Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society

The Control Revolution: Technical and Economic Origins of the Information Society
by James R. Beniger

Harvard University Press
xiv + 493pp.
C-T *


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Beniger argues that today we are continuing an information revolution that started over 150 years ago. For us, the microchip should symbolize not a revolution in social history, but only the latest incremental step. Due to major technological change in the early 19th century, economic life became very challenging. Production, distribution, and consumption of goods became mechanized while the scale of these activities grew dramatically. The result was a series of information bottlenecks throughout the economy, starting with the railroads and spreading through the mercantile, retailing, and office sectors. As each was opened, another occurred further down the system. The new information technologies interacted, creating new challenges that were met with new inventions and innovations. The result, Beniger argues, is that we are only now working out the details of the information order created in the last century. Beniger marshalls his evidence from numerous sources, including evolutionary biology and organizational sociology. While his choice of examples is discriminatorily selective, and he occasionally claims novelty for theories that have been advanced by others, overall his book is provocative and interesting. He is to be commended for tackling so thoughtfully such an important topic; undoubtedly, his thesis will stimulate discussion.

--Reviewed by James E. Katz in Science Books and Films, 22/3 (January/February 1987), p. 149.