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Is it about the wired world?

Dearnley, James and Feather, John.  The wired world. An introduction to the theory and practice of the information society. London: Library Association Publishing, 2001.  186 p. ISBN 1-85604-373-8.  29.95

Nowadays there is a prerequisite for everyone, a governmental official or a citizen, to operate with such notions as e-government, computers, internet, information society, etc. Most universities include courses on information sciences, theories of information society and information policy, courses for computer or information literacy, in study programmes in mathematics, informatics, business, sociology, or some other discipline.

Dearnley and Feather address their book to those who will be working in the field of information services or information management and they have defined the task of preparing a study guide for those who do not have methodically organised knowledge of information theory. To achieve this they have organised material into three main parts:

  1. exploration of the concept of information,
  2. survey of the underlying theories of information society, and
  3. examination of the ways of the development of information society.

The book is divided into six parts that reveal the main concepts examined in the book, such as: information society, information technology, the Internet, information policy and information society in Europe. In the first three chapters of the book, the authors present the main information theories, briefly examine the possible explanations for the theories of information society, and overview the main tendencies in the evolution of new information technology.

In the introductory part of the first chapter some points about the problems of information definitions, specificity of information society and the distinctions between information and knowledge are raised. But, as a matter of fact, these important issues stay hidden between the lines of the study guide. The authors do not try to make clear the definitions or limits of the sphere of information theory and society. From the reviewer's point of view this is a prerequisite for a study guide.

Also there is some confusion in the presentation of the main theories of information society. Bell and Machlup mentioned in the text are known not only as the authors of information society theories but have made an impact on the main information theories. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand why the theories of, e. g., Tofler, Shiller, Habermas, Masuda and philosophers such as Lyotard, Giddens, etc. are not analysed in the book and are only mentioned briefly in the notes and references.

The authors have concentrated their attention on the rich and changeable areas of information policy, the impact of information technologies and the development of information society in Europe.

The second chapter of the book is entitled "A new technology for information" and it examines briefly: the history of the PC, computer networks, the World Wide Web, and mobile telephony. Readers are introduced to the very beginning of the information technology and its development since the 1950s.

The most valuable chapters of the book are intended to introduce the constitutive understanding of information policy and to examine the main models and tendencies of information society that were implemented and could be seen in Europe. The main documents that were prepared to generate and implement information society in Europe are examine and the book provides a sequential account of the first steps of the Europe's preparation for a unique European model of the information society (1994). Further, it analyses the experience of the implementation of information society (the following actions are mentioned: liberalisation of telecommunications, changes in regional, educational, and other spheres); it also submits possible points of view to changes in business, education systems, progress of telecommunications, etc. Of course, for anyone who is intending to study the very basics of information policy it would be interesting to find some comparison of specific features of information societies' creation and implementation in Europe and other regions (e.g., USA, Japan). It should be mentioned that the authors only give the account of the main documents but they do not include any suggestions for further analyses of the development of the information society.

I would like to mention the construction of the book. The authors have chosen a structure of a study guide: they provided text - theses, notes for further readings and references. The last mentioned part of the book is really useful because the authors suggest the need for critical review, refer to established authorities, and provide valuable references to on-line documents.

Students who are preparing to work in the information service sector need special and deep knowledge of information theories, good understanding of contending theories of information society and knowledge of the main tendencies in development of information policy all over Europe. For them "The wired world" could be at the most a book of notes about recommended readings on information theory and society.

Renata Matkeviciene
Faculty of Communication
Vilnius University
January 2002