Information Revolutions in the History of the West
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Information Revolutions in the History of the West

Leonard Dudley

With detailed case studies addressing the sources of innovation in information technology, along with a conceptual framework to explain their effects, this book will be of interest to students and teachers of Western economic and social history, as well as to the general reader with an interest in the social impact of innovation.
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Chapter 9: The Decentralization of Desire

Leonard Dudley


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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