFF), today explained several organizational moves and
nitiatives approved by the EFF Board at its November 10, 1992 meeting in
San Francisco. According to Kapor, "they are designed to increase our
effectiveness in making EFF into a national public education, advocacy,
membership, and chapters organization that represents and serves our
Berman Becomes Acting Executive Director
Kapor stated that "Jerry Berman, who currently heads our
Washington Office, has been designated by the EFF board to serve
as the interim Executive Director of EFF with present overall
Washington, D.C. offices. In this capacity, he will oversee EFF's public
Berman said: "I am delighted to be working with Cliff Figallo, our
Cambridge Office Director and the entire EFF staff and Board. In the next
two months we will be making a concerted effort to develop a plan to make
EFF into a more effective and powerful public interest organization."
On January, 23 and 24, 1993, EFF will hold a "chapters summit" in Atlanta,
Georgia. Dave Farber, EFF Board Member, stated that the
meeting would be "an open, candid sharing of views about chapter
making the chapters an integral part of the EFF mission." The
meeting is being organized by a steering committee made up of Cliff
Figallo, Jerry Berman, Dave Farber and representatives from
chapters and potential chapters including Mitch Ratcliffe and Jon
Mitchell Kapor to Chair EFF Board and Oversee Critical Policy Studies
Mitchell Kapor, who serves as Chairman of the EFF Board, has
turned over management functions to Berman and Figallo to devote
nitiatives, such as a pragmatic program for achieving an open
broadband communications network and an exploration of the
nteractive, multimedia electronic communications highway. Kapor
free speech, innovation, and privacy.
The EFF Board, once it has developed and approved an overall
REMARKS FROM LITTLE ROCK
Dr. Ross Alan Stapleton posted a portion of the remarks made at
yesterday's economic summit in Little Rock (12/14/92).
Here's a little more to get a flavor possible future policy debates.
ALLEN (AT&T): A focus on infrastructure including information networks,
commercial networks which are interconnected, interoperable, national
and global, needs to be encouraged.... I think the government should
not build and/or operate such networks. I believe that that private
them and to make it possible for people to connect with people and people
I do think, however, that the government role can be strong in the
of that technology to the private sector. Thirdly, establishing and
networks and devices work together and play together....
VP-Elect Al GORE: I fully agree when it comes to conventional networks and
the new networks that your industry is now in the process of building.
But with the advanced high-capacity networks like the NREN, it does seem
to me that government ought to play a role in putting in place that
backbone. Just as no private investor was willing to build the interstate
to it. This new very broadband network, most people think ought to be
built by the federal government and then transitioned into private
ndustry. You didn't mean to disagree with that view when you said
Allen: Yes, I may disagree.
"As life moves to this electronic frontier, politicians and
corporations are starting to exert increasing control over the
new digital realm, policing information highways with growing
ourselves boxed into a digital ghetto, denied simple rights of
access, while corporations and government agencies make out their
territory and roam free. So who will oppose the big guys? Who's
techno-literacy necessary to ask a few pertinent questions about
living there the longest might have a few answers."
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