Chapter 9: The Decentralization of Desire
By the late 1950s, economic progress in the West faced a seemingly insuperable constraint. Thanks to the telex system – an extension of the telegraph – information could now be transmitted around the world automatically at the speed of light. Furthermore, with literacy rates approaching 100 per cent in Europe and its oﬀshoots, virtually everyone was able to decode the simple Roman characters standardized by the Anglo-Saxon cleric, Alcuin, over a millennium earlier. However, because of the high cost of storing information in multiple copies, the headquarters of governmental and private organizations were drowning in seas of paper. Decision making had to be concentrated near these central information stocks and could not easily be delegated to those closer to the real problems that inevitably arose. Ironically, electronic computers spewing out page after page of detailed information had merely exacerbated this storage problem. Since only the largest organizations could aﬀord the high ﬁxed cost of mainframes, their use had further increased the optimal concentration of power. The one exception to date was military technology, where the United States with its decentralized decision structure, had always been able to keep a step ahead of its highly centralized rival, the Soviet Union. Then came an event that shocked the world. SOUNDS FROM SPACE The signals came from a 184-pound sphere the size of a basketball that was rotating the earth every hour and a half.1 Around the world, radio stations rebroadcast the characteristic ‘beep, beep, beep’ from the earth’s ﬁrst artiﬁcial satellite....
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