Continuity and Change in Socio-Economic Systems
Edited by Elizabeth Garnsey and James McGlade
Chapter 7: Diversity and Uniformity in the Evolution of Early Information and Communication Technologies
7. Diversity and uniformity in the evolution of early information and communication technologies Elizabeth Garnsey, Paul Heﬀernan and Simon Ford INTRODUCTION The creation of novel forms and the eﬀects of their subsequent selection or elimination is a central theme in complexity studies. Complex processes are at work whenever their outcomes impact on further activity in iterations that generate recurrent feedback processes. ‘Evolutionary processes’ are not simply a biological metaphor applied outside the natural world; they refer to a distinctive mode of transformation in arenas that include the evolution of languages, the development of scientiﬁc knowledge and the advance of technologies. There are common processes at work involving the generation of variety, the operation of selection forces and the propagation of selected variants, though these are manifest in distinctive ways in diﬀerent arenas. Natural variety is generated through random genetic mutation and combination, blind to selection forces. But in the economy, intelligent agents can anticipate the rewards and sanctions exerted by selection forces and so experience incentives to respond to them.1 Consumer demand, the allocation of investment, and competition have operated as selection forces shaping the advance of information technologies in recent years. The questions addressed here concern diversity creation and standardization in information and communication technologies. The virtues of diversity are extolled in evolutionary economics and complexity studies for their capacity to generate new solutions and a richer economic habitat, but in many ways our world is becoming increasingly homogenized. What are the constraints on diversity...
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