We are experiencing what some have called a crisis of will and others a loss of patriotism. War has become a spectator sport.
For example, Scott O’Grady – American hero. The story of his ordeal and rescue have become an important part of American heroic history. Now, let us imagine for a moment, what we would have felt if he was not rescued. All the media attention would have been focused on how his friends and family felt at his loss. We do not just see heroes home and happy we also see body bags. It difficult if not impossible for us to fight a war with such an individualized focus.
The nature of what constitutes a threat has changed. We used to feel threatened by a foreign power’s strength; by their weapons and armies. Now we are threatened by foreign power’s weakness and poverty. We can be brought to the bargaining table by boatloads of sick and poor instead of their young and strong, armed. It happened with Haiti and again with Cuba. This is a complete reversal of the ordinary power equation.
People’s fears are increasing. More and more we are challenged by our contact with a global world, the crimes of the inner city are in our living rooms. As the divergence between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ increases both rich and poor are more likely to listen to, would be, demagogues who call for a return to societies defined by ethnic and religious values. The rich listen because they see the old values supporting stability and the poor listen because they feel cheated and frightened.
All of these problems stem from the Information Revolution. Because an information revolution creates a totally new world. If we want to function in this new world we must understand the dynamics of information and war.
Information and war — two words. If we think about their meaning they seem strange put together.
Information has a quicksilver quality. It can’t really be defined. If I try to grab the meaning it splits, rolls away and joins up with other bits. People try to define it to capture it in words, try to draw distinctions between data and information or knowledge and wisdom, but it still eludes capture. Information doesn’t obey the normal laws of physics. Information grows through sharing. It is not exclusive. I give you some information and I still have it. Or you give me some information and I don’t get it. You give it to me again and again and I still don’t get it. Then suddenly, after you have given up, I get it! Information can’t be quantified. I can count the words in a book or the bytes in a computer file but I can’t count how much information I get out of reading a paragraph or a book or attending a seminar. Information is unlimited — as I study any phenomena there is always more to learn — more to know. Information is not absolute. It depends on context. It is in the eye of the beholder. Looking across a flat Alaskan landscape I see nothing, I see emptiness, an Eskimo hunter sees a wealth of information about the animals that have crossed it, the thickness of the ice and as many as 7 kinds of snow. By the same token I can call a computer an information technology but if I lack the skills to use it, it is just a big rock.
War, according to John Petersen (1995), is about killing people and breaking things. Things and people are part of the world of matter and energy. They, unlike information, obey the laws of physics. Things and people can be counted. We may have many of a kind of thing but each is one and one only. Things are exclusive. If you give me a thing you no longer have it. Things are absolute. If one is lost or destroyed that very thing cannot be replaced. Even if we make more things, the laws of thermodynamics tell us that in making something — work transforming matter to energy or vice versa there is heat loss — entropy — that cannot be recaptured. The problems of a material things are problems of scarcity.
We say that we are entering an Information Age, that we live in an information economy. But economy, like war is involved with quantity and with scarcity. The problems of an information age are problems of plenty. And indeed, some of the problems of our time relate to plenty. Software piracy, intellectual property, how to quantify the “look and feel” of a piece of software or how to define information theft when the original owner still has the original information.
The problems of war are problems of scarcity. Information technology has shown us that Scott O’Grady or a child starving in Somalia, or a couple on a boat from Haiti are all individuals. War has been about killing people but those people were previously just numbers. We felt it was OK for those numbers to be sacrificed to fix some scarcity — land, oil, wealth. The scarcity was more important than the numbers. But now we know these people for individuals, we feel their loss, we feel scarcity. Suddenly, the things we are being asked to sacrifice them for — land (especially other people’s land) seems less scarce and less desirable.
These problems arise because we are experiencing a shift from a world of scarcity to a world of plenty while others, against whom we may have to fight, are still in the world of scarcity. We inhabit different perceptual worlds don’t know how to think about it or how to operate within it. It would be to our advantage for all to be in the same perceptual world. It would be a fitting information war.
To begin to understand what we are going through we need to understand that information revolutions have changed the perceptual world before, that these changes can be studied and understood and that we can use that knowledge to understand today’s information revolution. We will start by looking at the last ice age and the death of the first information culture.
Ten thousand years ago the first information culture perished along with the woolly mammoth, the giant bison, the mastodon, and the saber tooth tiger. It had been the dominant way of life for many millennia. It was, in comparison to all but the most recent standards, a global culture.
I call it an information based culture because, if the people of the time were like recent hunter/gatherers, they got their living by knowing not owning — they were secure because they knew where the animals would be and when the plants would be ready to gather. The world they perceived was a world of plenty — there was enough to go around. An individual’s status was based on the stories, songs and knowledge rather than on what he or she owned (Turnbull, 1967, Lee & Devore, 1982). Since anyone regardless of gender or family are likely to have good stories or songs it was a relatively egalitarian society. There was no war amongst hunter/gatherers since: 1) it is not possible to take away a person’s knowledge through force, 2) they own very little, and 3) what they do own they share.
From our perspective the world of the Ice Age seems idyllic – new places to see and new people to meet, no war, the perception of plenty, sharing, and status based on telling stories, dancing dances, and singing songs. The paradigm is plenty — Eden.
The extinction of the large herd herbivores suddenly made the perceived world of plenty into a perceived world of scarcity. There were massive famines. (Whitney-Smith, 1995, contra Martin & Klein, 1989) It wasn’t enough to know where something grew or where animals would pass, it became necessary to own, to control, and to restrict resources. Hunting and gathering became a marginalized life style practiced by only a few. People started to create cultures based on owning material goods not on sharing information. The strong who could take away things from others gained more status. Eden was no more.
In the new perceptual world – the world of scarcity – security was based on owning material goods. People used their knowledge of gathering to make crops grow where they wanted them – agriculture. Others used their knowledge of animals to gather together and domesticate herds of animals – pastoralism. Abel and Cain. In both of these life ways people take their identity from their group and are secure because they are members of a group. The paradigm is group membership.
War is a response to scarcity. The forms reflect the kind of scarcity each group experienced.
Nomads (Cain) experienced periodic scarcity became raiders. They used their knowledge of how to kill and how to herd and break up groups to kill and scatter their opponents. Since the scarcity the experienced was irregular and since they did not plant they did not have an attachment to owning geography. Thus their form of war was brutal and brief.
Agriculturists (Abel) settled and planted. As the populations grew they experienced a scarcity of land and expanded outward to take over more and more land. They developed war based on standing and defending a piece of geography first they built walled settlements, perhaps against the raiders and then with the rise of a new information technology – writing – cities and empires. Their attachment was to geography since wealth came from land. They developed defensive wars and then wars of imperialism.
Thus we have three paradigms: Eden, Abel and Cain. The interactions between these paradigms each determined the kind of war that evolved.
Abel’s need was for land. Inhabitants of Eden had little sense of ownership. Hence Abel could marginalize Eden through settlement. Conflict was very one sided. Inhabitants of Eden would leave rather than fight. In recent days hunter/gatherers have been marginalized so that many can no longer make a living and have become dependent on Abel – modern nation states. It has not been necessary for modern nations to war with hunter/gatherers e.g. the !Kung in South Africa – (Lee, 1982)
Cain’s need was for goods. Again there would be little reason for Cain to fight the inhabitants of Eden since they have few possessions. If they needed wives or slaves they could easily capture the inhabitants of Eden.
Scarcity created a need to know who was a legitimate member of a group and who was not – who worked and contributed and who did not. Pre-literate groups were kin groups. The elders of a kin group knew who was related to whom and therefore who was a member in good standing. Many pre-literate groups are matralines but even where they were not women were valued because they reproduced the kin unit (Gailey, 1987). Group size had an administrative limit. It was limited by the ability to track membership and work. Security and identity was based on kin membership not on individual effort or identity. Non-members were either adopted into the kin structure, which gave them an identity, or were considered enemies or slaves.
Scarcity leads to hierarchy. Those who are stronger can take things from those who are weaker. Tribute can be extracted from outsiders or from weaker members of the group. Those who can use information, might or charisma to gain a leadership position can restrict the means of survival to the members of his choosing.
The transition from small agricultural groups to civilizations begins the same way throughout the world. One of a number of similar, small agricultural groups is suddenly able to grow and dominate the surrounding groups. It is able to create irrigation projects and to make war. That group has some form of symbol system. – Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Incan quipu, Chinese characters. Writing presents an organizing metaphor that creates the perception that things can be classified and organized. The paradigm is class and organization — an information revolution.
A symbol system makes it possible to administer – to track membership and to tax. Group size can expand. Taxes may have taken the form of service in the military or as labor on state projects. Tracking people and membership and taxing wealth are necessary for war or irrigation projects to move beyond an amateur/ part-time activity. Since membership could be tracked kin units were less important for defining membership and kin units were likely units of revolution so women and their role as reproducers of the kin unit were devalued. Membership in the group as a whole was more important than either individual or kin identity
Organizational ability and class structure came with writing. Writing presents an orderly linear metaphor. People begin to realize that they can organize things and people in a better, more orderly manner — things and people can be counted and classified. John Keegan (1994) tells us that the military power of the early hydraulic societies was not based on any superiority in technology or in manpower but in organization. Writing is a way to keep information private. Certain groups can dominate other groups based on their superior access to information. Writing limits access to information to those who could read — the elite — and thus consolidates their power. It creates a different way of thinking for those who read and those who don’t. This validates and perpetuates the class structure. Class identity and group identity are important. A three part elite develops:
The king, pharaoh, inca or other political ruler was seen as a god or as a representative of god.
Rulers were advised by priests or scribes who controlled information. They were often in charge of state projects and kept the tax records.
The military defended the group against outsiders and kept the populace under control.
The purpose of war, for these groups, was to expand to acquire more land, enslave and obtain tribute from those conquered. Through trial and error and clashes with other city-states and barbarians (the inheritors of the nomad raider tradition of war) this world view and way of life and war progressed through various city-states to empires culminating, in the west, with Rome.
Wars were fought either against the nomadic peoples or against other city-states or empires. The kind of enemy faced influences how the military developed. If the threat was from nomadic raiders then defensive war developed as in China where there was emphasis on defensive structures (the Great Wall) and harassing the invader. The notion of decisive battles does not evolve. If the threat was from an equal then tactics and strategies escalate and evolve. If there was no threat from an equal then little military development is necessary and, as with the Aztecs of the New World (Keegan, 1994) war can become ceremonial. War did not disappear because the military elite had to continue to justify its place in the society and the three part elite needs to control organized violence in case the common people rebel.
Abel vs. Eden – imperialism, colonialism, marginalization of hunter/gatherers
Abel vs. Cain – defensive
Abel vs. Abel – escalation of technology, tactics, strategy and organization
Nomads kept more of the world view of the hunter/gatherers. They retained relatively egalitarian kin based social group or alliance of kin groups led by a charismatic leader. They may have been the inventors of war, applying their knowledge of killing and cutting into a herd of animals to clashes with others. Over time they too continued to evolve inventing the chariot, cavalry and the stirrup. Their inventions were taken over by those whom they attacked. Because nomads did not plant they had no attachment to owning geography. They swept in took what was portable and left. If nomads decided to settle, and they were successful they took over much of the existing political structure and became part of the agricultural line e.g. The Normans in France, the Jutes in the British Isles, the Manchus in China.
Cain vs. Eden – enslavement
Cain vs. Abel – raiding or assimilation to Abel’s line
Cain vs. Cain – enslavement and/or tribute paid by loosing to winning nomad groups
At this point we have a simple model of the evolution of war before the Fall of Rome summarized below.
War before the Fall of Rome
The type of response to scarcity determines what kind of war develops.
- Inhabitants of Eden have no perception of scarcity and do not war. Agriculturists develop defensive war over land. Pastoralists develop offensive raiding for booty to address periodic scarcity.
- The type of competition determines how far the art of war evolves. Little competition against poorly organized or poorly equipped groups results in expansion with little or no evolution in the art of war. Competition against well armed well equipped groups results in evolution of tactics, technology and strategy.
The evolution of writing, the perception of organization and classification, and the development of the three part elite are administrative developments that allowed group size to expand beyond the kinship unit of the small agricultural group. Empires too have administrative limits
The Han of China swept out of their home area conquering land for hydraulic agriculture assimilating or enslaving some people and pushing the hunting/gathering bands up into the hills or out of the area suitable for agriculture. They kept expanding until they reached the limit of cultivable land. As new technologies and new water ways were opened up the empire and the limit of agriculture expanded. The Great Wall is roughly in the area where farming becomes unsuitable (the wall has shifted as climate and land usage changed). Throughout China’s history there have been changes of dynasty. Periodically nomads swept in from the north and either took over the government and took on the characteristics of the governed or they simply took booty and went away. There were times of disorganization where each area was ruled by its local war lord. But throughout, the Confucian civil service (information owners) played a role balancing and shifting allegiances sometimes having great power and sometimes less but continuing to maintain a rough stability. China reached the economic limit and thus did not exceed the administrative, organizational or information limits.
Rome expanded too, conquering and moving on demanding tribute from the conquered. The economy was dependent on the continuous expansion of the empire. Rome had evolved a civil service and the mechanisms of an empire. Roman citizenship was coveted. It provided a valued class identity. As the borders were pushed further and further out administration and maintenance of the military and the empire became more expensive and more unwieldy. Barbarians often found it profitable to join the empire, become citizens, and become part of the military. Despite the adoption of Roman citizenship groups wanted to maintain their own customs and identities. They made different treaties with the empire. The administrative task grew with each new agreement. When the empire was attacked individual groups of military might defend the empire or they might make common cause with the attackers. The Roman Empire outgrew the administrative or information limits before it reached an economic limit.
In the west there is a more developed notion of individual identity. Fewer people define themselves primarily in reference to their national or ethnic group. Their main source of meaning in life is based on individual fulfillment. The dynamic that started the evolution of the individual started with the fall of Rome. The evolution of the individual is based on the separation of the major information provider from the traditional power structure. The fall of Rome initiated a paradigm of individuality and competition.
With the fall of Rome the Roman civil service disappeared as did the political and military structure. The Roman Church was the only remaining information provider and the only institution that preserved its organization. The political and military functions had become so disorganized that each small town or manor had to provide for its own administration and defense. It was every small group and every individual against every one else. A highly competitive and individualized atmosphere.
The defense against nomadic raiders had been to build defensive walls. In the middle ages we see individual raiders or small groups attacking increasingly elaborate castles and the knights themselves becoming fortified in their armor.
The organizational paradigm was Cain’s but he was living in Abel’s world. Alliances were personal they followed the form of the Germanic tribes. Wars, in the early middle ages, were individual feuds or rivalries between small groups. Any small holder could set himself up as a military power (Keegan, 1994). There were no tactics or strategy.
Unlike nomadic war people of the Middle Ages fought for territory as well as booty. Although individual lords had priests to advise and to administer for them, the Church as an institution did little to create order out of the chaos of European politics. It supported one prince and then another depending where its interest lay. This led to a kind of arms race between factions and factions of factions.
The Roman Church maintained its organization. It did not need the princes. It had a vested interest in keeping the princes relatively powerless and so could afford to promote the laity. It had the right of direct taxation – tithing. Tithing made it an advantage to the Church for the laity to be economically productive. Therefore it was to the Church’s advantage to foster the development of technology and the spread of information. Monasteries of the Middle Ages often functioned as agricultural extension centers do today, to develop and spread information about techniques and technologies to increase productivity. The individual was encouraged to be productive and to give to the Church. Women as well as men were educated by the Church. In the early middle ages many of the scribes were women. Literacy was more a function of class than of gender.
The kind of Christianity that developed in the west supported good works and supported technology as a way of doing good works. (White, 1979)
In contrast, the Byzantine Empire continued the three part elite structure that had obtained before the fall of Rome. The financial existence of the Eastern Church was dependent on the political power structure. Its interests lay in supporting the Empire. It developed a Christianity which supported mysticism, asceticism and submission to the will of God instead of good works. It did not encourage individual productivity, individual learning or spread knowledge to the laity. Thus a notion of the individual did not develop. Identity was still based in group membership.
The fall of Rome broke the three part elite structure. The Church could afford to use its power to support one faction and then another. It set up a highly competitive dynamic in Europe. Princes against princes, the common people against the princes and the church supporting one group or another and often supporting the development of individual wealth over that of political leaders.
Militarily it led to an escalation of arms and the art of war — competition against similarly armed and equipped groups results in evolution of tactics, technology and strategy.
It was an information revolution because it increased information access for the non-elite. For the first time individuals were encouraged by their value system (the Roman Church) to use technology and learning to better their condition regardless of their membership in a social group. Socially, it led to a more individualistic frame of reference.
We can begin to see a difference between contexts where information was relatively free (available to people who were not members of the traditional elite) and where information was controlled by the traditional elite. Free information leads to an increased sense of the individual. In all information eras, from the fall of Rome on the group with the freest information will win. They will win because they are better able to invent, produce and economically survive any conflict.
Writing had introduced the notion of linear organization of thought. The fall of Rome introduced the notion of individuality and the press with its standard replaceable type, standard letters, standard editions of books presented the people with a metaphor they applied to all aspects of life. The paradigm of standardization and replicability.
The initial impact of the press was toward consolidation of the absolutist state. The political unit went from the city state to the nation state. Increased access to books led to an increase in upper class lay literacy which helped the formation of the first nation states. Kings founded Universities to educate future government ministers. Ministers were needed to oversee the King’s courts and the regulation and taxing of trade between towns and overseas. Demand for standard nation-wide law and regulation increased.
With the increased ability to tax and with the emerging consolidation kings had access to treasuries and mercenaries. The military became more professionalized it owed allegiance, (all be it a purchased allegiance) to the king instead of being based on personal fealty to a feudal lord as it had been in the Middle Ages. Howard describes the army of the French invasion of 1494:
With hindsight we can describe Charles VII’s force as the first ‘modern’ army, in that it consisted of the three arms deployed in various mutually supporting tactical combinations, and was very largely made up of men paid from a central treasury. (1976, p20)
War was still a matter of relations between princes but increasingly those relations were based on economic and military power not feudal obligations or rivalries. The political doctrines of the printer’s son Machiavelli maintained that states alone could judge their own interests and those interests were those of the prince.
The most powerful entities of the late Middle Ages, in west, were the cities of Italy and the Iberian peninsula who were in closest contact with the major information provider – the Church. At first, they were in the forefront of the new information age. They explored, made new maps, learned and taught about navigation technologies and had an active, information rich culture. The Church continued its support for learning and staffed the various state ministries and universities founded for upper class training.
With the coming of the Protestant Reformation the Church lost its religious and information monopoly. It began to make decisions based on perceived scarcity and fear. Suddenly it felt it needed the support of the political and military powers. The western Catholic Church made alliances with the political powers in Spain, Portugal, and Italy became like the Church of the Byzantine Empire. (Although France remained a Catholic nation the alliance between the powers was not as strong as in the Iberian Peninsula) In the inquisition, and the counter-reformation the Church suppressed information and information technology. It stopped preaching a Christianity of individualism, support of technology to further good works and began to stress obedience to authority and a more mystical Christianity.
The Protestant countries, Holland and England did not suppress information technology. They became print intensive cultures in the same way as we are a TV intensive culture. A literate crafts producing class developed – people who had grown up in crafts shops and then learned to read. They were able to use written records to keep track of raw material and finished goods. It set them free of the old style of family based production. They invented the basic structure of capitalism based on the division of wage labor (standard labor producing a standard product) and the ownership of the means of production (replicability based on standard machines and standard processes). The power equation and every institution of life changed – an information revolution.
First Holland and then England became the most powerful nations in Europe. Many of the printers from Spain moved to the Netherlands. There they found people who wanted to know and wanted to buy every kind of printed material. How to books, business manuals, pornography, music, maps, playing cards, children’s books all were printed and bought. The merchants used their new literacy to rationalize trading. Literacy allowed them to use book keeping to follow good and bad investments and to track more goods than previously. The production of textiles could be put on a more productive footing as craftsmen tracked markets and styles.
England entered the information revolution later than the Dutch because of the persecution of Protestants and the press by the Catholic Queen Mary. With her death printers again became active in England. Since the Dutch controlled trade. Entrepreneurs in England had to find another niche. A new generation of businessmen arose, who were themselves sons of craftsmen, but who combined knowledge of the craft with literacy and numeracy. They were able to give out standard amounts of raw material and pay standardized prices for a defined, standard amount and quality of finished goods because they could keep track of the transaction. These literate craftsmen invented the putting out system. Some employed as many as 100 apprentices (Dobb, 1932). The new way of doing business made it possible for English goods to be made more cheaply than could be made by crafts production.
As more and more people who were formerly craftspeople became wealthy they were able to purchase privilege. During the English revolution many of Cromwell’s supporters and advisors were drawn from the new class of wealthy literate, sons of craftsmen. Increasingly social place was seen as more related to wealth rather than on birth. With the restoration of the monarchy wealthy merchants and manufacturers were able to gain access to political power. Social mobility increased.
Before the change in production the family had been the major social and economically productive unit. It included the biological family, often several generations, apprentices, journeymen and hired help all of whom lived together. With the ability of the master craftsman to track work with writing and book keeping, production moved out of the home. The family as a unit became part of the private sphere and second in importance to the economically productive unit.
This change in the productive relations had repercussions for the family. Women and children of the master’s family ceased to be active in production. They lost their economic importance. Literacy became the mark of adulthood thus defining the non-literate as non-adults. Privacy became more important as certain information could be kept from the non-literate. Children, who had been seen as small adults, emerged as a separate age class that had to be protected from certain information (Postman, 1982) As the home became separated from the place of production distinctions arose between public and private; work and home; exterior and interior. Women, children and the old became part of the private, interior world and since they were all non-literate and not part of the activities related to production they were increasingly seen as non-adult.
From the invention of writing to the rise of Rome war evolved within the same paradigm. From the fall of Rome to the invention of the press war evolved in the same way groups forming alliances and coming together in larger and larger units again within the same paradigm – the paradigm of feudal fealty.
From the invention of the press and the rise of the nation state war evolved to be increasingly standardized — professional, better organized and disciplined and to include more people culminating in the armies of the Napoleonic Era. The war paradigm was based on a standardized conception of armies – infantry, artillery and cavalry – led by officers who had some education in the art of war, facing each other using what tactics and technology they possessed to win on a particular piece of ground. The winner had better tactics, better technology, more men or had been able to choose the ground for an advantage. And like the two previous eras –competition against similarly armed and equipped groups results in evolution of tactics, technology and strategy. But amongst these groups there was no difference in how they believed the battle should be fought or what war was.
During the final period of this paradigm, armies did encounter different paradigms and the were disconcerted.
Napoleon’s armies marched into Russia. The Cossacks, acting within Cain’s war paradigm, attacked and harassed the troops while yielding and even destroying territory, running away when Napoleon’s army expected them to stand and fight. Their behavior did not conform to the standards expected of military. Their activities disconcerted and disgusted the great European military thinker Otto Von Clausewitz who was sickened by their behavior and found it to be beyond the bounds of “civilized war” (Keegan, 1994). Clausewitz was fully within the tradition of the European war paradigm.
The electric revolution continued the evolution of the individual. Wars became even less a matter of courage and winning one encounter and more a matter of logistics, supply, production, communication, and technology. It shifted power from state sized units to the super power sized units – the United Kingdom, the United States and the USSR. Economic power shifted from Europe to the United States. It changed the identity of the family from a multi-generational extended family to the nuclear family and defined the individual on what his or her occupation was rather than on family or class. By the time it was completed, for the first time in the history of the world, it was expected that all adults could read.
The perception shifted from a merely standardized world to a world where flows of matter and energy were constrained into hierarchies. The paradigm was continuity, progress and hierarchical organization.
The most telling war of the early telegraph period was the Civil War in the United States. South was still a largely rural, even feudal economy. What a person did and his or her position on the plantation, like the feudal manor, was based on class identity more than it was on occupation. They saw no need for interstate control, interstate ties or national identity.
The North had been tied together by the railroad and the telegraph. It had begun to think in terms of a national identity. It had lost the notion of crisp boundaries because it had begun to come to grips with the necessity of incorporation laws, laws regulating railroads and national trade that would be applicable across state lines. People in the north had seen the beginning of a group of urbanized professionals that did not owe their position to birth but to ability. The beginning of progress up the economic and social hierarchy. The North was part of the new electric era
The winning of the Civil War gave the people of the North the blessing of fate. The opening of the west and the vista of a nation that stretched from sea to sea inspired them. Weibe writes of America at the end of the 19th century:
By the early eighties publicists were savoring the word nation in this sense of a continent conquered and tamed. it was a term that above all connoted growth development and enterprise… An age never lent itself more readily to sweeping, uniform description: nationalization, industrialization, mechanization, urbanization. (Weibe, 1967)
The information revolution this was based on started with the telegraph. Railroads pre-dated the telegraph but it was not until the invention of telegraphically operated switches that they could operate safely. Organizationally management costs were more than the income a railroad could make. It was impossible to operate a road of any consequence (longer than 50 miles) until rationalized management was invented. The structure of the telegraph switching network suggested a new way to organize — the constrained bureaucratic hierarchy.
Daniel McCallum, an inspired user of the telegraph, introduced the familiar hierarchical organizational chart and modern business practice. He saw the organizational chart as a structure of communications and responsibility. He introduced the notion of a chain of command where an employee was responsible only to his manager, and stipulated that managers have the power to hire and fire (Chandler, 1977). This constrained the power of managers, reduced the information and decision making bottleneck and introduced accountability. The new organizational structure allowed business to grow. What the railroads pioneered others copied.
The change in business structure increased social mobility. People could move up in the business hierarchy. People could “get ahead” without owning a business or farm. Factories needed cheap labor, filled by immigrants. The nation became more foreign and more urban. All of these eroded the large rural multi-generation, extended farm family and changed the definition of family to mother, father and children – the nuclear family.
All these changes, and improved communications, created the impression of a new society, much of which was seen to be strange and dangerous. There was wide spread conservative reaction. The Know-nothings, the first religious fundamentalists (first tract publication -1911), isolationism, and the Granger movement all products of this time, were ways of trying to return to a simpler age. Weibe writes:
As men ranged farther and farther from their communities, they tried desperately to understand the larger world in terms of their small, familiar environment. They tried, in other words, to impose the known upon the unknown, to master an impersonal world through the customs of a personal society. They failed, usually without recognizing why. (Weibe, 1967)
Hierarchies were not new but they had been fixed and based on class. The military hierarchy shows the traces of pre-telegraph hierarchy; every non-commissioned person salutes every commissioned officer; and an officer is a gentleman. In business, before the introduction of the rationalized business hierarchy, managers or owners could tell an employee to mow his lawn or take out the trash. The employee was a servant to the owner. He was in a different class and that class was fixed.
In a bureaucratic hierarchy the job defines the person not his or her class. The railroad conductor could tell the president of the company that he had to get on board or be left at the station and where a telegraph operator could break into meetings with important news or hold up a train. A middle manager had the power to hire and fire the people under him. A worker was only responsible to the manager directly over him not the manager of some other department and that manager was instructed to confine orders to things within the employees job competence (managers could not ask for personal service for their homes or families). If a person did well there was the possibility of moving up through the organization. These were all radical departures from the family owned and operated business.
A sense of individual importance based on professional competence developed as a result of the new bureaucratic hierarchy. The individual at the bottom of the class ladder could give orders to those at the top at the class ladder by virtue of his profession. The conductor or telegraph operator was a person with importance because they controlled information without which the whole system was imperiled (the conductor was the time keeper – if the train did not keep time the likelihood of a crash was increased, although telegraphic connections between stations helped).
Businesses copied the railroad/ telegraphic organizational structure and they took the notion of continuity even further. First distributors (Montgomery Ward, Sears and Roebuck, the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) and then manufacturers (Swift foods) began to think about how they could improve reliability and increase efficiency. They began to acquire their suppliers. Manufacturers began to visualize the production of goods in terms of continuous flow. Processes instead of units began to emerge in business conversation. The assembly line was created.
Britain had used the telegraph and the railroad effectively to administer her empire but had not adopted the organizational changes developed in America. The introduction of the telephone extended the electric information revolution and shifted the balance of economic power from London to New York. It became possible to manage diverse holdings and check on many factories. It extended the paradigm of continuity organized into rationalized, constrained hierarchies.
On the international scene the French and English did not adopt the new communications technology with the fervor that Americans did. The chief engineer of the British Postal Service, Sir William Preece, captured the British attitude:
Few have worked at the telephone much more than I have. I have one in my office, but more for show. If I want to send a message – I use a sounder or employ a boy to take it. (in Pool, et al., 1977)
The French attitude was even more restrictive. Attali and Stourdze write of the problems in French economy:
The growth of enterprises needing world markets made them more difficult to manage: the chain of production became unwieldy, requiring more time and space. To remain competitive, time lags in distribution had to be kept brief. The long technical processes of production and distribution had to be mastered, something that the local power structures (in France) unfamiliar with the workings of big industrial firms could not grasp. From then on, the telephone acquired vital importance. It helped bring the 1880 crisis to an end by winning new markets, and it played its part in the rampant competition in national and international markets until the 1929 depression. (Attali and Stourdze, 1977, p.109-110)
Politically the French government had a more controlling attitude toward information technology than the United States or Britain.
- Governments have always kept to themselves the exclusive use of things which, if fallen into bad hands, could threaten public and private safety: poisons, explosives are given out only under State authority, and certainly the telegraph, in bad hands, could become a most dangerous weapon. (Attali & Stourdze, 1977)
As a consequence political, economic and military power (based on production efficiency) shifted from Europe to the United States. In Europe businesses remained family owned and personally run. During the final days of the 19th and early 20th century England’s economic power was no longer based on her manufacturing might (between 1880 & 1890 US steel production had overtaken Britain’s) but on her connection with her empire as suppliers of raw materials. (Wolfe, 1982)
With more and more goods manufactured in and sold for cash. It was important to convince women to buy goods instead of making them at home. The new communications industry sold the notion of modernity even more effectively than it sold product. More and more of women’s traditional work was done by factories and machines. The telephone further separated the home from the economic world. Suburbs arose as it became possible for businessmen to remain in touch through the telephone. Women’s lives became more restricted and isolated. Women needed to become re-integrated into the life of the nation they turned to suffrage movements and social activism.
As the factories became more efficient the demand for labor lessened. At the same time people were getting more news faster. The city was seen as a den of evil populated by foreigners. The fear these engendered created both conservative reactions and reforming reactions. Women agitated against child labor and championed education as a way to civilize and Americanize the children of immigrants. Child labor laws and public schools and professional education again changed and extended the nature of childhood.
The revolution in production and the shift of economic power from Europe to the United States had political and military repercussions. The rate of social change and economic change made people feel insecure. The wars were partially economic and partially a conservative reaction of those still in the group/ ethnic/ class identity mode against the individualistic/ pluralistic/ world emerging from the electric revolution. The wars of the electric revolution were won on the production line and in the research lab as much as they were on the battlefield. And out of those labs came the technology of the next information revolution.
We are now in the midst of another information revolution. There are similarities.
The power equation has shifted to favor the most information intensive culture. The main frame revolution, like the early press revolution and the early allowed the dominant powers, The United States and the USSR to extend their administrative control. The USSR did not allow free information or freedom of information technology. The United States did. As a consequence the electronic industry in the US far outstripped that of the USSR.
The essence of the PC revolution is local control. The Soviet paradigm of central control prevented the notion of local information technology. As a consequence the Soviet economy collapsed because their production, ecological and social system was far beyond the administrative limit of their information infrastructure (Feschback, 1992). That collapse, like the fall of Rome, has created a highly competitive situation between, the inheritors of the traditions of the Byzantine Empire, who are still in the group identity paradigm.
As a consequence of economic devaluation of women’s work at home. Women have had to seek economic participation in the larger society. Women are regaining their place in production. The definition of gender is becoming more equal. The family has become less stable as it has lost economic function. Thus, family size is again being reduced from children and the biological parents to the child and the care taking parent.
As information technology moves us away from print, less information is kept private. Children experience sex and violence vicariously on TV and in their day to day lives. The age of sexual awareness is being lowered. At the same time need for increased education and life long has pushed up the age of student learning. Both trends are blurring the distinction between adult and child. Childhood is disappearing. Like before the press, children are beginning to be seen as small adults. Evidence of this is the tendency to try children in adult courts and the lack of distinction between adult and children’s fashions.
Television has brought the individual soldier, citizen and killer into our homes. This has two consequences. The individual has emerged from the faceless masses as we see Baby Jessica or Scott O’Grady rescued, Rodney King beaten, or follow the Bobbitt case with horror or amusement and we feel increasingly threatened. Crime statistics tell us our cities are safer than they have ever been but we feel more threatened As companies restructure for the information age we lose jobs and though we are the only “super-power” we feel more helpless than ever. This leads, as it has in the past, to conservative reactions.
- We are seeing a resurgence of religious fundamentalism, ethnic and national identity. There are twice as many private as public police. People live in walled communities. There is a call to a return to family values,
- Isolationism and fear of foreigners, exemplified by the passage of California’s Proposition 187, denies the children of aliens education and health care. The class of people most likely to create new organizational structures and to innovate most widely are those who have the greatest need coupled with access to new information technology, and
Congress has passed and the president signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that makes internet service providers responsible for indecency that passes through their system. If the law makes it through the courts and is enforced, the model presented here would indicate service providers, like Spanish printers in the print revolution, will move to countries where information and information technology is not restricted.
First we must recognize that the change in paradigm is irreversible. We cannot go back to identity based on ethnicity or on a simple definition of nationalism any more than we can return to the small farm or the family business. We must instead wage a two front information technology war to bring the rest of the world into the information age.
We must accept that our current paradigm is based on electric not electronic thinking and redefine what National Security means in the information age, based on our insights from previous information revolutions, and
We must wage a campaign to foster the emergence of the individual.
The first can be done by beginning conversations, and writing books like this one and by continuing the conversations internationally “on-line”
The fostering of the individual can be done by making sure that information providers are not fettered, controlled by, or dependent on the existing political power structure.
The peoples of Eastern Europe have never lived in information free cultures. They went from the Byzantine empire to various other forms of political control of information. The social system has been based on class whether that class is based on birth, membership in the communist party, or membership in a certain ethnic or religious group.
Because they have never lived in an information free culture they have never had the opportunity to develop individual identity or a social system based on competency and professionalism.
We can make war on these perceptual systems by giving and demanding as a requirement for aid (military or economic) that we be allowed to blanket the area with modern information technology tied to the world wide information super-structure. Connecting people to an independent source of information will foster economic and political development. It will develop individual identity. And, it will be cheaper, less invasive, and more effective than any of the dams, power plants, wells, or agricultural projects of the past.
For more on this kind of thinking look at my dissertation Information Technology and Wealth: Cybernetics, History, and Economics,
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