Contents of the CYBEROCR.TXT file
CYBEROCRACY IS COMING
Copyright 1992 Taylor & Francis
Abstract The government world lags behind the business world in
feeling the effects of the information technology revolution and related
innovations in organization. But government may change radically in the
decades ahead. This essay fields a concept--"cyberocracy"--to discuss
how the development of, and demand for access to, the future electronic
information and communications infrastructures--i.e., "cyberspace"--may
alter the nature of bureacracy. While it is too early to say precisely
what a cyberocracy may look like, the outcomes may include new forms of
democratic, totalitarian, and hybrid governments. Optimism about the
information revolution should be tempered by a constant, anticipatory
awareness of its potential dark side.
Copyright notice: This article is copyrighted 1992 by Taylor & Francis,
1900 Frost Road, Suite 101, Bristol, PA 19007, 1-800-821-8312. It was
originally published in The Information Society journal, vol. 8, no. 4,
pp. 243-296. Electronic reproduction and transmission for individual,
non-commercial use only is permitted.
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This is a revised version of David Ronfeldt, Cyberocracy, Cyberspace,
and Cyberology: Political Effects of the Information Revolution, P-7745,
RAND, Santa Monica, 1991. I thank Robert Anderson, Roger Benjamin,
Steve Bankes, Carl Builder, and Kevin McCarthy at RAND, William Dutton
of the Annenberg School at USC, and Steven Rosell of Canada's Institute
for Research on Public Policy for their comments and criticisms.
This is a think-piece about how the information and communications
technology revolution may affect politics and government in the future.
The study does not subscribe to technological determinism, but it is
enthusiastic, for its author has been captivated by thoughts like the
following: "Perhaps it gets tiresome to read, as we have read for
years, that advances in computing are going to change the world. But
it's true." "The world now taking shape is not only new but new in
entirely new ways." At the same time, the author's enthusiasm is
tempered by a concern that the information revolution may have a dark
One idea--that something called "cyberocracy" is coming--motivates
this essay. It begins by reviewing the effects that the information
revolution is having on business and government. This revolution and
its associated technologies seem to be at an early stage of development,
and analysts have barely begun to discern its likely political effects.
The essay then focuses on how the modern bureaucratic state may
give way to the "cybercratic state" early in the next century. The
conclusion recommends the creation of a new field of study around the
concept of information, and suggests some items for a future research
CYBEROCRACY: CONCEPT FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
People have riddled history with their "-isms" and "-ocracies."
Feudalism, imperialism, capitalism, fascism, socialism, communism,
theocracy, aristocracy, democracy, bureaucracy--each historical age has
created new ideas and institutional forms.
Most "isms" and "ocracies" of our day have existed for a long time.
Socialism and communism, once heralded as the waves of the future, have
been around more than a century. Capitalism and liberal democracy have
endured much longer. Meanwhile, bureaucracy has spread throughout the
public and private sectors of all modern administrative systems.
We thus continue using the vocabulary of the past to interpret the
present and speculate about the future. But technological and other
innovations are changing the world so rapidly, and so many more are on
the horizon, especially in the areas of information and communications,
that we may soon need a new vocabulary of concepts to comprehend the new
age we are presumably entering--what is termed the "post-industrial age"
by some, the "information age" by others.
What new "ism" or "ocracy" may arise? The purpose of this paper is
to suggest that "cyberocracy" is coming. This term, from the roots
"cyber-" and "-cracy," signifies rule by way of information. As it
develops, information and its control will become a dominant source of
power, as a natural next step in man's political evolution. In the
past, under aristocracy, the high-born ruled; under theocracy, the high
priests ruled. In modern times, democracy and bureaucracy have enabled
new kinds of people to participate in government. In turn, cyberocracy,
by arising from the current revolution in information and communications
technologies, may slowly but radically affect who rules, how, and why.
Perhaps the literature does not need another attempt to field
another term about the shape of things to come. Awful terms like
"compunications," "technetronic society," and "computopia" have already
come and gone. The term cyberocracy may fare no better.
Be that as it may, to the extent that something like the phenomenon
under discussion develops, it may affect the organization of governments
and societies, the meaning of authority and democracy, the nature of
bureaucracies, the behavior of elites, even the definition of progress.
It may transform how people think about the "system" and the world in
which they live. And it may give rise to new patterns of conflict and
cooperation at all levels of society.
CAVEATS AND CLARIFICATIONS
This paper may seem to promise more than can be delivered. Its aim
is to persuade the reader that something called cyberocracy is on the
horizon, and to provide a general sense of what it may look like and how
it may affect politics. But I do not presume to foretell with precision
what a fully developed cyberocracy may look like. That may not be clear
for decades. The best the essay may do is propose the concept, identify
some forms that it may assume and some issues that its development may
involve, and indicate some implications for policy analysis.
A few terms used throughout this essay--information, information
technology, and information revolution--deserve clarification. How best
to define the term "information" remains one of the key problems of the
information revolution. There are many definitions out there, but none
of them seem satisfactory, so I will not cite and pick from among them.
Yet as a rule, many analysts subscribe to a rising hierarchy with data
at the bottom, information in the middle, and knowledge at the top (some
would add intelligence or wisdom above that). In some versions of
this hierarchy, data are defined as raw facts, and information as
organized data or patterns that arise from the data. Some analysts
presume that more of the former will mean more of the latter--e.g., more
data will mean more information, and more information more knowledge--
but this is not necessarily true. Also, it should not be presumed that
the hierarchy is driven from the bottom by data; values and value
judgements may intrude at all levels. Depending on context, I often use
the term information to refer collectively to the hierarchy, but at
other times I use the term to mean something more than data but less
than knowledge. It may turn out that knowledge is to the study of
information what wealth has been to the study of economics, and power to
the study of politics. (It may also turn out that networks are to the
study of information what markets have been to the study of economics,
and institutions to the study of politics.)
The term "information technology," also expressed as "information
and communications technology," and in short as "the new technology,"
includes computers but rarely refers solely or primarily to them. As
used here, the term encompasses not only computer hardware and software
but also the communications system, networks, and databanks and other
information utilities to which computers may be connected. In some
allusions, this technology may be located in an office, but in others,
it may be spread web-like around the world. Advances in television,
radio, and telephone technologies are also increasingly part of the
information technology revolution. That all these technologies will
come into play as the demand grows for new kinds of information-related
goods and services may be illustrated with the following question: Will
the morning newspaper be delivered electronically to subscribers by a
computer network, an interactive cable television , a wireless radio, or
a telephone company?
However, the term "information revolution," or "information and
communications revolution," is not used in a merely technological sense.
This revolution derives partly from the new technologies, but it is not
determined by them. Many recent developments in the theory and practice
of management reflect the information revolution, but have little to do
with technology per se. They owe to conceptual changes in the awareness
of the role of information in human behavior, organization, and society.
The information revolution is a social, political, economic, cultural,
and psychological, as well as technological revolution.
Cyberocracy is the new term here. Terms with "cyber-" as the
prefix--e.g., cyberspace--are currently in vogue among some visionaries
and technologists who are seeking names for new concepts and realities
related to the information revolution. The prefix is from a Greek root,
kybernan, meaning to steer or govern, and a related word, kybernetes,
meaning pilot, governor, or helmsman. The prefix was introduced by
Norbert Wiener in the 1940s in his works creating the field of
"cybernetics" (a term related to cybernetique, a French word meaning the
art of government). Some readers may object to my addition to the
lexicon, but I prefer it to alternatives like the "informatization" of
government and the "informated" bureaucracy. In my view, a good case
exists for using the "cyber-" prefix, for it bridges the concepts of
information and governance better than any other available prefix or
term. Indeed, kybernan is also the root of the word "govern" and its
2. INFORMATION AS POWER
The new information and communications technologies are spreading
rapidly throughout offices, factories, and homes around the world. The
popular and professional literature is filled with news and ideas about
the latest computer hardware and software, about databanks and expert
systems, about fiber-optic cables, communications satellites, and
emerging global networks for electronic mail, conferencing, and data
transmission, about privacy, security, and computer crime, about
electronic cottage industries, automated production lines, and offices
of the future, and about the vast societal changes that may result.
These developments have affected how people think about power and
its use. Agreement is spreading that information should be viewed both
as a new source of power and as an agent for transforming one kind of
power into another. In the words of two very different observers:
"The crucial point about a post-industrial society is that
knowledge and information become the strategic and transforming
resources of the society, just as capital and labor have been the
strategic and transforming resources of industrial society." (Daniel
"We are witnessing a historic transformation of the traditional
modes of power. Power today is becoming based less on physical and
material parameters (territory, military forces) and more on factors
linked to the capability of storing, managing, distributing, and
creating information." (Regis Debray)
In short, we are beginning to live in an "information economy" and
an "information society"--we are entering an "information age." But
just how far into it are we?
STRONG EFFECTS ON BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS
Business leaders have recognized and responded to these trends more
quickly than have government leaders. Economic thinking and behavior
are already heavily affected by the information revolution.
The production, dissemination, and consumption of information have
become major growth activities, especially in the United States where
more than half the jobs may be information-related. In the advanced
nations, jobs in the information sector are said to be growing more
rapidly than jobs manufacturing physical goods, while manufacturing is
becoming less labor-intensive and more knowledge-intensive. Management
economist Peter Drucker estimated in 1986 that, "In all developed
countries 'knowledge' workers have already become the center of gravity
of the labor force." Meanwhile, investors and "knowledge elites" in
the private sector have found that creating new wealth is depending more
on information than on other resources.
It used to be said that money is power. Now one hears instead that
"Information is power, and economic information is economic power."
Former Citicorp Chairman Walter Wriston has reportedly claimed that
information about money is more valuable than money itself.
Thus information is increasingly treated as a valuable source of
competitive advantage, and capital and information are becoming more
interchangeable as factors of production. For some business leaders,
this means that information is important as a source of capital; for
others, that information is succeeding capital as a source of economic
and political power. The effects of such rethinking appear throughout
the business world.
Concepts of business management are changing partly because of the
new technology. The private sector has found that a dispersed business
can now be managed directly from a single center or from several
locations. Corporate officers and management theorists tout the end of
hierarchy and the rise of flat organizations. Top management finds that
the new information systems may enable them to run complex operations
without relying heavily on middle management. In some cases, the new
technology means that a wider span of economic and social control may be
exercised from the top; in other cases, the technology may open new
channels for lower echelons and outside investors to challenge
management decisions. Access to telephone lines and satellite systems
for high-speed data transmission has become an important consideration
in decisions about where to locate new foreign investments.
Concepts of markets are changing. A marketplace used to mean a
geographic area with a boundary that expanded and contracted. But as
Daniel Bell notes, the Rotterdam spot market for oil "is no longer in
Rotterdam. Where is it? Everywhere. It is a telex-radio-computer
network." As work becomes detached from place, and operations from
central headquarters, "we see a change of extraordinary historical and
sociological importance--the change in the nature of markets from
'places' to 'networks.'" The entire planet is becoming a real-time
market for electronic financial transactions. As the global economy
grows, what were once called "multinational corporations" are evolving
into "global companies" that regard the entire world as a production
platform and marketplace, virtually irrespective of national borders.
Concepts of capital are changing. Corporations now buy, sell,
store, and transmit information as though it were money (and vice-
versa). Capital is viewed as a form of information (and vice-versa).
"Capital today exists largely in terms of credit information. Banks no
longer ship around large quantities of cash; instead they transmit
credit information." Electronic transactions and financial news
result in immediate, worldwide adjustments in monetary exchange rates
without any bullion or currency physically changing hands. Thus, in
Wriston's view, a new "information standard" is replacing the gold
Wriston, who has been praised for building Citibank into "the one
institution that understands that finance no longer has to do with money
but with information," says that new terms and concepts are needed.
"[M]ost of the terms we use in standard economic analysis were
invented in the industrial age, and while many are still relevant, some
no longer measure what they once did, because the base has changed....If
we think about our economy, another word we use is "capital."
Economists of many schools tend to agree that capital is stored-up labor
which has been expressed in dollars. A good case can now be made that
knowledge and information are becoming the new capital in today's
world.... A strong argument can be made that information capital is as
important, or even more critical, to the future growth of the American
economy than money. Despite this perception, this intellectual capital
does not show up in the numbers economists customarily look at or quote
about capital information."
Meanwhile, traditional concepts of labor and work are also being
challenged; the new technology is transforming the nature of work and
relations between workers and managers. According to Harvard Business
School professor Shoshana Zuboff:
"The contemporary language of work is inadequate to express these
new realities. We remain, in the final years of the twentieth century,
prisoners of a vocabulary in which managers require employees; superiors
have subordinates; jobs are designed to be specific, detailed, narrow,
and task-related; and organizations have levels that in turn make
possible chains of command and spans of control.... However, the images
associated with physical labor can no longer guide our conception of
In her view, "work organization requires a new division of learning
to support a new division of labor," because in the final analysis "the
informated organization is a learning institution." The image she
offers for labor-management relations is one of concentric rings rather
than hierarchical pyramids.
Despite these changes in theory and practice, the new technology is
far from fulfilling its promises for business. Instead of a paperless
"office of the future," only about 1 percent of business information is
currently kept in electronic form. Moreover, the new technology has so
far had few positive effects on efficiency and productivity, and a
"computer-productivity paradox" is widespread. As MIT economist Robert
Solow notes, "We see computers everywhere but in the productivity
statistics." This does not mean that the technology cannot fulfill
its promise. The problem is not so much the technology as the fact that
organizations are still learning how to absorb and use it.
For the most part, the technology is being inserted into existing
organizational forms--computers are being thrown at workers and
managers--as a tool to improve the speed and efficiency of routinized
parts of the production process. But analysts are finding that many
organizations may need some redesigning to take advantage of the
technology and its capacity to integrate the production process. A few
firms have figured this out--for example, Frito-Lay Inc. and Raychem
Corporation stand out for their use of the new technologies to enhance
productivity. But for each story of successful redesign and adaptation,
there are more stories of failure. Many problems reportedly reflect the
absence of networking among the (often mismatched) computer systems that
a company has, a result being that even if individual offices are well
equipped and have computer-competent staff, they may lack electronic
access to vital data in another office or the company's mainframe.
Perhaps a productivity paradox should be expected in the early
phases of a revolutionary technology; the existence of the paradox may
be evidence that the information revolution is in an early phase.
Stanford economic historian Paul David has reportedly found that the
introduction of electric motors led to a similar lag in productivity in
the early 1900s until factories shifted entirely from steam to
electricity, redesigned their layouts, and got fully wired in the
1920s. David and others concerned about the current productivity
paradox feel it may be resolved in the 1990s, particularly if a shift
occurs from emphasizing the computer as a tool for processing data to
using it more as a tool for acquiring and sharing information across
As part of the transition, the current U.S. recession may continue
(even worsen), or a global recession/depression may occur if either of
two propositions is valid: (a) that a revolutionary new technology is
likely to induce, or help induce, a major recession/depression in the
course of its adoption; and/or (b) that a major recession/depression is
required for a revolutionary technology to take hold. The histories of
the telephone and telegraph in the late 1800s, and of electricity and
electric motors in the early 1900s, lend credence to both propositions,
as does the current U.S. recession.
LAGGING EFFECTS ON GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
The governments of all the post-industrial nations are acquiring
the new technologies, seeking competitive advantages from them, and
addressing the issues they raise. The governments of England, France,
Japan, and the United States have all produced major studies of various
policy implications of the information and communications revolution
since the 1970s. France is pursuing the "informatization" of society.
Japan has an aggressive plan to re-wire the country with fiber-optic
cables and connect businesses, homes, and institutions to them by the
year 2015. Meanwhile, the U.S. government, notably with Congressional
approval of a controversial bill sponsored by Senator Albert Gore, is
beginning to determine to what extent, when, and how to connect the
United States with networks of fiber-optic cables and high-performance
The new technology has given rise to a new generation of policy
issues. Foremost among them have been privacy and security issues.
Sweden was the first nation to enact a privacy law, in 1973, after
discovering that data on Swedish citizens was available in 2000 data
banks stored outside the country. A year later, the United States
passed its first Privacy Act to protect individual rights that could be
jeopardized by the use of the new technologies. Since then, numerous
other countries have adopted laws to protect privacy.
The technology has also obliged governments to focus on a new set
of international telecommunications issues. The growth of transborder
data flows and international trade in information services, the rising
demand for access to communications networks and crowded radio-spectrum
frequencies, and the prospect of direct broadcast satellites have all
raised complex commercial and regulatory issues, and touched sensitive
nerves about national sovereignty and independence. International
institutions and agreements, like the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), have all
been modified to deal with "a world economy that is more and more driven
by flows of information."
Thus governments are responding to the challenges that the new
technologies pose for the defense of individual and national rights.
But in a more general sense, the government world has been slower than
the business world at coming to grips with the information revolution.
Recognition of Information's Power
Numerous corporate leaders have spoken and written about the
information revolution. But while a vast speculative literature exists
about the political effects of the information revolution, only a few
government leaders, notably France's President Francois Mitterand and
former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, have shown keen interest
in the significance of the new technology.
Shultz quickly realized in the 1980s that it represented a new
source of power. In his view, its diffusion was making the world
smaller and more interdependent, but also more turbulent. It was
altering the technological bases of national, regional, and global
economies. It was inducing political changes that would challenge
traditional concepts of national sovereignty and affect not only the
role of government in society but also the international balance of
power. He foresaw that the outcome would be to the advantage of the
open, democratic societies of the West.
"The more they [communists] try to stifle these technologies, the
more they are likely to fall behind in this movement from the industrial
to the information age; but the more they permit these new technologies,
the more they risk their monopoly of control over information and
Thus, recognition is spreading in governments around the world that
the new technologies may profoundly alter the nature of political power,
sovereignty, and governance.
oThe distribution of power and the prospects for cooperation
and conflict are increasingly seen as a function of the differing
abilities of governments and other political actors to utilize the new
technologies. A new distinction is emerging between the information
"haves" and "have-nots." Some actors may become global information
powers, but others, notably in the Third World, fear "electronic
colonization" and "information imperialism."
oInformation flows based on the spread of the new technology
are undermining traditional concepts of territorial sovereignty.
Information in electronic form, unlike most goods and services, is
difficult to control; financial data flows, electronic mail between
computers and fax machines, and television broadcasts from remote
trouble spots do not halt at border check points. Clinging to closed,
autarchic notions of sovereignty is less and less a viable option for
oA key expectation about governance is that the new
technology benefits society over the state, and thereby strengthens the
prospects for democracy. The revolutionary upheavals of 1989,
especially in Eastern Europe, have provided evidence for this, and
raised optimism that open societies are superior and will triumph over
closed ones. But in the United States and other leading democracies,
the new technology may also lie behind trends that could undermine the
democratic process: e.g., the growth of single-issue politics, media
sound-bites, targeted mailings, and public surveillance.
oIn addition, the new technology has raised expectations that
top leaders and their staff will eventually have access to better
information, from any part and level of government, virtually on demand.
But meanwhile, especially in U.S. foreign policy, the modernization of
an office's communications systems has sometimes enabled it to expand
its operational horizons in ways that stimulate bureaucratic rivalries.
In short, the basis exists in the government world for conceptual
and structural shifts that are as profound as in the business world.
Yet, by comparison, the government world appears to be changing much
more slowly and uncertainly. With few exceptions, policymakers and
analysts are just beginning to discern how government and politics may
ultimately be affected by the information revolution.
Slow Progress in the U.S. Government
Applying the new technology to government has been a stressful task
for the U.S. government since the 1970s. In 1984, J. Peter Grace, who
had just headed a presidential commission on waste and inefficiency in
the federal government, observed that:
"Over three quarters of the federal government's white-collar work
force is involved in the processing of information--from mailing Social
Security payments to processing tax returns.... The federal government
is the single largest user of data processing systems in the world."
But his commission was appalled by the obsolescence,
incompatibility, and duplication of computerized information systems
scattered about the federal branch, by the rapid turnover of systems
personnel, and by the "woefully inadequate" quality of the information
available to federal managers.
Federal offices and agencies had a terrible time in the 1980s
trying to modernize their information systems and computerize their
administrative activities. The list included the Internal Revenue
Service, the Social Security Administration, the Census Bureau, the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Patent Office, and offices
in the Army and the Navy. According to a General Accounting Office
official testifying to Congress in 1989, "The government spends about
$20 billion each year on information technology and management, but I
would be hard-pressed to identify a single ... systems development
project that could be used as a model."
Efforts to install advanced information systems in the White House
did not fare well either. By the mid 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter
took office, the White House systems were much less sophisticated than
the business world's, and had been installed in a haphazard, fragmented,
and uncoordinated manner. The emphasis was, and remained, on improving
the efficiency of routine office tasks more than on informing the
decision makers and improving their efficiency. Some analysts saw that
the new technology could provide tools to develop an institutional
memory and support crisis management. However, an effort to develop an
integrated decision-support system for the Carter White House, and a
subsequent effort under President Ronald Reagan, both ran afoul of
internal power politics and staff rivalries, and were halted.
Yet a case may still be made that the improvements which have
occurred in the White House communications systems since the 1960s have
had a significant effect on the ability of the President and the White
House and National Security Council (NSC) staffs to take an increasingly
operational and independent approach to the conduct of foreign policy.
"The situation room and its communications systems thus helped
Presidents to seize control of the foreign-policy system. It helped the
NSC staff to serve the President as he must be served, even if it
offered also unfair advantages in the bureaucratic competition. But
established initially to bring Kennedy and his staff more fully into the
policy game, it would be employed by subsequent Presidential aides--
especially Kissinger and Brzezinski--to keep out State and Defense,
sometimes even their Secretaries. The new communication networks
allowed both Presidents and the White House staffers to get more deeply
into the daily business of diplomacy, sometimes acting without the
knowledge of the officials actually charged with those responsbilities.
The machines have allowed the growth of the operational Presidency."
Congress did not advance more effectively than the Executive branch
in this period.
"As an organization, Congress adopted computerized information
services in a slow, halting, and fragmented manner.... The key to
understanding Congress's move into the computer age lies not in
discovering the nature of modern information systems, but rather in
delving into the nature of Congress as an organization."
The House and the Senate installed separate networks to provide
access to electronic mail, to computer-based issue briefs from the
Congressional Research Service, and to the SCORPIO system of databases.
This system, which grew out of computerizing the Library of Congress's
card catalog, included files on the substance and status of recent
bills, on contents of the Congressional Record, and on references to
policy-relevant articles in the periodical literature. The new
systems could also be used to track voting records and compile data on
As in other parts of the government, the new technology affected
the distribution of knowledge and power on the Hill. It seemed to have
a democratizing effect; for example, it enabled members to challenge the
traditional "resident information" in the minds, staffs, and files of
committee chairs. But the Hill's new information and communications
systems also seemed to reinforce incumbency, because members could use
these systems, especially their databases, to help get reelected.
The information systems of the executive and legislative branches,
already fragmented within each branch, were kept entirely separate from
each other. However, whereas executive branch officials could sometimes
gain access to the Congressional databases, its representatives could
rarely get their hands on databases and simulation models used in the
executive branch. Thus, in various ways, "The introduction of the
computer threatened to upset the comfortable pattern of intrabranch and
interbranch power holding."
This picture improved during the 1980s, but not much. While it is
difficult to ascertain the status of new applications in the government,
it appears that many departments and agencies now have electronic mail,
and are putting some basic records in electronic databases. But most of
these networks and databases are rudimentary, are not interconnected,
and may be jealously guarded.
The new technology has mostly been applied in ways that conform to
established bureaucratic practices. The U.S. government appears to
remain in a phase of trying to install the technology, to make it
improve efficiency, and to decide what else to do with it. Will it
change how officials obtain information, monitor policies, identify
options, and make decisions? Will the reluctance be overcome for
different departments and agencies to interconnect their networks, and
provide access to each others' databases? Will the result be a more
open and democratic process? Such questions are far from answered.
A REVOLUTION BARELY BEGUN
In sum, the information revolution is well underway, but it is also
in its infancy. The beginnings of its maturation may be ten years away.
The technology remains in an incipient stage of development compared to
what is on the drawing boards and in the minds of the visionaries. The
best and worst are yet to come in terms of the technology's effects on
society, and especially on its politics.
A new technology usually has to prove itself first in terms of
efficiency. Advanced information and communications systems, properly
applied, are improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of many
activities. But improved efficiency is not the only or even the best
possible effect. The new technology is also having a transforming
effect, for it disrupts old ways of thinking and doing things, provides
capabilities to do things differently, and suggests that some things may
be done better if done differently:
"The consequences of new technology can be usefully thought of as
first-level, or efficiency, effects and second level, or social system,
effects. The history of previous technologies demonstrates that early
in the life of a new technology, people are likely to emphasize the
efficiency effects and underestimate or overlook potential social system
effects. Advances in networking technologies now make it possible to
think of people, as well as databases and processors, as resources on a
network. Many organizations today are installing electronic networks
for first-level efficiency reasons. Executives now beginning to deploy
electronic mail and other network applications can realize efficiency
gains such as reduced elapsed time for transactions. If we look beyond
efficiency at behavioral and organizational changes, we'll see where the
second-level leverage is likely to be. These technologies can change
how people spend their time and what and who they know and care about.
The full range of payoffs, and the dilemmas, will come from how the
technologies affect how people can think and work together--the second-
In some areas, information technology is beginning to emerge from
the efficiency-proving stage. We may thus begin to see increasing
evidence of a lesson from the history of an earlier revolutionary
technology, the printing press: According to its greatest historian,
Elizabeth Eisenstein, it "created conditions that favored, first, new
combinations of old ideas and, then, the creation of entirely new
systems of thought." Drucker has said that a radical technology
may not displace established technologies unless the new one proves
itself ten times more cost-effective. Afterwards, the structural
changes implied by the new technology are much more likely to occur.
Indeed, a realization that institutional redesigns are needed to take
full advantage of a new technology may be an important sign of
Extrapolating from the current effects of the new technology may
thus not be a good guide to its future effects. As the technology lives
up to its potential, new elites, institutions, and ideologies may arise.
3. BEYOND BUREAUCRACY: CYBEROCRACY
Throughout history, information has been essential to government,
and different types of governments may be distinguished by the ways in
which they acquire, process, transmit, and control information. Yet
information per se has rarely been considered a key organizing principle
in theory or practice. Cyberocracy implies that information and its
control will be elevated to a key principle.
The term needs to be defined. A precise definition is not possible
at present, but in a general sense cyberocracy may manifest itself in
either or both of two ways:
onarrowly, as a form of organization that supplants
traditional forms of bureaucracy and technocracy;
obroadly, as a form of government that may redefine relations
between state and society, and between the public sector and the private
This section briefly elaborates on the first, Section 5 on the
second. In between, some infrastructural factors are discussed that may
affect the outcome.
Although the shape of a full-fledged cyberocracy remains obscure,
it should spell major changes in the nature and conduct of government.
It should not mean that a nation's intelligence services, think-tanks,
media, or other sources of informational power dominate government,
although the information revolution has increased their visibility and
importance. The major impact will probably be felt in terms of the
organization and behavior of the modern bureaucratic state.
Bureaucracies enable governments to generate, process, distribute,
and store information. Even the Egyptian, Roman, and other ancient
empires were administered in part by bureaucracies. Yet the terms
"bureaucracy," "bureaucratic," and "bureaucrat" are not ancient; they
date from the 1830s and 1840s. The growth of formal bureaucracy is a
phenomenon of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the modern bureaucratic
state is one of mankind's recent accomplishments. For organizations in
both the public and private sectors, the bureaucracy represents an
important, modern technology of control.
To some extent, a cyberocracy would be a bureaucracy changed by
computers. This new form presumes the diffusion of advanced information
and communications systems throughout a nation's government (and its
public and private sectors generally). It also implies the rise of
elites who rely on those systems and work to use them to their fullest
But it would be a mistake to define a cyberocracy as a computerized
bureaucracy, or a "cybercrat" as a bureaucrat with a computer. The new
technology opens the doors to new capabilities and possibilities; it
implies that things may be done differently. This difference may stem
less from the computer someone may have than from the access it may
provide to networks and databases outside one's office, and potentially
across all branches and levels of government, in the private as well as
the public sector, and internationally as well as domestically.
While bureaucracies are organized along thematic lines, big budgets
and staffs are generally considered more important than information as
bases of bureaucratic power. Moreover, the hierarchical structuring of
bureaucracies into offices, departments, and lines of authority may
confound the flow of information that may be needed to deal with complex
issues in today's increasingly interconnected world. Development of a
"cybercratic state" may mean that "big information" becomes a more
important source of power and authority than a budget.
Cyberocracy must surpass bureaucracy and its 20th century
iteration, "technocracy," if new techniques of acquiring and using
information are to take hold. Bureaucracy depends on going through
channels and keeping information in bounds; in contrast, cyberocracy may
place a premium on gaining information from any source, public or
private. Technocracy emphasizes "hard" quantitative and econometric
skills, like programming and budgeting methodologies; in contrast, a
cyberocracy may bring a new emphasis on "soft" symbolic, cultural, and
psychological dimensions of policymaking and public opinion.
Bureaucrats command offices and channels. Technocrats command
scientific expertise and analytical skills. Cybercrats may not only
command all that their predecessors commanded, but also redraw the
boundaries of appropriate, authorized behavior.
Cyberocracy may mean that the traditional notions of bureaucratic
boundaries are broken and that the public and private sectors become
increasingly permeable to each other. The new technology makes possible
a degree of networking and bypassing that would play havoc with the
traditions of a hierarchical bureaucracy, but that may become hallmarks
of future organizational processes.
One key to being a cybercrat may be the ability to tap multiple
sources of information in electronic form, available inside and outside
the official system, from both public and private sectors, in ways that
bypass or break the conventional boundaries of bureaucracy. Another key
may be the ability to readily communicate and consult, individually or
in teams, with selected individuals inside and outside of government who
may be able to contribute to a policymaking process, even though those
individuals may be far removed from one's immediate office area. Policy
consultation and coordination may become more extensive than ever, but
may unfold in ways that defy traditional bureaucratic conceptions. At
stake, then, is not only access to information, but also control of how
information is used to influence policymaking and to direct behavior.
A wholly new information and communications infrastructure will be
required for such a system.
4. MIND-BENDING NEW INFRASTRUCTURE
Cyberocracy will require handy systems for selectively acquiring
and representing complex information about how a particular political,
economic, social, or other system may be performing, and for assessing
policy options about how to affect the performance of a system. It
should be possible to call up and use within minutes or hours the kinds
of information that may now take days or longer to assemble.
Thus it is still too soon for cyberocracy, for it has technical
requirements that are not yet met. But they are under development and
may be available in little more than ten years. Better computer
hardware and software are needed, as well as much better communications
networks and data banks.
Computer Hardware and Software
The technology is still at a stage where we are very conscious of
it; it is not yet "transparent" to us. Desk-top, lap-top, and palm-
top computers must be made much more powerful and convenient than
today's models. Even the desk-top varieties should probably have
flat-console screens. Storage capacity should be massive by today's
standards. Software for working with mixed media must be fully
realized, so that text, sound, and graphics may be easily mixed and
transmitted together. And what works on one machine should be workable
on another. According to John Walker, the visionary president of
"What is happening today is that all of the barriers, hardware and
software, that once distinguished personal computers from engineering
workstations are being erased.... As the current technological
transition matures, we will enter an era in which the easily-drawn
distinctions among "PCs", "workstations", and even "mainframes" begin to
disappear. There will be, instead, a continuum of computing capability
and cost that ranges from pocket pen-based portables to parallel
supercomputers, all of which can be accessed by users with a common user
interface, and which run a wide variety of industry standard
Technologists at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) forsee
adding active "badges," "tabs," "pads," and display-size "boards" to the
list of technologies for creating "ubiquitous computing" that is
seamless and invisible.
Also, new techniques are needed for "envisioning information."
This will not only enhance data representation and analysis, but also
result in human-computer interfaces that are smarter, friendlier, and
more realistic and informative than at present. For example, an
Information Visualizer that was under experimental development at Xerox
PARC offered real-time, three-dimensional, interactive animation in
color. An objective of such efforts is to provide visually easy but
richly detailed ways of finding, representing, and scanning information
that might otherwise be located in a volume hundreds of pages thick or
an array of filing cabinets. Some designers aim to eventually develop
ways to watch data "flow" over time, as might be the case with a model
of an organization, of international financial flows, or of a physical,
chemical, or bioligical process. According to Walker, the challenge is
"to build, inside a computer, models of things that exist in the
real world. Whether you call it computer aided drafting, or solid
modeling, or computational chemistry, or desktop video, or virtual
reality, this concept is at the heart of the technological adventure of
the second half of the Twentieth Century and will form the centerpiece
of the industrial revolution of the Twenty-First."
Many of these capabilities may be available in a few years, for the
power of microprocessors is expected to continue doubling every two
years, as it has done since the early 1980s. By the end of the 1990s,
it should be possible to make desk-top computers that are more powerful
than today's supercomputers.
Communications Networks and Conferencing Systems
The United States and other advanced societies are on the cusp of a
shift in significance--from what may be done with a computer in a single
office or organization, to what may be done as a result of connecting a
computer to communications networks, conferencing systems, databases,
and modelling and simulation systems elsewhere within and far beyond the
boundaries of that office or organization. Vast computer communication
networks and "internets" are spreading rapidly around the United States
and the rest of the world. The best networks provide for electronic
mail, news-related discussions, group conferencing, and remote logins to
and file transfers from distant sites. These capabilities must spread
to other networks, and many of these networks should be expanded and
interconnected so that a user may communicate anything in electronic
form (text, audio, video) with almost anybody, anywhere, anytime.
Things are moving well in this direction--a "worldnet" is beginning to
exist--and except for the "anybody" part, may be attainable not long
after the turn of the century.
It will take at least another decade to construct the full range of
expected public and private, local and worldwide infrastructures, and to
interconnect them where politically possible. Progress is coming from
the spread of fiber-optic cables and satellite systems that can carry
broad-bandwidth, multi-media transmissions. Fiber-optic cables have
been laid under the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, linking North America,
Europe, and Asia. Cables have also been laid by telephone companies
across the landmass of the United States and Canada and will be laid in
Mexico. Lines are beginning to run into office buildings in the United
States, and connections to some homes, for broadcast media as well as
network communication purposes, are expected within little more than ten
years. Japan has a far more aggressive program than the United States
for thoroughly rewiring its country with fiber-optic cables.
The fiber-optic "highways" and "railroads" laid to date are not
likely to become obsolete soon. Some commercial fibers now spanning the
United States can carry transmissions at a rate of 1.7 gigabits (billion
bits) per second per fiber, which is equivalent to 25 thousand voice
channels per fiber. Increasing their capacity will depend not on laying
higher-quality fibers but on improving the laser transmitters and
photodetector receivers; the existing "fiber's intrinsic information-
carrying capacity is almost 1000 away from where we are now."
A key objective for many visionaries is to upgrade and expand the
most important network linking research centers and universities in the
United States, the NSFNET/INTERNET (the successor to the ARPAnet). This
is the most important computer network in the United States; including
its spread to sites abroad, it is also the most important in the world--
some foreigners have even begun arguing that it is a world rather than a
U.S. network. The future of the INTERNET is thus crucial to the future
of the information revolution. The issues include the upgrading of the
INTERNET's technological infrastructure, its extension beyond the high-
prestige sites that it currently serves to other schools and communities
in the United States, and its adaptation to commercial usage.
The resolution of these issues is underway. Last year, Congress
approved The High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, a bill sponsored by
Senator Albert Gore that aims to upgrade the network's lines this decade
with fiber-optics to a capacity of up to 3 gigabits per second, more
than 60 times their current best carrying capacity and 50 thousand times
the ARPAnet's original capacity. The act will also improve the
usage of the network by creating on it the National Research and
Education Network (NREN). This year, Sen. Gore has introduced a follow-
on bill, The Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992, to
ensure that the technology developed under last year's act is applied
widely in the areas of K-12 education, libraries, health care, and
industry, particularly manufacturing.
The INTERNET is intended to serve public, non-commercial purposes,
but it is under increasing pressure to allow purely commercial traffic.
Thus, Advanced Network & Services (ANS), a joint venture since 1990 of
the IBM, MCI Communications, and Merit Network corporations that has a
term contract to maintain the NSFNET, has been installing new lines in
some areas and providing expanded services and new connections to it for
commercial purposes through a privately-owned subsidiary, ANS CO+RE
Systems, Inc., which was created in 1991. ANS CO+RE and the Commercial
Internet Exchange (CIX), a rival association of seven networks that
carry commercial traffic, agreed this June to work toward permanent
interconectivity as a step toward creating what is being called the
Satellite communications capabilities are also being dramatically
upgraded and expanded. For example, during the Gulf War the major news
media relied on suitcase-size portable satellite telephone systems from
Mobile Telesystems Inc. (MTI) that use the IMARSAT network.
Moreover, parts of the U.S. military were so short of telecommunications
equipment that they resorted to commercial suppliers. This decade,
Motorola aims to install a system--Iridium--that will use 77 small, low-
orbiting satellites to enable subscribers to communicate to and from
anywhere on the planet on portable cellular telephones. Also, the
Soviet Union had planned to install a packet radio system for worldwide
communications called Gonetz (Messenger) that would use 30-36
The ultimate goal is the construction of an end-to-end Integrated
Services Digital Network (ISDN), once the governments, industries, and
other bodies involved agree on worldwide standards and protocols. Such
an agreement may occur this decade or soon afterwards, bringing a
quantum jump in electronic mailing, file transferring, and conferencing
capabilities. ISDN will enable users to switch at will between voice
telephony and data transmission; to transmit text, audio, and video; and
to engage in multimedia conferencing over long distances, all without
having to use a modem. Today, it would take days to transmit an
electronic copy of the text of the Encyclopedia Britannica from a
library to a home (assuming a transmittable copy existed). Tomorrow,
with a fiber-optic ISDN, it will only take seconds or a few minutes,
graphics and related audio included.
While the computer has received enormous attention because of its
potential to transform social relations and empower individuals, the new
communications networks are expected to have equally profound effects in
"Networking has the power to allow everyone to participate in a
worldwide marketplace--will we be able to ensure that everyone has equal
access to it? Networking makes it feasible for people in organizations
to share information freely and frequently--will we be able to release
ourselves from "chain of command" organizational structures to take
advantage of this capability? Networking will give people access to
vast libraries of historical and up-to-the-minute written, visual, and
oral information--will we be able to develop tools to allow people to
chart their own courses of learning and discovery through so much
information? Networking has the potential to connect all the world in
one global electronic civilization--will we be able to sustain a
diversity of cultures?"
Data Banks and Information Utilities
Tomorrow's policymakers and analysts will need quick access to data
banks the likes of which are but a gleam in the eye today. The number,
variety, and sophistication of on-line databases is rapidly increasing.
But because of expense and other matters, only a few people, mostly
research and reference librarians, enjoy direct access. Moreover, much
of what is available is quite current; few materials more than ten years
old have been put in electronic form. And techniques for searching
through these databases remain rudimentary, normally depending on
selected key words; the user often ends up with far more, or far less,
than he or she really wants.
A cyberocracy will require that entire libraries of print materials
(books, periodicals, reports, memoranda, survey data, time-series data,
etc.) be readily available in electronic form. This will be necessary
for historical as well as current materials, in order to broaden the
available temporal horizons. And it will be necessary not only for the
materials that may be associated with particular offices, but also for
materials that may be needed from public and private sources beyond the
office confines, in order to broaden the available spatial horizons.
Some companies have begun to market CD-ROMs (compact discs, read-
only memories) that contain encyclopedic amounts of literature. But a
more interesting and promising effort, led by the Thinking Machines
Corporation in association with the Dow Jones, Apple Computer, and KPMG
Peat Marwick corporations, seeks to develop a nationwide data network
based on Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS) that permit a user to view
diverse information utilities as a single coherent system. It will
enable computer users to access multiple libraries simultaneously,
including the Library of Congress, and conduct searches and retrieve
entire texts. It may also enable individuals to create personalized
electronic newspapers. This use of WAIS has been under development and
testing on the INTERNET. Widespread public access will be possible if
the INTERNET is improved and expanded along the lines of NREN, including
new links to schools and communities that are currently not
While the focus today is on the data base, this may not be the case
in the future. Visionary technologists foresee the possibility of
"expert systems," "intelligent agents," and "knowbots" that can peruse
vast data banks and "information utilities" according to the specified
needs of the user. They also see the possibility of "mirror worlds" and
"reality windows" that may be used to show what is happening. The
technology may still be used to access facts, but pioneer computer
technologist Alan Kay goes farther:
"The retrieval systems of the future are not going to retrieve
facts but points of view. The weakness of databases is that they let
you retrieve facts, while the strength of our culture over the past
several hundred years has been our ability to take on multiple points of
view. That's what simulations allow you to do. Databases will be
replaced by active simulations that no longer contain embalmed slices of
a company at different points of time but active simulations of the
One way to accomplish this is expected in the form of new computer
architectures based on neural networks that will "combine concepts of
parallel architecture with those of artificial intelligence and machine
learning" and that can be programmed to simulate "judgment" according to
the user's criteria.
Standards and Protocols
Today's computer chips, operating systems, software interfaces,
communications networks, and databases come in so many designs that
technical issues about "connectivity" and "interoperability" need to be
resolved before universal communications can be achieved. International
standards and protocols must be set, and facilities must spread, so that
users may connect whatever hardware and software they prefer to all
important communications networks and data banks, not only at the office
or home, but almost anywhere in the world that they work (including
airports, hotels, libraries, and other people's offices).
Many international efforts are under way to deal with these issues.
For example, the International Standards Organization's Open Systems
Interconnection (ISO-OSI) standard has been adopted by 100 computer,
communications, and software vendors concerned about interoperability.
Other steps have been taken by organizations like the Open Software
Foundation, which was created by seven computer manufacturers, and by an
umbrella group, X/Open Company Ltd., that includes U.S. and European
manufacturers, customers, and international standards organizations. A
key stake is whether, and whose version of, the Unix operating system
may ultimately prevail as a world standard.
In the early 1990s, new chip designs for reduced-instruction-set
computing (RISC) led to one of the latest rounds of efforts to decide
common standards. The ACE (Advanced Computing Environment) consortium
represented the key effort; it formed in 1991 with 21 companies led by
the Compaq Computer Corporation and expanded to include dozens of other
companies. But ACE did not include Sun Microsystems Inc. or the
Hewlett-Packard Company, leading producers of RISC-based work stations.
Nor did it include the leading chip manufacturer, Intel, which had RISC
designs of its own. Meanwhile, two other companies not in ACE, IBM and
Apple Computer Inc., proceeded to sign a letter of intent to cooperate
with each other to develop their own RISC-based designs. In mid 1992,
after a year of shifting fortunes, ACE's plans were foundering, its
leading member, Compaq, left it, and the quest for standards was in flux
These efforts to promote open systems and inter-firm cooperation
clearly mask intense rivalries for market advantages. "Standards bodies
and industrial alliances are the continuation of competition by other
means," says one commentator, paraphrasing Karl von Clausewitz.
Meanwhile, the advent of CD-ROM discs, and their attractiveness for
storing and retrieving data used by the U.S. government, especially its
intelligence agencies and military forces, is raising another set of
interoperability issues. A consultant summarizes the challenge as "The
ability to purchase any CD-ROM title and be able to access it on any CD-
ROM drive, using any microcomputer system, operating under any operating
system, using any retrieval interface." U.S. government agencies
are reportedly banding together to put pressure on industry to come up
with a common standard.
In short, much remains to be accomplished in the areas of
connectivity and interoperabilty before something like ISDN can become a
reality. But again, sometime late this decade remains a reasonable
estimate. The implications verge on the philosophical:
"Machines everywhere will be bridged together to form a pool of
intelligence and power. In the end, of course, it matters only that the
power that emerges works to the benefit of mankind. If experience is
any guide, more communication is better. The more things are open, the
more we are interconnected, the better off we are. This is the promise
of future communications."
ADVENT OF CYBERSPACE
As the new technologies--the hardware and software, communications
networks, and information utilities--become interconnected, they may
form a globe-circling "cyberspace." This term, which is from science
fiction in the 1980s, still lacks a clear definition and may not survive
debate. But it is taking root as a preferred term for envisioning the
electronic stocks and flows of information, the providers and users of
that information, and the technologies linking them as a new realm or
system that has a functioning identity as significant as an economic or
political system. The term generally refers to the whole world, but it
may also be used to refer to a corporation, university, government,
nation, region, or some other spatially limited environment.
Major New Domain of Power and Property
Today, the term refers mainly to the computerized communications
networks, conferencing systems, and related databases that are being
developed, expanded, and in some cases, interconnected rapidly in the
United States and around the world. These include:
oprivate networks for financial data transmissions among
banks and other financial and credit institutions;
oprivate networks that serve global and multinational
companies, like Apple's AppleLink, IBM's VNET, the Xerox Internet, and
the networks of companies like General Electric and Dupont;
oprivate networks used by the media to prepare their
broadcasts and publications, such as the BASYS system used by the Cable
News Network (CNN);
opublic data networks that are accessible for a fee, such as
Sprintnet (formerly Telenet, owned by U.S. Sprint), TYMNET (owned by
McDonnell Douglas), and to some extent the Moscow Teleport (which
bridges between users and networks in the United States and the Soviet
ocooperative networks--the favorites of most visionaries--
that link universities and research centers, like the INTERNET, BITNET,
UUCP, and USENET (the latter houses hundreds of "newsgroups" for
information-sharing and discussion about diverse interests and
osubscription networks that create "virtual communities" and
provide access to databases, electronic mail, and conferencing systems
for their members, like Prodigy Services, which is a joint venture of
IBM and Sears, Roebuck & Company; the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link
(WELL), a marvellous gathering-place that emerged from progressive
movements in Northern California; and the Institute for Global
Communications (IGC), which overlaps with the Association for
Progressive Communications (APC), is the home-base of activist networks
like PeaceNet and EcoNet, and enables Amnesty International's Urgent
Action Project to issue e-mail alerts to its supporters;
onetworks that governments maintain for their purposes,
ranging from the U.S. State Department's increasingly modern systems to
local government systems like the Public Electronic Network (PEN) in
Santa Monica, California, which enables citizens to establish special
interest groups, and the "City Hall On-line" system forthcoming in
Colorado Springs, Colorado;
ocommunity-based networks, like the Cleveland Freenet, that
provide electronic mail, topical conferencing, and databases to serve
local needs independently of the local government, and that may provide
access to the INTERNET and other community-based networks.
Some definitions of cyberspace also include other infrastructures
for electronic information and communications, such as the telephone
system, radio, television, and cable broadcast systems, satellite
communications systems, private security systems, truck location and
dispatch systems, etc.
The key definitions envision cyberspace as not only a wholly new
kind of "information infrastructure" but also as a "virtual reality."
The latter is another new term in search of definition, but it basically
means that a user may be able to access cyberspace through hardware and
software that render the impression of being in a three-dimensional
environment containing three-dimensional representations of the people,
places, objects, and data in which the user is interested and with which
he or she may proceed to interact.
Today, this new realm is in a nascent phase of construction. Much
of what exists is partitioned and compartmentalized--from home to home,
office to office, organization to organization, and nation to nation.
Nonetheless, out of sight of much public attention, cyberspace may
already be the fastest-growing, new domain of power and property in the
world. Just the networks mentioned above--and there are many others--
embrace hundreds of thousands of computer nodes, millions of users, and
billions of dollars worth of activities. Developing and integrating
this new realm nationally and globally may become one of the great
undertakings of the turn of the century.
"Once several national information infrastructres are in place,
countries will tie them together, much as national power grids, airline
routes and telephone circuits have been linked in the past. The result
will be a global information infrastructure that will help the people of
the world buy and sell information and information services and share
knowledge and creative energy--we hope to the benefit of all."
Issues and Analogies for the Future
Cyberspace means different things to different people, but for many
the political, economic, and other stakes already seem enormous. Recent
debates are fraught with questions about who will have access, who will
benefit, and who will control it. To what extent should it be developed
as a public utility, as a strategic resource, and/or as an educational
service? Should its development be left to the government? To private
enterprise? To what extent should it be open to public access? Treated
as private property? To what extent should the freedoms expressed in
the First Amendment apply?
These debates hark back to issues identified a decade ago in a
classic study by Ithiel de Sola Pool. U.S. law, he pointed out, has
evolved separately in each of three domains of communications: print
media, common carriers, and broadcasting. Print media have been
governed by the First Amendment. Common carriers, which include the
telephone, the telegraph, the postal system, and some computer networks,
have been governed by principles of "universal service and fair access
by the public to the facilities of the carrier," on equal terms without
discrimination. But the domain of broadcasting, which includes radio,
television, and cable, has resulted in a highly regulated regime; here,
frequencies are allocated, broadcasters are selected, and licenses are
issued by government agencies. Although fairness is an objective, "The
principles of common carriage and of the First Amendment have been
applied to broadcasting in only atrophied form. For broadcasting, a
politically managed system has been invented."
Pool foresaw that the advent of electronic communications implied
both the creation of a new domain and a convergence of all the domains
into "one grand system." The concern he raised--it resounds in
today's debates about the effects of the new technologies and the
development of cyberspace--is that the historical trend toward political
regulation will continue; the traditions of free speech enshrined in the
First Amendment may be subverted in the future information society.
"In that future society the norms that govern information and
communications will be even more crucial than in the past.... The onus
is on us to determine whether free societies in the twenty-first century
will conduct electronic communication under the conditions of freedom
established for the domain of print through centuries of struggle, or
whether that great achievement will become lost in a confusion about the
The outcome Pool hoped for included universal interconnectivity,
basic rights for public access, and clear standards for easy use.
Related efforts to define and debate the issues posed by the
prospect of a new infrastructure often turn to analogies, metaphors, and
models from past U.S. experience. One that merits attention is that of
the "commons." But for the most part "highway" and "railroad" analogies
have framed the debate about proposals to re-wire the United States with
fiber-optic cables and undertake NREN and other large-scale projects.
Each analogy has different connotations. Proponents of the highway
analogy generally favor government-led development of the communications
and information infrastructure as a public asset and national resource,
while proponents of the railroad analogy want it developed as a private
enterprise by firms like IBM, MCI, and their joint venture, ANS. The
highway model is reportedly the norm in Japan, Europe, and other parts
of the world, and U.S. critics of private enterprise worry that
application of the railroad (or a toll-road) model may lead to monopoly
controls, limited and costly access, and the exclusion of many
people. But a case can also be made that privatization in the
context of anti-trust law may provide better results than government
bureaucratization of the development process.
While most discussions view cyberspace as something that does not
exist and hence must be constructed--the case with the preceding
analogies--still another analogy views it as a frontier that virtually
exists and beckons for exploration, colonization, and development.
"The colonization and settlement of North America by Europeans
provides a useful model for thinking about the growth of cyberspace.
Like sixteenth century Europeans, we too have found a New World (new to
us, anyway). As cyberspace develops, we believe that the notions of
colonization and settlement will prove more useful in describing and
analyzing what is happening than the notions of design and
In this view, different "cyberspace colonies" will be (indeed, they
already are being) carved out by many different kinds of actors, many of
them initially misfits and adventurers from ordinary society. As the
colonies grow, they may be expected to develop different forms of
government, citizenship, and property rights. They may also be expected
to improve their (electronic) resource bases and transportation systems,
to compete for immigrants and settlers, and to expand their boundaries
toward each other. As this occurs, the colonies will increasingly enter
into trade relations and diplomatic negotiations with each other.
Conflict and crime may increase as the colonies face issues of whether
to oppose each other or to interconnect. In the end, if all goes well
according to the originators of this analogy, traditional American
principles of decentralization, pluralism, and tolerance may provide the
bases for the integration of a national and perhaps global
This may sound fanciful, but it provides another, illuminating way
of reiterating a significant point: Cyberspace is an important new
domain of power and property. Its development may affect not only
individuals and organizations, but also relations between state and
society, and between their public and private sectors. Cyberspace and
cyberocracy are coming into existence at the same time, and each will
affect the development of the other.
RESTRUCTURED PERCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL SPACE AND TIME
As the information revolution alters people's consciousness of the
world around them, their perceptions of space and time are affected.
These may seem like subjects for metaphysics and the physical sciences,
not the social sciences. Indeed, the physical sciences rest on hard-
fought concepts of space, time, and momentum. But while few social
scientists use such terms, a persuasive case may be made that "Every
political theory that has aimed at a measure of comprehensiveness has
adopted some implicit or explicit proposition about 'time,' 'space,'
'reality,' or 'energy.'"
A curious, important effect of the information revolution is that
people are thinking anew about their perceptions of social time and
space and their role in shaping consciousness and behavior.
Marshall McLuhan was one of the first analysts to raise this a quarter
"Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of "time" and "space"
and pours upon us instantly and continuously concerns of all other men.
It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total
Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism....
Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. "Time" has ceased, "space"
has vanished. We now live in a global village...a simultaneous
This impressive, enthusiastic view has resounded in subsequent
discussions about the effects of the information revolution. Yet it
begs for examination. The nature of the change is more complex and
ambivalent than McLuhan says. The truth that he illuminates ignores
other truths and possibilities.
It is widely believed that the new technology is making the world
smaller. Now people may easily communicate with, form relationships in,
and acquire knowledge from distant places. But a case may also be made
that this means the world is bigger, for the technology expands people's
horizons, makes them more aware of distant places, and enables them to
see that what happens far away may have more bearing on their lives than
they previously realized. From a global (i.e., macro) perspective the
world may be smaller; but from an individual (i.e., micro) perspective,
it may just as easily seem bigger.
It is also widely observed that the technology lies behind the
undoing of many established barriers, borders, and boundaries. Thus,
financial data transmissions now ignore national borders; the democratic
upheavals in Eastern Europe lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall; and
geographically scattered scientists, activists, ethnic diaspora, and
other groups form "epistemic communities," "electronic tribes," and
"virtual communities" on computer networks. But a case may also be made
that the technology enables new barriers and boundaries to be defined
and erected. For example, single-issue groups and religious factions
use computerized mailing lists to campaign against their opponents, draw
sharp dividing lines, and polarize the public. Wealthy elites use
cellular telephones, fax machines, and computers to live in increasing
splendor away from the rest of humanity. Government and corporate
leaders erect virtual walls of technology to protect secrets and defend
against terrorist attacks--while terrorists aim to turn public opinion
against such leaders by scaring them into isolation. Some individuals
and groups may use the new technology to narrow their sources of
information to pet topics, removing themselves from exposure to broad
media that have shaped national culture and consensus for decades.
Thus the new technology is having complex, ambiguous, ambivalent
effects on people's spatial orientations. Many traditional social,
economic, and political barriers are coming down because of it. But in
other cases, the traditional barriers may be reinforced, and new ones
may be erected.
The information revolution is also changing people's time horizons.
Since McLuhan, many analysts have argued that the new technology is
enabling people to conquer time. For example, financial transactions
clear almost instantaneously around the world now. People send faxes
and electronic mail anywhere in minutes. CNN and other television
networks broadcast in real time the sights and sounds of SCUD missiles
over Israel. Government officials move with apparent composure from one
immediate crisis to the next.
But a case may also be made that people's time horizons are being
distorted because of the new technology. In many ways, it has been used
to overload people with information about current developments, narrow
their focus, and pressure them to act quickly. Too many things seem to
be happening instantaneously and simultaneously. Too many people seem
captivated by an intensified awareness of the immediate present and its
crises, a sense of detachment from the past, and an anticipation of an
accelerating rush into the future. Many seem to be abandoning a sense
of history and tradition. Whereas for some activities, like financial
transactions, the world has become a single fluid time zone, in other
respects people are increasingly sensitive about the gaps in temporal
progress and its pace in different parts of the world.
In other words, many people are not conquering time, not even the
present moment--they are being conquered by it. While some think they
are saving time, others feel they are being deprived of it. While some
think they are increasingly able to grasp the future, others feel they
are losing their grip on it. Partly because of technology, information
(not to mention disinformation) is flowing faster than many people feel
they can absorb, sort, make decisions, and obtain additional information
that may be needed to make the right decision and control the outcome.
The maturation of the technology and its use may address many of
these points. Some practitioners and visionaries recognize the need to
develop computerized methods that will enable users to control the flood
of information about the present, illuminate what is most important,
introduce historical perspective, and simulate alternative futures. The
result may be to stretch the time perspective, something quite different
from the "allatonceness" that McLuhan acclaimed.
If one accepts the spatial and temporal shifts that McLuhan lauds,
a united, even happy "global village" is still not the only possible
implication. Like McLuhan, Daniel Bell has commented that technology is
resulting in "the eclipse of distance and the foreshortening of time,
almost to the fusion of the two." But in his view, instability is a
likely implication. Societies, the United States in particular, are
undergoing a "loss of insulating space" as conditions and events in one
place are quickly, demandingly communicated to other places. Political
systems are becoming more "permeable" than ever to destabilizing events,
and people are more able to respond directly and immediately. In some
societies--Bell was worried about the United States--this may raise the
likelihood of contagious mass reactions and mobilizations, and make the
rulers strengthen centralized controls to keep that from occurring.
In other words, the information revolution is an important factor behind
both the integration and the disintegration that may be seen occurring
all around the world today.
The new technology is having, and will continue to have, important
but complex, ambiguous, and ambivalent effects on people's perceptions
of space and time. These perceptions form an important bridge between
people's values and their behavior. This is relevant to the analysis at
hand, because the development of cyberspace implies some reconstruction
of political space and time.
5. TOWARD THE CYBERCRATIC STATE
Section 3 discussed cyberocracy as a descendant of bureaucracy that
may break the boundaries of that traditional form of administration and
management. The technical, infrastructural, and epistemological
considerations discussed in Section 4 show that the stakes and issues
are broader than the redesign of individual offices or office areas to
benefit from the new technology.
Almost by definition, cyberocracy will mean that a government has
an official cyberspace, with varying degrees of interconnection among
its parts. Cyberocracy might be defined as a form of organization that
has a well-developed cyberspace, conducts many key activities there, and
is structured as though its cyberspace were an essential factor for the
organization's presence, power, and productivity. Technology may appear
to be the driving consideration; but how these new forms of organization
and infrastructure are developed will depend as much on sociopolitical
and other considerations.
In this future environment, government personnel may keep most
office work in electronic form, have electronic records that extend back
decades in time, and use computerized models to visualize and assess
trends and policy options. They may be on one or more networks for
electronic mail, news feeds, conferencing, and document preparation with
other officials, as well as for access to external information utilities
and networks that belong to the government or its contractors and to
which access is authorized.
A network may be confined to an office area, extend throughout a
department or agency, or span different parts of the government; there
may be many networks for different purposes and participants, and these
may be interconnected to varying degrees through gateways of controlled
access. The extent to which a cybercrat has access to networks that
reach beyond his or her office into other parts of the government may be
an important issue. Another may be the extent to which he or she has
access from the office to public and private networks, conferencing
systems, and databases that are outside the government, maybe in a
Cyberocracy may raise issues about relations not only between
people and offices in particular areas, but also between different
office areas, agencies, and departments of the government, between the
public and private sectors in general, and between state and society.
It may prove to be no mere variation on bureaucracy or technocracy; the
technology implies more than improved efficiency for old institutional
designs. Cyberocracy may radically change, in ways we do not perceive,
how states and societies interact, how governments are structured, and
how offices and people within those governments deal with each other,
outside organizations, and individual citizens.
A key issue for theory and practice may be the pros and cons of
interconnection. Technology provides a capability for interconnecting
individuals, organizations, and sectors on an unprecedented scale. As
already noted, the technology alone will not determine how it gets used,
or what the outcomes are; that will depend on broad cultural, political,
and other conditions. In some areas, and for some states and societies,
extensive interconnection may be desirable. But elsewhere, that may be
not be the case.
The first cyberocracies may appear as overlays on established
bureaucratic forms of organization and behavior, just as the new post-
industrial aspects of society overlay the still necessary industrial and
agricultural aspects. Yet such an overlay may well begin to alter the
structure and functioning of a system as a whole. Just as we now speak
of the information society as an aspect of post-industrial society, we
may someday speak of cyberocracy as an aspect of the post-bureaucratic
Nations where the political and cultural commitment to bureaucratic
forms is relatively low, and freedom of information high, may have the
easiest time evolving a cybercratic state. Nations where the state is
highly bureaucratized, and bureaucratic behavior is ingrained culturally
and politically, may have difficulty developing such a state, although
the new technologies may be amply used for political control.
There will be no single type of cyberocracy. Some variations may
occur because different departments and agencies within a government
perform different tasks and have different requirements. For example,
the kind of cyberspace that the U.S. State Department may want may be
quite unlike what the Internal Revenue Service may want. Furthermore,
national variations may appear because of differing cultural and other
conditions. Thus Japan and United States will probably develop very
different types. This may take time to become clear.
MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
Since the 1960s, the information revolution has given rise to a
host of recurrent questions that reduce to a string of polarities and
contradictions: What will this revolution favor more: Open or closed
systems? Decentralization or centralization? Big or small government?
Federal, state, or local government? The public or the private sector?
Inclusionary or exclusionary communities? Individuals or institutions?
State or society? Privacy, or security and surveillance? Freedom or
authority? Democracy or new forms of totalitarianism?
The literature offers exhortations and evidence in all directions,
but no definitive answers. Most of what has been thought about such
questions appeared in writings in the 1970s; and with few exceptions,
recent writings provide little additional clarification or insight.
New research would help, especially if it were conducted carefully in
the knowledge that we may be in a confusing transitional phase. Indeed,
some of today's trendier points--e.g., the information revolution
empowers individuals, favors open societies, and portends a worldwide
triumph for democracy--may not hold up as times change.
The best answer may ultimately be "all of the above" depending on
the situation and the society affected by the new technology. Open as
well as closed types of states may continue to arise. Centralized and
decentralized institutions may flourish in the same state. And complex,
hybrid patterns may occur; for example, decisionmaking capabilities in
some governments may become more centralized and more decentralized at
the same time.
In any case, these are good questions, and they are relevant to a
discussion of cyberocracy. The following sub-sections consider some
prevalent notions in the literature about how government may be affected
by the information revolution. These involve three themes:
othe rise of new elites
othe restructuring of organizations
orelations between public and private sectors.
Section 6 then examines whether the information revolution may
favor democracy or totalitarianism.
This preliminary study can do no more than selectively examine some
general, potential implications of these themes for cyberocracy. Some
readers may feel that other important themes are neglected, for example,
the implications for relations between different branches and levels of
government, between the government and the citizenry, and between the
governments of different countries. But in my literature survey, I have
found less written about these themes than about the three treated here.
If the concept of cyberocracy merits continued discussion, other themes
may be addressed in future work.
RISE OF NEW ELITES
For decades, analysts have expected the information revolution to
create new elites, and a new stratification between the
"information-rich" (or "haves") and the "information-poor" (or "have-
nots"). Awkward terms like "knowledge elites" and "knowledge workers"
have gained currency to label the new strata that live off the expanding
A principal contributor to thinking about the new knowledge elites,
Daniel Bell, concluded that:
"The fear that a knowledge elite could become the technocratic
rulers of the society is quite far-fetched and expresses more an
ideological thrust by radical groups against the growing influence of
technical personnel in decision making. Nor is it likely, at least in
the foreseeable future, that the knowledge elites will become a
"cohesive class" with common class interests, on the model of the
bourgeoisie rising out of the ruins of feudalism to become the dominant
class in industrial society. The knowledge class is too large and
diffuse.... What is more likely to happen ... is that the different
situses in which the knowledge elites are located will become the units
of corporate action.... The competition for money and influence will be
between these various situses...."
His points are sound, but do not lay the matter to rest, for he
defines knowledge elites in primarily technical terms. Other analysts
who take a less technical approach to the new elite continue to detect
One of the latest warnings comes from Harvard political economist
Robert Reich, who has added the equally awkward term "symbol analysts"
to depict a growing gap between a new elite and a new mass.
"Of course, wealthier Americans have been withdrawing into their
own neighborhoods and clubs for generations. But the new secession is
more dramatic because the highest earners now inhabit a different
economy from other Americans. The new elite is linked by jet, modem,
fax, satellite and fiber-optic cable to the great commercial and
recreational centers of the world, but it is not particularly connected
to the rest of the nation. That is because the work this group does is
becoming less tied to the activities of other Americans. Most of their
jobs consist of analyzing and manipulating symbols--words, numbers or
visual images. Among the most prominent of these "symbol analysts" are
management consultants, lawyers, software and design engineers, research
scientists, corporate executives, financial advisers, strategic
planners, advertising executives, television and movie producers, and
other workers whose jobs titles include terms like "strategy,"
"planning," "consultant," "policy," "resources" or "engineer."
Reich sees a gap growing in many cities between these symbol
analysts and the broad mass of local service workers whose jobs depend
on the symbol analysts. For him, "The stark political challenge in the
decades ahead will be to reaffirm that, even though America is no longer
a separate and distinct economy [from the rest of the world], it is
still a society whose members have abiding obligations to one
Reich's points are serious, but the implication that the new
infrastructure benefits mainly the rich and powerful provides a partial
picture. For example, elites in political and professional
organizations that have previously lacked influence may use the new
technology to help form coalitions with geographically distant, like-
minded elites elsewhere, including in foreign countries. Some of
the heaviest users of the new comunications networks and technologies
are progressive, center-left, and socialist activists, through entities
like the Association for Progressive Communications. Cyberspace is
going to be occupied by all kinds of people, with all kinds of
ideologies and agendas, from almost all areas of society.
It is also a mistake--one that Reich does not make--to expect that
computer whizzes who act like a priesthood and lack social consciousness
will end up running the new infrastructures of society and government.
This view lingers because of some early analyses of computers and their
implications. The development of cyberspace will generate new elites,
in consonance with other trends in society. And the defining attributes
of these elites may include a knowledge of, and a dedication to the use
of information and communications technologies. But these technologies
are ever easier to use. As the skill requirements decline and the
number of skilled people increases, the social, political, and other
attributes of the new elites may become increasingly diverse.
Today's knowledge elites are not necessarily tomorrow's cybercrats.
Some knowledge elites, especially in universities and research centers,
may have nothing to do with cyberspace or cyberocracy. Some cybercrats
who have technical or other knowledge and skill may also be knowledge
elites. But cybercrats may also arise who have no interest in knowledge
per se, even though they are skilled at using computers, databases,
models, and networks.
Individually, there will probably be as many different types of
cybercrats as there are bureaucrats, technocrats, and other types of
officials. What may distinguish the new generation of elites is that
they will tend to define issues and problems in informational terms, and
to look for answers and solutions through their access to cyberspace and
their knowledge of how to use it to affect behavior. The new elites may
include propagandists and manipulators, as well as people of high public
integrity and democratic consciousness.
According to many accounts from the business world, the information
revolution is causing the flattening of organizations, the collapse of
hierarchies, increased decentralization, and reductions in the number of
middle-level managers. Technology and management innovations are said
to be undermining traditional hierarchical and recent matrix forms of
organization. Success in the new business environment is said to depend
increasingly on organizing project-oriented "teams" and "clusters" of
individuals from different parts of a hierarchy who function semi-
autonomously until a project is completed. But while some work and
management units operate more autonomously than ever, other units span
more boundaries than ever (e.g., the case of strategic planning). One
new notion is that organizations should be redesigned around networks
instead of hierarchies, and that these networks should be kept in flux.
Another notion is that well-managed networks of small companies may
increasingly outperform big centralized companies.
Such views have prominent champions, notably Peter Drucker and
Alvin Toffler, and important shifts are occurring in management theory
and practice. But it is easy for enthusiasts to overstate them and
claim that more is changing than may be the case. Complex organizations
depend on some kind of hierarchy. Hierarchy does not end because work
teams include people from different levels and branches. The structure
may be more open, the process more fluid, and the conventions redefined;
but a hierarchy still exists, whether one is looking at management in
the United States, Japan, or another country entering a post-industrial,
post-bureaucratic phase. The fact that the world is going through a
very turbulent, in many ways revolutionary period of change means that
many kinds of hierarchies are being disrupted and overturned; but this
may be a transitory phase, until the information revolution and a new
world order result in a new set of hierarchical relationships.
Decentralization is another important trend for many states and
societies. The evolution of technology has matched the trend, for the
initial emphasis on centralized data-processing and networking through
mainframe computers, often run by managers who acted like a priesthood,
has given way to the current emphasis on distributed data-processing and
networking through small computers linked by local area networks. But
decentralization is not the only possibility or solution in all cases.
As management scientist George Huber points out, asking whether the
new technology may increase or decrease centralization is too general a
question, and perhaps the wrong one. In some cases, the new information
technologies may enable an organization to become even more centralized,
or decentralized, than it is. Huber's hypotheses also suggest that the
computer-assisted communications and decision-support technologies may
lead to the reverse: greater decentralization for highly centralized
organizations, and greater centralization for decentralized ones.
In addition, operations researchers have shown how organizational
decision support systems (ODSSs) may enable decentralized organizations
to rest on strong, centralized bases of information.
The question of whether decentralization or re-centralization will
prevail becomes even more complex if one asks how the new technology and
related management innovations may enable organizations to become both
more centralized and more decentralized at the same time. Indeed, many
analysts have noted that the real question is how to have both. The
answer may lie partly in a concept identified by Yale computer scientist
David Gelernter. While the new technology fosters decentralization, it
may also provide greater "topsight"--a central understanding of the big
picture that enhances the management of complexity.
"If you're a software designer and you can't master and subdue
monumental complexity, you're dead: your machines don't work. they run
for a while and then sputter to a halt, or they never run at all.
Hence, 'managing complexity' must be your goal. Or, we can describe
exactly the same goal in a more positive light. We can call it the
pursuit of topsight. Topsight--an understanding of the big picture is
an essential goal of every software builder. It's also the most
precious intellectual commodity known to man."
While many treatments of organizational redesign laud
decentralization, it alone is not a decisive issue--the pairing of
decentralization with topsight may be what offers the real gains.
Furthermore, the demise of middle management may be a suspect
notion. Many companies have reported reductions; in some, this stems
from installing computer networks to track information that used to
employ numerous clerks and middle managers. But this reduction may be a
transitory trend. Former AT&T Lab director Arno Penzias suggests that
middle managers may be needed more than ever, particularly to maintain
links between different working groups in large organizations. "As I
see it, these growing needs for the services that middle managers
provide are the key driving forces behind the dramatic changes taking
place in the employee mix of information technology companies."
As cyberocracy develops, will governments become flatter, less
hierarchical, more decentralized, with different kinds of middle-level
officials and offices? Some may, but many may not. Governments may not
have the organizational flexibility and options that corporations have.
In the U.S. government, interagency working groups and task forces
have been a common phenomenon for over a decade. This has not meant
less hierarchy and middle-management, but it has meant a more networked
form of organization. At the apex, the White House and the National
Security Council are operationally stronger as a result of their growing
information and communications capabilities; in some instances officials
there have designed and implemented some policies and operations without
apprising other parts of the government. But the latter are catching up
and catching on; more, not less, coordination and consultation should be
expected in the future. The notion of enhancing decentralization and
improving flexibility and performance through clustering small business
companies around a central company has a governmental counterpart in the
privatization of public services and procurement, although this has not
proceeded far yet.
In other words, the post-bureaucratic state may end up configured
quite differently from the traditional bureaucratic state. If so,
future studies of political rivalries and struggles in a government
redesigned for the information age will read quite differently from
contemporary studies of bureaucratic politics.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTOR RELATIONS
The development of the new infrastructures should raise issues
about relations between the public and the private sectors. One issue
is access by officials to public and private communications networks,
conferencing systems, and data banks located outside government circles.
For now, this is barely an issue; in some instances a limited capacity
exists--for example, to get copies of media reports, or to enable an
official to communicate with an international agency--but few officials
are interested. Eventually, however, officials at all levels may want
access to external networks to help answer questions or exchange views.
For a cyberocracy, such access would seem desirable (albeit for some
countries and governments more than others). Should an official be able
to connect to any service he needs in the public or private sector? Or
should diverse, separate networks and utilities be built to accommodate
official needs, including for privacy and security? Such questions,
rarely asked today, are bound to grow in importance.
A second, more general issue is the effect on definitions of, and
relations between, the public and private sectors. The boundaries are
blurring between the two sectors; and at the same time, new fusions are
resulting from efforts to create public-private partnerships to address
many policy problems. According to political scientist Theodore Lowi,
writing presciently twenty years ago about the potential political
impact of the information revolution, "the blurring and weakening of the
public-private dichotomy could be the most important political
development in the coming decades." A related question--it gets
asked particularly by librarians--is whether social imperatives or
proprietary interests should govern how information gets organized,
stored, and distributed.
For many observers, a major phenomenon of our times is the trend
toward the privatization and deregulation of economic activities around
the world. In many countries the private sector has been expanded and
strengthened, while the public sector has seemed to diminish in scope if
not strength. But while this trend has received heavy attention, there
are indications of an obverse parallel trend: many political activities
that were once considered private (or could be conducted as though they
were private) are increasingly public (and publicized). For example, an
election or case of corruption that might have been treated as a private
affair in some country years ago may now be turned by the media into a
world-wide event. Computer networks installed by local communities and
governments, like Santa Monica's PEN, may enable previously isolated
individuals to make contact and organize a caucus or political action
group that nobody expected. Records of electronic mail messages in the
U.S. government, and of police computer and radio discussions in major
cities, may be released to the press in connection with sensitive legal
In these respects, both the private and the public sectors are
being opened up, expanded, and redefined. The more this proceeds, the
more the lines between them are blurred, and the two are fused. The
information revolution lies behind much of this. In addition, the
advent of cyberspace is leading to the creation of new areas of private
and public activity. Here too, distinctions between public and private
and between commercial and non-commercial are blurring. For example,
the research-oriented NSFNET/INTERNET is not supposed to carry
commercial communications. However, some commercial actors have long
had access to it (evidently for activities deemed non-commercial), and a
Commercial Internet is being fused to it. A few years ago, questions
were not easily answered about whether subscription systems like the
WELL (where the question was often discussed) should be allowed access
to the INTERNET; but a few months ago, the WELL joined it.
Where will this lead? Will it mean that traditional distinctions
between public and private become relics of the industrial age? At a
minimum, people may need to think less in terms of turning to government
or the private sector to solve a problem, and more in terms of building
cooperative partnerships across public and private boundaries and across
all levels of government. This seems to be both an implication of the
information revolution and a task that cannot be achieved without its
tools, given the degree of consultation and coordination that may be
Beyond that, political scientist Roger Benjamin suggests not only
that the public-private distinction may be outmoded, but also that the
development of post-industrial societies will raise the importance of
"collective goods" and services that stand between but are different
from public and private goods and services, traditionally conceived. In
this view, institutional redesigns will be needed in the United States
and elsewhere to deal with the changing nature of goods and services
that people demand. Daniel Bell once pointed out that "the nation-
state is becoming too small for the big problems of life, and too big
for the small problems of life.... In short, there is a mismatch of
scale." But Benjamin and others argue that scale is not the key
issue; the whole relationship between what is public and what private,
and thus between state and society, may be headed for redefinition,
domestically and internationally. Bell might well agree, for he too has
argued that information and knowledge are tantamount to collective
The implications for cyberocracy are unclear and speculative. They
may mean a continuation of "big government," but they may also mean
greater interconnection, consultation, and collaboration between the
public and private sectors, if not the creation of a whole new sector
that is separate from but also mediates between those two traditional
sectors. This new sector may turn out to be crucial for cyberocracy to
work. Meanwhile, it is difficult to see how smaller government will be
the result since vast data collection, storage, analysis, manipulation,
and dissemination capabilities may be required. Perhaps governments
will need fewer middle-managers and clerks in the future. Perhaps many
data collection and storage activities can be turned over to agencies
outside government boundaries. But personnel with new skills will also
be required. And it may be increasingly difficult to tell where the
boundaries of government stop.
FROM HIERARCHIES TO NETWORKS
A theme emerges from these considerations: The information
revolution appears to be making "networks" relatively more important,
and interesting, than "hierarchies" as a form of organization.
This may have profound implications for the cybercratic state, both for
how it is organized internally and for the kinds of external actors it
must respond to.
The information revolution, in both its technological and non-
technological aspects, sets in motion forces that make life difficult
for traditional, hierarchical institutions. These forces disrupt and
erode hierarchies, diffuse and redistribute power, redraw boundaries,
broaden spatial and temporal horizons, and compel closed systems to open
up. This creates troubles especially for large, bureaucratic, aging
institutions, but the institutional form per se is not obsolete. It
remains essential, and the responsive, capable institutions will adapt
their structures and processes to the information age. Many will evolve
from traditional hierarchical to new, flexible, network-like models of
Meanwhile, the network phenomenon is not only modifying an old
form--that of large hierachical institutions--but also giving rise to a
new form. The very forces that cause troubles for old institutions--
e.g.,, the erosion of hierarchy--favor the rise of multi-organizational
networks of small organizations. Indeed, the information revolution is
strengthening the importance of all forms of networks--social networks,
communications networks, etc. The network form is very different from
the hierarchical form. While institutions (large ones in particular)
are traditionally built around hierachies and aim to act on their own,
multi-organizational networks consist of (often small) organizations or
parts of institutions that have linked together to act jointly. The new
technology favors the growth of such networks by making it possible for
dispersed actors to consult, coordinate, and operate together across
greater distances, for longer periods of time, and on the basis of more
and better information than ever before.
One implication, then, is that many government institutions may
evolve to become "networked organizations." A second implication is
that "organizational networks" may develop in between many of those
institutions, their parts or their agencies, including across national
borders. There is a third implication.
The rise of multi-organizational networks is an important trend
less in the government than in the business world. But it seems most
important in the realm of civil society. Growing numbers and varieties
of nongovernment organizations (NGOs--some of them also called private
voluntary organizations, PVOs) are forming network-like coalitions, in
many instances to strengthen their efforts to influence the behavior of
governments and businesses. The examples include new networks among
special interest, public interest, pressure, lobbying, and/or advocacy
groups. Some of the best examples may be found among activist movements
on the left and center-left that revolve around human-rights, peace,
environmental, consumer, labor, immigration, racial, and gender-based
issues. These movements, especially those that use PeaceNet and other
communications services, increasingly blend the organizational, social,
and physical dimensions of the network concept.
A third implication, then, is that the network phenomenon may
intensify interactions between state institutions and the organizations
that deem to represent civil society. This may raise the requirements
for the actors in a cybercratic state to have access to information and
communications infrastructures that lie outside official structures, at
the interface between state and society.
CONCLUDING COMMENT: REVALUING VALUES
Not long ago, people worried that the information revolution and
the relentless advance of technology and technocracy might mean that
their lives would be run by heartless computers, and government would be
reduced to a "Hell of Administrative Boredom." This will surely
not be the case. The information revolution has led and continues
leading to intense questions about values and to new debates about
choices and conflicts among them. Indeed, the new technology is
unsettling in part because it permits unprecedented exchanges of values,
information, and propaganda, within and between nations.
Cyberocracy ultimately concerns the nature of governance. Because
of this, the concept leads directly to questions about freedom, privacy,
and security of information. The concept cannot be developed without
raising broader value-laden questions about the nature of authority,
freedom, equality, and democracy in the information age (or whatever one
prefers to name the future). Whether and how to interconnect different
parts of the government (not to mention state and society generally) and
at the same time safeguard their autonomy cannot be answered without
making value judgements.
In a sound cautionary statement, Donald Michael, a professor of
planning and public policy at the University of Michigan and a senior
analyst of information revolution issues, has summarized this challenge:
"To my mind, more information and more information technology pose
for all levels and types of institutions the greatest challenge facing
civilization--short of avoiding nuclear holocaust. The depth and extent
of the challenge is evidenced by a summary of consequences that
accompany an information-rich world: [It] 1) changes and redistributes
the loci of power and action; 2) changes the operational and,
eventually, the symbolic meanings of "sovereignty," interdependence and
authority; 3) changes the relevant understanding of social process from
disconnected, linear, cause/effect relationships to multiply
interconnected, circular relationships of cause-effect-cause-effect-
cause....; 4) forces priority valuing of issues that have been secondary
to the focus of governments or corporate responsibility: the planetary
environment, future generations, biological impacts; 5) undermines the
conventional definition of leadership competence; 6) requires a portion
of citizenry than can think and value accordingly."
6. DEMOCRATIC AND TOTALITARIAN POSSIBILITIES
Will cyberocracy favor democratic or authoritarian and totalitarian
tendencies? At present the information revolution seems to strengthen
democratic forces around the world. But totalitarian cyberocracy also
remains a possibility.
A SINGLE-EDGED SWORD FAVORING DEMOCRACY?
Many analysts have been optimistic that the information revolution
should strengthen democratic tendencies. This optimism generally has
three bases. First, it is argued that the new technology--all types and
sizes, including computer hardware and software, radio and television
receivers, cellular telephones, fax machines, cassette and video tapes,
networks, etc.--is spreading into more and more hands around the world.
Thus, no regime will be able to isolate itself or its country from the
information revolution; nor will any regime be able to centrally control
the technology or the people who use it. The "Big Brother" system of
George Orwell's 1984 will not be possible.
Second, as a result of improved access to information resources,
the presumably smaller, weaker actors should be able to compete on more
equal terms with bigger, stronger actors. Power should accrue more to
individuals than to institutions.
"The universal availability of electronic libraries, with their
power to organize and select information, means that individuals can
compete with organizations and organizations can compete with the state
on more equal terms."
"The power of entrepreneurs using distributed information
technology grows far faster than the power of large institutions
attempting to bring information technology to heel. Rather than pushing
decisions up through the hierarchy, the power of microelectronics pulls
them remorselessly down to the individual."
Second, the "open" societies of the world seem better suited than
the "closed" societies to take advantage of the new technologies and
respond to the challenges they pose to established concepts of national
sovereignty and governance. Moreover, information and communications
flows appear to be a powerful instrument for compelling closed societies
to open up. Thus, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, writing in
1985 before the revolutions of 1989 proved the point in Eastern Europe,
"The free flow of information is inherently compatible with our
political system and values. The communist states, in contrast, fear
this information revolution perhaps more than they fear Western military
strength.... Totalitarian societies face a dilemma: either they try to
stifle these technologies and thereby fall farther behind in the new
industrial revolution, or else they permit these technologies and see
their totalitarian control inevitably eroded.... The revolution in
global communications thus forces all nations to reconsider traditional
ways of thinking about national sovereignty."
If the Soviet regime risked adopting the new technologies, Shultz
and others predicted (correctly) that its leaders would have to
liberalize the Soviet economic and political systems.
Recent events in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, China,
and to a lesser extent Latin America have provided exciting evidence for
the democratizing effects of the information revolution. So long as the
aim in the West is the demise of communist and other traditional hard-
line authoritarian systems, policymakers in the United States and Europe
are well advised to expect that the diffusion of the new technologies
will speed the collapse of closed societies and favor the spread of open
However, the fact that the new technology can help sweep aside old
types of closed regimes does not necessarily mean that it will also make
democratic societies more democratic, or totalitarian ones impossible.
The technology may have different implications for post-industrial
societies than it has had for industrial and less developed societies
A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD WITH A DARK SIDE?
A longer view of history provides little assurance that the new
technology favors democracy. Centuries ago, the coinage of money and
the invention of the printing press enabled liberal democracy to emerge:
"With the arrival of the printing press, the dikes holding back the
flow of information broke. The great increase in the circulation of
knowledge stimulated the generation of additional knowledge in an
explosion that echoes to this day. By democratizing access to recorded
information, the printing press set in motion the spread of literacy and
education, literature and the arts, science and technology, and commerce
and industry that led to the industrial revolution and the creation of
democratic governments serving at the will of an informed
The printing press was a key technology enabling the Renaissance,
the Protestant Reformation, the end of feudalism, the rise of modern
science and capitalism, and the colonial expansion of the European
empires to the New World and Asia.
Yet the printing press and later technologies, like the telephone
and radio, did not prevent new and ever worse forms of autocracy from
arising. Early on, these technologies contributed to the demise of the
old monarchies and the broadening of popular participation in politics.
But later, these same technologies were turned into tools of propaganda,
surveillance, and subjugation that enabled dictators to seize power and
develop totalitarian regimes. The fascist regimes of the 1930s and
1940s and the communist regimes of later decades are the prime examples.
In other words, we should not dismiss the possibility that the new
technology may serve anti-democratic purposes in the future. This does
not mean that technology is value-free, neutral, or apolitical. What
technology does is widen the range of possibilities within a particular
context. As Daniel Bell has pointed out,
"the new revolution in communications makes possible both an
intense degree of centralization of power, if the society decides to use
it in that way, and large decentralization because of the multiplicity,
diversity, and cheapness of the modes of communication."
The effects depend on the context. The new technology, like the
old, may induce some cultural and political change, but it may also
enable a given system to further refine the political structures that
are most acceptable to its culture, which may not be democratic in the
French social critic Jacques Ellul extends the argument, by
insisting that technology, far from being neutral, is fundamentally
"ambivalent." It is bound to generate harmful effects that are
inseparable from its beneficial effects:
"This is why all the dissertations on autonomy (individual and
institutional), decentralization, personalization, the growth of
liberty, the opening up to small groups, and democratization thanks to
new technologies--and these dissertations have multiplied infinitely
over the past few years--are absolutely futile and inconsistent. For
they ignore the feature which is intrinsic to the very being of
technique: its irrepressible ambivalence."
Research on how the new technology may affect local government in
the United States supports the view of "communications and information
technologies as malleable political resources that are most often
designed and used in ways that follow and reinforce the existing
structure of power." Depending on the situation, especially what kinds
of leaders are in power, the new technology is "capable of facilitating
change or stability." Its inherent ambivalence makes it malleable.
In short, the existence of democracy does not assure that the new
technology will strengthen democratic tendencies and be used as a force
for good rather than evil. The new technology may be a double-edged
sword even in a democracy.
A classic but ignored set of studies sponsored by The Conference
Board provided ample, grim warnings of this possibility in 1972. While
recognizing that the new technology might help empower the individual,
the authors--notably John Crecine, Theodore Lowi, and Donald Michael--
variously emphasized that the results could instead include: increased
susceptibility of the individual to outside manipulation, a rise in the
number and diversity of ad-hoc interest groups and social movements,
increased fragmentation and fractionalization of society and politics,
greater stratification and centralization of society around information
resources, and greater efforts by some policymakers to control access to
information and use it to manipulate the public.
Evidence for these concerns has appeared in the conduct of party
politics in the United States. Despite initial hopes that "electronic
democracy" and "teledemocracy" would increase popular participation and
government responsiveness, mainstream analysts have continued to worry
that the new technology may be used to undermine democratic practices.
Observations to this effect were made in the early 1980s by political
scientist Richard Neustadt.
"A wave of new technology will transform campaigning, political
organizing, news coverage, lobbying, and voting. Some of these changes
may make campaigning less costly and bring decision-making closer to the
people. But the greatest impact may be to fragment our politics,
narrowing people's perspectives, shifting more power into special
interest groups, and weakening the glue that holds our system
With the development of "narrow casting networks" tailored to small
audiences, "many people may end up knowing less." Worried that power
has been shifting from the political parties to narrow interest groups
for decades, Neustadt raised the now widespread concern that "the new
technologies will further dilute the fragile glue of the parties and of
public identification with broad ideas." Such concerns are being
renewed with Ross Perot's calls for creating an "electronic townhall."
For other analysts, the key concern is the effect on government
administration. The potential dark side is captured in studies warning
about the emergence of a "computer state" (David Burnham), a "dossier
society" (Kenneth Laudon), and a "surveillance society" (Gary Marx) that
may limit personal liberty in the United States. These studies
show that the new technology may facilitate the monitoring and
surveillance of people on the job and elsewhere, the amassing and
merging of enormous statistical data banks for profiling individuals and
their activities, and the restriction of access to "strategic" and
"secret" information. After all, the U.S. government has more data on
its citizens than any totalitarian government has on its citizens.
The enactment of sound privacy and security laws should prevent
abuse. But these authors suggest that there may be a natural tendency
for powerful, enterprising actors to use the new technology in ways that
may limit if not jeopardize individual freedom and knowledge. According
to Burnham, cheap computing power makes it easy to amass "transactional
information" on individuals--e.g., records of phone calls, credit
payments, medical and criminal histories--in huge databases, and
transmit them anywhere. Instead of empowering the individual over the
institution, these databases and networks favor "the growing power of
large public and private institutions in relation to the individual."
The result is likely to be the abuse of individual rights, and "a
gradual drift toward authoritarianism" that is subtle because of "a lack
of obvious villains" in our democratic system. The problem to
guard against is not only the "abuse" of "personal information" by
public sector agencies, but also its "use" by the private sector for
marketing, investigative, and other purposes.
Today's concerns revolve mainly around database capabilities. But
in the future, ubiquitous computing may raise additional concerns. Mark
Weiser of Xerox PARC warns of the possibility that
"hundreds of computers in every room, all capable of sensing people
near them and linked by high-speed networks, have the potential to make
totalitarianism up to now seem like sheerest anarchy. Just as a
workstation on a local-area network can be programmed to intercept
messages meant for others, a single rogue tab in a room could
potentially record everything that happened there."
More ominous visions by less moderate thinkers raise specters of
"technological terrorism" (Jacques Ellul) and "friendly fascism"
(Bertram Gross) being imposed with velvet gloves. Ellul's point is
subtle. In his view, the entire, optimistic, uncritical "discourse"
about the new technology, and the pervasive insistence that people must
become acclimated to it, represent a form of "terrorism which completes
the fascination of people in the West and which places them in a
situation of ... irreversible dependence and therefore subjugation." In
his analysis, a new "aristocracy" is leading people to believe that a
computerized society is inevitable, and that they have no choice but to
succumb to it.
"The ineluctable outcome is dictatorship and terrorism. I am not
saying that the governments that choose this as the flow of history will
reproduce Soviet terrorism. Not at all! But they will certainly engage
in an ideological terrorism."
The irony for Ellul is that people are being led to think the
technology will enhance their freedom, when in his view it is bound to
limit their freedom.
Unlike the other critics represented here, Gross does not focus on
information technology. But its potential uses for surveillance and
control undergird many concerns he raises:
"[T]he means of control over this great mass [of technology] has
been developed to such a degree that centralized systems can keep tabs
on incredible amounts of information over long sequences of widely
dispersed and decentralized activities."
Gross's work reflects standard socialist concerns that big
government and big business in the advanced capitalist countries collude
to the detriment of society. Nonetheless, his concept of "friendly
fascism" contributes to this study by suggesting that the information
revolution may, in time and in some places, give rise to political
systems and practices that purport to be democratic but are not.
TOTALITARIANISM FAR FROM FINISHED?
Americans regard democracy (especially our own) as the highest
achievement of centuries of political evolution. Moreover, many of us
also believe that evolution favors democracy as its leading edge and
strongest contender. Both beliefs may well be valid.
Nonetheless, the long history of man's political progress--from
tribes and city-states, through theocracies, monarchies, and empires, to
the creation of modern nation-states and republics, with their modern
bureaucracies and political parties--has not yet given rise to either
democracy or totalitarianism as a final political outcome. Democratic,
authoritarian, and totalitarian tendencies have occurred and vied for
preeminence at every stage. Thus, some monarchies provided people more
individual freedom and protection under the law than did others. And in
recent decades the United States and the Soviet Union coexisted as the
democratic and totalitarian archetypes of the modern bureaucratic state
and party system.
Moreover, across the centuries of political evolution, with each
passing stage, the span between democratic, autocratic, and totalitarian
possibilities has grown wider. There was less difference between the
milder and harsher monarchies of the middle ages than between the
capitalist and communist systems of recent years.
The development of cyberocracy may fit with this historical trend.
Cyberocracy, far from favoring democracy or totalitarianism, may make
possible still more advanced, more opposite, and farther apart forms of
both. In the United States and other countries where democracy has deep
roots, the information revolution may render up new instruments and
opportunities for ordinary citizens to exercise their freedoms, improve
their ways of life, make political choices, and protect their personal
interests. But elsewhere the tools of cyberocracy may give a state
apparatus and its rulers powerful new means of control over their
citizenry, with an official ideology determining what information is
Perhaps the leading edge of history does favor liberal democracy.
Yet behind that edge, regimes that are anti-democratic, authoritarian,
and totalitarian have kept cropping up, especially where a charismatic
leader is able to generate public consensus in favor of tyranny. The
conditions under which such regimes arise often include irrevocable
desires to catch up to a more advanced and powerful country, to spread
one's own influence abroad, to resist if not defeat an external enemy,
to counter a threat to internal control, to have a regime that imposes
order and simplifies what people should think and do following a period
of disarray and information overload, and simply to remain in power.
Such conditions still exist in many places today. The inequality of
socioeconomic conditions around the world, the vigor of many national,
religious, ethnic, and other rivalries, the interest of many regimes in
exploiting technology to exert their power at home and abroad, and the
vulnerability of many peoples to charismatic leaders, all continue to
make it likely that in more than a few places, perhaps especially in the
Third World, ruling elites and their security forces will use the new
information technologies for anti-democratic purposes.
For example, events in China since the demonstrations in Tiananmen
Square confirm that exposure to the information technology revolution is
politically risky for a totalitarian regime. But these events also show
that such a regime can learn to exploit the technology. Meanwhile,
an ostensibly democratic country, Singapore, is making the most
determined effort in the world at the informatization of all parts of
society. But as this develops, the specter of undemocratic
controls is rising.
There is no assurance that the information revolution will favor
glasnost and democracy in the long run. The Cold War may be over, and
liberalism may be carrying the day in may places. But totalitarianism
may be far from finished. The advent of cyberocracy may help us realize
how fruitful democracy can be in countries like the United States. Yet
it may also mean that we have yet to see how thorough totalitarianism
can be. Far from favoring democracy or totalitarianism, cyberocracy may
facilitate more advanced forms of both. It seems as likely to foster
further divergence as convergence, and divergence has been as much the
historical rule as convergence.
In the past, the divergence principle was most evident between
countries. In the future, another possibility is that the principle may
increasingly apply within countries. The information revolution may
enable hybrid systems to take form that do not fit standard distinctions
between democracy and totalitarianism. In these systems, part of the
populace may be empowered to act more democratically than ever, but
other parts may be subjected to new techniques of surveillance and
7. COMMENT ON POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE
The information revolution may also lead to new political (and
economic) philosophies and ideologies. The creation of computers,
robots, artificial intelligence, and now artificial life, has led
many thinkers to ponder the philosophical, ethical, and psychological
implications for man's place in the universe, the concept of the self,
the distinction between man and machine, and the nature of the mind,
intelligence, and life itself.
"We have seen the computer begin as a mere instrument for
generating ballistic tables and grow to a force that now pervades almost
every aspect of modern society. In an important sense, it has already
transcended its status as a mere tool to be applied to specific tasks.
It has become a symbol, indeed a source, of questions that were in
earlier times asked only by theologians and philosophers but which have
now, in part because of the role computers and computations play in the
world, attained immediacy and urgency."
Writings in these philosophical areas have raised questions of
freedom and power--e.g., whether man will be the master or the slave of
the new technology, and whether it will liberate or isolate man as a
social being. But many such writings seem theoretically abstract, and
lack clear import for political and economic philosophy. In general,
scientists, philosophers, and social theorists do not seem to know yet
what to make of the information revolution, even though some recognize
it may have profound implications.
The political content of many philosophical discussions still
reflects terms of debate inherited from the industrial era and the rise
of the nation-state. It may be argued that the information revolution
will affect the philosophical bases of society, among other concerns.
But the terms are usually adaptive. Information is viewed as a factor
that may cause adjustments and modifications in prevailing forms of
philosophy and ideology, but not an entirely new system of thinking
about politics and society.
In addition, there is a substantial literature that focuses on the
effects of the new technology and the information factor on capital and
labor. But while many analyses recognize that the technology may foster
economic and social change, there has been a tendency to view it as just
another capital-intensive, labor-saving technology in a long line of
such technologies. Thus pro-capitalist writers herald the
potential benefits for economic efficiency, productivity, profit, and
competition, while their critics emphasize potential costs such as job
displacement, unemployment, and the exploitation, dehumanization, and
alienation of the worker. In the 1970s and 1980s, before the tide
rose against socialism, this literature provided arguments over whether
capitalism or socialism was more likely to be strengthened by the new
technology, and which of the two systems would be more capable of
maximizing the benefits for people and society.
However, if the information revolution proves as powerful as its
key theorists and enthusiasts expect, it is bound to change the nature
of the philosophical concepts to which we are accustomed. Today's
political labels (capitalism, socialism, liberalism, totalitarianism,
democracy, autocracy) may prove wholly inadequate.
How this may occur and what may result, I have no sure notion. But
I offer a speculation that uses some of the language of Marxism.
Cyberocracy may spell the obsolescence and transformation of
standard Marxist theses. Karl Marx may have been a visionary with a
sense of history; but he was still a man of his time, the mid-19th
century, when industrialization was just taking off. Thus he made
"capital" the key factor in his vision, and Marxism made it a central
theoretical concern of intellectuals worldwide as industrialization
gained momentum in the late 20th century.
Yet, while claiming to abolish capital as a basis of power, the
Marxist-Leninist governments of the 20th century built huge states based
on the centralization and manipulation of information.
"[S]tate monopoly on information is a very central part of the
blueprint for governance in these states, not just in wartime or under
duress, but as a routine matter. Indeed, if one takes what are usually
called the stable governments of the world, strict state control of
public information is a more sharply distinctive characteristic setting
apart Marxist-Leninist governments than anything else commonly coded,
such as economic distributions. In practice, if not in theory, this
information control is simply the defining signature of such
A central ideology, an enormous bureaucracy, a single party,
government-controlled propaganda and news media, powerful and pervasive
security services, privileges for high-level bureaucrats, the
suppression of intellectual dissent, no real freedom of information and
expression for common citizens, the jamming of foreign broadcasts,
restrictions on travel and communications abroad, restrictions on the
availability and use of information and communications technologies--
what more could a totalitarian information controller want to work
Communist regimes were slow to join the information revolution. In
the 1950s and 1960s the old guard of the Soviet regime, led by Joseph
Stalin, objected to the emerging cybernetic theories about information's
importance, and upheld Marxist-Leninist precepts about the importance of
labor. However, ideas from East European socialists resulted in a major
debate about the role of advanced science and technology in social and
economic development. As the debate continued in the 1970s and 1980s, a
new generation of Soviet bureaucrats and technocrats became convinced
that computerized information processing was crucial for the development
and security of the state. This led the regime to install
thousands of automated management systems for economic, administrative,
and military purposes, and to train thousands of people in their use.
Importing new technology from the West was rationalized on grounds that
Two dilemmas persisted into the 1980s. One was the difficulty of
reconciling cybernetic thinking, as developed in the decentralized West,
with Marxist-Leninism. This may be illustrated by an old Soviet review
of a Soviet book about using computers to identify a Pareto-optimal
consensus in a conflict situation. The reviewer criticized the author
for closing his eyes
"to the potential danger of using cybernetics and mathematics as
tools of economic research if mathematical-economics models are detached
from Marxist-Leninist methodology.... There is no place in his "study"
for Marxist methodology, which is replaced by the methodology of
The other dilemma concerned the spread of personal computers, which
began to occur under a concept known as the "collective use of personal
computers." Access remained tightly controlled. For a system where few
people had telephones, private ownership of mimeograph machines was not
allowed, and typewriters had to be registered with the authorities, the
personal computer posed a risk to the centralized control of information
and the security of government data banks. However, partly because of
military concerns to develop a computer-literate population, education
and training programs began as a national priority (on a table-top model
called the Agat, or Agatha, modeled after the Apple II).
In short, successive Soviet regimes followed Marxist-Leninist
precepts to claim that they had abolish capital accumulation as the
basis of political power and social structure. But in the process, they
substituted another basis that Marx did not foresee and that may
represent the antithesis of his initial ideals: the accumulation and
control of information.
If a Marx were to reappear in the late twentieth century, is it not
doubtful that he or she would again focus on "capital"? Would the focus
instead be on "information"? In the post-industrial age, information
may succeed capital as a central theoretical concept for political and
social philosophy. This is suggested by some of the major writings
cited in this study. If true, it may bring a twist to the old
According to Marxism, the capitalist accumulation of "surplus
labor" and labor's exploitation by "monopoly capital" account for a
society's structure and its ills and inclinations. That structure is
composed of socioeconomic "classes" that are defined by the "relation to
the means of production of capital."
But the post-industrial age may instead raise a new concern about
"surplus information" or "monopoly information" that is concentrated,
guarded, and exploited for privileged economic and political purposes.
Moreover, a society may become structured into new kinds of classes--
dare I say, "cyber strata" and "cybernets"--depending on one's relation
to the means of production of information. There may be lower, middle,
and upper classes of information haves and have-nots. Special cybernets
may develop inside organizations, as illustrated, for example, by who
participates in which work teams, and who may be included or excluded
from access to a particular network or data bank. Some nets may
cut across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries, fostering the
rise of "transnational political factions" and virtual communities.
Marxist theorizing placed the capitalist system, its wealthy elites
and corporations, in center-stage, especially for societies where the
private sector was powerful, labor struggles were repressed, and the
public sector was small and weak. But the information age and the
growth of cyberocracy may bring bureaucratic (and post-bureaucratic)
administrative systems to center-stage as the new villains, especially
where the state and related public sectors may try to dominate society
and become the main repository and dispenser of information shielded
from public accessibility. State bureaucracies seem as likely as
private corporations to hoard "surplus" information.
Thus, were a new Marx to appear today, he or she might well be
disturbed by statist systems based on the monopoly control of
information. The United States and other market-oriented systems bore
the brunt of anti-capitalist criticism. But in the future, leftist,
rightist, and other kinds of systems based on large, secretive,
authoritarian bureaucracies (or cyberocracies) may be the appropriate
target for information-centered criticism.
The fact that socialism and communism have been proven unfit as
routes to freedom, equality, and prosperity does not let the private
sector off the hook. According to some accounts, the major threats to
privacy now come less from government agencies than from corporations
that are compiling vast amounts of demographic, credit, and other types
of personal data that may be used for marketing, investigative, public
relations, and other purposes.
The information revolution has resulted in hundreds of studies
about the new technologies and their current and potential effects.
Many studies reiterate similar speculative points (this study is no
exception). But, as critic Michael Marien noted in the 1980s,
"Unfortunately, no effort has been made to collect all of these
forecasts, assessments, speculations, and warnings to determine what is
known and not known, identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and
establish the range of proven policies that might be pursued.
Ironically, in the midst of an inchoate revolution in communication
technology, this relatively simple act of communication between
researchers and responsible policy-makers has not occurred....The
fragmentation of perspectives increasingly found in the wider society is
reflected in the subject of communications itself, which is studied by
the professions of journalism, education, and information science
(formerly library science), and such cross-disciplinary areas as
computer science, management science, behavioral science, language and
area studies, and future studies. Adding to this intellectual tumult,
researchers in the social sciences often specialize in the economics,
politics, and sociology of information and communications. Occasional
government studies attempt to provide some overview, but little or no
effort has been made by governments, foundations, research institutes,
or leading universities to try systematically to overcome the rampant
bureaucratization of knowledge in general and thinking about
communications in particular."
It remains true that the new views about "information" do not fit
well into the standard academic disciplines and research fields.
Marien's call for greater coherence indicates that it may be time for a
new academic discipline or field to emerge, as earlier times resulted in
the fields of economics and political science.
Of the many studies of information and communications issues, few
offer grand conceptual and theoretical possibilities. A key reference
point for many computer and information scientists, the information
theory developed by Claude Shannon, focused on distinguishing signals
from noise and transmitting them efficiently from one place to
another. But it is a technical theory and has little import
outside scientific and engineering circles. The works of Marshall
McLuhan, a key reference point for many social scientists, illuminate
the importance of the new communications media for society. But his
works too have limited theoretical reach.
Instead, the analyst in search of the bases for a possible new
discipline is advised to turn to thinkers who bridge the hard and soft
sciences, like Norbert Weiner, the father of cybernetics, who called for
a new discipline in the 1950s. Since the 1970s, extensive
intellectual ferment has occurred around the idea that all organized
systems, including living organisms as well as societies, depend at
their core on how information is generated, transmitted, processed, and
controlled. This is leading to an "information-processing view of human
organization and society" that means, according to social scientist
"the proper subject matter of the social and behavioral sciences,
if they are to complement studies of the flows of matter (input-output
economics) and energy (ecology), ought to be information: its
generation, storage, processing, and communication to effect
Following these leads, I suggest another term, "cyberology," to
describe the possible field of study. Its content should extend beyond
what are currently treated as information science and management, and
encompass aspects of sociology, political science, economics,
psychology, and anthropology. As Beniger indicates, such a field should
draw on systems theory, game theory, and decision theory. It could
include artificial intelligence and the new field of artificial life.
The subject matter may seem diverse in today's terms, for it may
span topics that analysts do not normally group together. Yet this
diversity may embody as much coherence as any other academic discipline
or field of research. University and research centers might be well
advised to develop research capabilities in this respect. Policymakers
in Washington and elsewhere at home and abroad will have an increasing
need for analyses that sort out and assess the issues raised by the
spread and use of the new technologies.
The author remains uncertain about how the concept of cyberocracy
should be defined, and what should be its scope. Should it refer to an
organizational successor to bureaucracy? To a new form of government,
mostly affecting the executive branch? To a new relationship between
state and society? To the proprietors and regulators of cyberspace?
All these possibilities have been discussed or hinted in this paper,
although it has concentrated on the first two.
At the same time, the author has become increasingly certain that
new research is needed about the effects of the information revolution
on government and politics, and that the concept of cyberocracy should
be fielded for discussion despite its imprecision. What follows is a
sketch of some items for future research that, if pursued, would help
further develop this concept and anticipate its implications.
Methodology for Assessing Information and Communications
There are well-developed methodologies for analyzing political and
economic systems. Moreover, an analyst who knows a lot about a nation's
economic system probably knows something about its political system too;
and vice-versa. In contrast, methodologies are lacking for analyzing
information and communications infrastructures and systems, except in
limited technical and managerial senses.
A methodology needs to be developed for assessing institutions,
elites, governments, and international relations from a cyberological
viewpoint. Such a methodology could help the analyst understand better
a nation's economic and political systems, and what makes them function
(or not function) together. It could help identify what information and
communications infrastructures may be needed to support, for example,
policies to liberalize an economy or political system, improve public
education, foster regional integration, and/or build networks for global
cooperation. A methodology might also serve to identify vulnerabilities
that a country may need to correct, or that may be exploited in an
While I currently have little idea how to design a methodology, a
starting point might be to borrow from the architecture of computer
networks, and identify different "layers" that must be present for an
infrastructure to function properly.
Trends in Government Technology Absorption and Organizational Change
As noted previously, this study has not sought to ascertain the
status of the adoption of the new technologies by the U.S. and other
governments. How well are various U.S. offices, departments, and
agencies doing at installing and using computerized systems? How are
these systems, especially their networks and data bases, affecting the
policymaking process, within offices and across them? What visions,
challenges, and concerns are driving (or slowing) the development of the
nascent cyberspace(s) in government? No reports systematically address
such questions; answers must be sought piecemeal from diverse sources,
and few answers are readily available.
It would be useful to clarify the trends and issues not only for
the U.S. government, but also for other major governments, including in
Canada, Japan, and one or two European countries. Data and analysis are
so lacking in this area that it is unclear which governments may be
doing better than others, why, and whether this has any effect on their
relative capacities for policymaking and implementation at home and
Intragovernmental, Intergovernmental, and Transnational Relations
The governments that succeed in using the information revolution
and its associated technologies to develop advanced information and
communications infrastructures may leap ahead of other governments in
terms of their capacity to deal with current issues, assert their
presence, build cooperative networks and partnerships, and cope with
competition and conflict at home and abroad. But where is it most
important to succeed: Inside the government, to improve internal
policymaking processes? Between governments, to build new patterns of
consultation and coordination? Or should the focus be on building new
infrastructures that bridge between state and society, and between
different states and societies?
Some governments may do better in some respects than in others.
For example, even if the U.S. government were to lag behind the Japanese
at using the information revolution and its technology to improve
internal policymaking processes, the United States may do better than
Japan at using it to build cooperative relations with its neighbors and
partners. It would be useful to clarify these points, since they may
have implications for the comparative advantages of governments vis-a-
vis each other.
Support for Regional Integration: North America
As the world enters a new era, success at regional integration
may become essential for major powers to continue playing strong roles
on the global stage. Progress with regional integration will raise the
requirements for the coordination of neighbors' domestic policies and
for the establishment of new institutional mechanisms that cut across
traditional notions of national borders and sovereignty.
It would be useful to identify whether and how the creation of
advanced information and communications infrastructures may affect the
prospects for regional integration efforts in Europe, North America, and
around Japan. In another study, the author has recommended that this be
done for the United States, Canada, and Mexico, one objective being to
create conferencing networks and databases that will facilitate elite
dialogue on issues of mutual concern across all three countries.
Global Interconnection: Networks versus Nations
We are moving out of an era of global interdependence, and into an
era of global interconnection. The attention-getting trend today is the
rise of global markets (e.g., for goods, ideas). Yet the spread of
transnational and global networks (not only communications, but also
social and organizational networks) among corporations, governments,
advocacy groups and other nongovernment organizations, international and
multilateral agencies, transnational elites, etc., may have equally
profound effects on the nature of the new order.
As these organizational networks are built, cutting across public
and private sectors and national borders and interests, influential new
sub- and supra-national actors may increasingly compete for influence
with national actors. As political and economic interests grow in
protecting and expanding the networks, the networks themselves may
increasingly take precedence over nation-states as the driving factor in
domestic and foreign affairs. The government that gains the lead in
building and shaping these organizational networks may gain enormous
comparative advantage to influence the direction the world goes in
economically, politically, and socially.
The information revolution is a key factor behind the rise of these
global (and regional) networks of organizations and elites. Research
seems advisable to identify the relationships between the information
revolution and the rise of organizational networks, for this may have
significant implications for the domestic and foreign policies of the
United States and other countries.
New Sources and Forms of Conflict
This study has avoided conflict issues. But while the information
revolution may enhance the prospects for peaceful, democratic progress
and prosperity under some conditions, it may also enhance the prospects
for conflict under other conditions. Moreover, the need to respond to
these new forms of conflict may strengthen the trend toward cyberocracy,
although not necessarily its democratic possibilities.
Research may be needed on questions like the following: How will
the information revolution alter the sources and forms of conflict?
What will be their "information content" (conceptually and technically)?
To what extent, and in what ways, may "more and better information" help
lead to their resolution? What may be the implications for strategies
and tactics for responding to internal and external conflicts? Will
information subversion, blockades, and assaults be feasible? Will it be
possible to exploit information and communications networks to damage an
adversary's economic or political system without attacking it in a
conventional sense? What may be the implications for military doctrine,
organization, and strategy? What should countries and governments,
not to mention non-state actors, be preparing for?
1. Harry Tennant and George H. Heilmeier, "Knowledge and Equality:
Harnessing the Tides of Information Abundance," in Derek Leebaert (ed.),
Technology 2001: The Future of Computing and Communications, The MIT
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1991, pp. 117-149, quote from p. 117.
2. Richard J. Barnet, "Defining the Moment," The New Yorker, July
16, 1990, pp. 46-60, quote from p. 48.
3. The term cyberocracy dates from a draft that I wrote in 1978.
4. A classic pioneering work is Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-
Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting, Basic Books, New
York, 1973 (with a new Foreword, 1976). His writings have influenced
much of my thinking in this study.
5. James R. Beniger, The Control Revolution: Technological and
Economic Origins of the Information Society, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Mass., 1986, pp. 2-5, provides an excellent compilation of
terms since the 1950s. The ones mentioned here are from writings by
Anthony Oettinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Yoneji Masuda, respectively.
6. There are many good discussions of this hierarchy. They
include: Harlan Cleveland, The Knowledge Executive: Leadership In An
Information Society, Truman Talley Books, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1985,
pp. 22-26; and Nicolas Jequier and Stevan Dedijer, "Information,
Knowledge, and Intelligence: An Overview," in Stevan Dedijer and
Nicolas Jequier (eds.), Intelligence for Economic Development: An
Inquiry into the Role of the Knowledge Industy, Berg Publishers Limited,
Oxford, UK, 1987, pp. 1-23, esp. pp. 13-15.
7. It might be proper to propose the term "cybernocracy" (which I
did in a 1978 draft), but "cyber-" has become the favored form.
8. Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machines: The Future
of Work and Power, Basic Books, New York, 1984, introduced the term
"informated" to make the point that the new technology can assist
workers and managers to develop a worker-friendly informated factory,
which she distinguishes from an automated factory.
9. Daniel Bell, "Thinking Ahead," Harvard Business Review, May-
June 1979, pp. 20ff, quote from p. 26. Another useful examination of
how and why politics and economics in the information age may differ
from those in the industrial age is Anthony Smith, "Telecommunications
and the Fading of the Industrial Age," The Political Quarterly, April-
June 1983, pp. 127-136.
10. From an interview with Regis Debray, as excerpted and quoted
in Harper's Magazine, April 1986, p. 18.
11. The best volumes of basic readings are Tom Forester (ed), The
Micro Electronics Revolution: The Complete Guide to the New Technology
and Its Impact on Society, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1980;
Forester (ed.), The Information Technology Revolution, The MIT Press,
Cambridge, Mass., 1985; and Forester (ed.), Computers in the Human
Context: Information Technology, Productivity, and People, The MIT
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1989.
12. For example, a landmark study by Mark U. Porat, The
Information Economy: Definition and Measurement, U.S Department of
Commerce, Office of Telecommunications, OT Special Publication 77-12,
May 1977, U.S. GPO, Washington, D.C. found, using 1967 figures, that
"total information activity" accounted for between a third and a half of
the gross national product (GNP) of the United States, and "information
workers" earned more than 50% of labor income in the U.S. workforce. In
1982, John Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our
Lives, New York, Warner Books, 1982, reported (p. 1) that "In 1950, only
about 17 percent of us worked in information jobs. Now more than 60
percent of us work with information."
13. Peter Drucker, "The Changed World Economy," Foreign Affairs,
Spring 1986, pp. 768-791, quote from p. 780. He also argues (p. 777)
that "If a company, an industry or a country does not in the next
quarter century sharply increase manufacturing production and at the
same time sharply reduce the blue-collar work force, it cannot hope to
remain competitive-or even to remain 'developed.'"
14. John M. Eger, "Prospects of Global 'Information War' Poses
Biggest Threat to U.S.," Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1978, Part VII,
p. 2, quoting a statement by a French Minister of Justice.
15. From a television broadcast of "Smithsonian World," KCET
(Channel 28, Los Angeles), April 16, 1991.
16. Bell, "The World and the United States in 2013," Daedalus,
Summer 1987, pp. 1-31, esp. p. 12. Italics in original.
17. Tom Stonier, "The Impact of Microprocessors on Employment," in
Forester (ed.), 1980, pp. 303-307, quote from p. 306.
18. Walter B. Wriston, Risk and Other Four-Letter Words, Harper &
Row Publishers, New York, 1986, pp. 134-135. In a similar vein, the
1985 collapse of the Home State Savings Bank in Ohio led to a comment
that "the world's financial markets are intertwined as never before.
When money is literally nothing but pulsed laser beams travelling along
fiber-optic pathways, a sizeable ripple in any part of the world will be
felt almost simultaneously in every other." Charles R. Morris, "Ohio
Offers a Lesson in Banking: There Are No Safe Havens," Los Angeles
Times, March 31, 1985, Part VII, p. 3.
19. From an interview with Peter Drucker reported in the Los
Angeles Times, April 14, 1985, Part V, p. 7.
20. Wriston, 1986, pp. 120, 125-6.
21. Zuboff, 1984, pp. 394-395.
22. Don L. Boroughs et al., "Desktop dilemma," U.S. News and World
Report, December 24, 1990, pp. 46-48.
23. Ibid., p. 48.
24. Ibid., p. 48. Forester, "Editor's Introduction: Making Sense
of IT," in Forester, 1989, pp. 1-15, and several other pieces in his
volume also address what he terms "the productivity puzzle."
25. Tennant and Heilmeier, and Johnson, Jr., in Leebaert (ed.),
26. While Buroughs et al., 1990 vaguely referred to this
possibility, I am more indebted to postings by Elin W. Smith in
computer-mediated conference discussions on the Whole Earth 'Lectronic
Link (WELL), Sausalito, Calif., during 1991.
27. Geza Feketekuty and Jonathan D. Aronson, "Meeting the
Challenges of the World Information Economy," The World Economy, 3/1984,
vol. 7, #1, pp. 63-86, quote from p. 63.
28. See George Shultz, "A New International Era: The American
Perspective," Address before the Pilgrims of Great Britain, London,
December 10, 1985, Department of State Bulletin, February 1986, pp. 24-
28; and Shultz, "The Shape, Scope, and Consequences of the Age of
Information," Address before the Stanford University Alumni
Association's first International Conference, Paris, March 21, 1986,
Department of State Bulletin, May 1986, pp. 40-43. Shultz, "New
Realities and New Ways of Thinking," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1985, pp.
29. Shultz, February 1986, p. 28.
30. Wriston, "Technology and Sovereignty," Foreign Affairs, Winter
1988/1989, pp. 63-75; David Webster, "Direct Broadcast Satellites:
Proximity, Sovereignty, and National Identity," Foreign Affairs, Summer
1984, pp. 1161-1174; and Willis Ware, Security, Privacy, and National
Vulnerability, RAND, Santa Monica, Calif., April 1981, P-6628.
31. Dedijer and Jequier (eds.), 1987, is one of the exceptions.
32. From J. Peter Grace, Burning Money--The Waste of Your Tax
Dollars, MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, 1984, as excerpted in
"'Information Gap' Loss Put At $78.6 Billion," St.Louis Post-Dispatch,
November 22, 1984, p. 1B.
33. Grace, "Bringing Efficiency to Government," Leaders, a Special
Tenth Anniversary Edition: The World in the Next Ten Years-The
Information Decade, John Diebold as Guest Editor, January-March 1987, p.
70. Among other things, the commission recommended that an Information
Management Office be created in the Executive Office of the President.
34. This came to Congressional attention because of reporting
requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, which required the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to review information technology
systems proposed by government agencies, and was overseen by the OMB's
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
35. John Purnell, "Agencies having nightmares developing computer
systems," Washington Times, June 13, 1989, p. B-5.
36. Ronald H. Hinckley, "National Security in the Information
Age," The Washington Quarterly, Spring 1986, pp. 125-140.
37. I. M. Destler, Leslie H. Gelb, and Anthony Lake, Our Own Worst
Enemy: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy, Simon and Schuster, New
York, 1984, p. 247.
38. Stephen E. Frantzich, Computers in Congress: The Politics of
Information, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, Calif., 1982, p. 91.
Also see Frantzich, "Communications and Congress," in Gerald Benjamin
(ed.), The Communications Revolution in Politics, Proceedings of The
Academy of Political Science, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1982, pp. 88-101.
39. Stanley J. Heginbotham, "Foreign Policy Information for
Congress: Patterns of Fragmentation and Advocacy," The Washington
Quarterly, Summer 1987, pp. 149-162, esp. p. 154.
40. Frantzich, 1982, p. 234.
41. Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler, Connections: New Ways of
Working in the Networked Organization, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.,
1991, pp. 15-16. Also see Sproull and Kiesler, "Computers, Networks and
Work," Scientific American, September 1991, pp. 116-123.
42. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, "Some Conjectures about the Impact of
Printing on Western Society and Thought: A Preliminary Report," Journal
of Modern History, March 1968, pp. 1-56, quote from p 8.
43. Gilder, 1989, p. 55, paraphrasing Peter Drucker.
44. H. A. Innis, Empire and Communications, Oxford University
Press, London, 1950, discusses the communications methods that lay
behind the organization and administration of the ancient Egyptian,
Babylonian, Greek, and Roman empires. Yet Philip E. Converse, "Power
and the Monopoly of Information," American Political Science Review,
March 1985, pp. 1-9, finds (pp. 3-4) that "the whole construct of
information seems largely a twentieth-century notion.... It is scarcely
isolated as an entity until studies of propaganda began in our century."
Karl W. Deutch, The Nerves of Government: Models of Political
Communication and Control, The Free Press of Glencoe, New York, 1963,
emphasized information in political analysis before the technology
45. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, Random House Inc., New York,
1970, deserves credit for being one of the first works to foresee that
the information revolution would have a major impact on bureaucracy.
His concept of what lay beyond bureaucracy, which he termed "ad-
hocracy," has much in common with my concept of cyberocracy.
46. Beniger, 1986, pp. 19, 20, and passim. This impressive work
identifies bureaucracy as a technology of control, and shows how it
integrated office technologies, like telephones and typewriters, for
processing and distributing information.
47. The term "technocracy" was coined in 1919 and popularized in
the mid 1930s. See Bell, "Notes on the Post-Industrial Society (I),"
The Public Interest, Winter 1967, pp. 24-35, passim.
48. Smith, "Technology, Identity, and the Information Machine,"
Daedalus, Summer 1986, pp. 155-169.
49. On the importance of design issues, see Donald A. Norman, The
Design of Everyday Things, Doubleday/Currency, New York, 1989
(previously published as The Psychology of Everyday Things, Basic Books
Inc., New York, 1988).
50. John Walker, President of Autodesk, Inc., "Remarks for the
Windows Press Conference," March 10, 1992.
51. Mark Weiser, "The Computer of the 21st Century," Scientific
American, September 1991, pp. 94-104.
52. Classic treatments include Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display
of Quantitative Information, Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1983, and
Tufte, Envisioning Information, Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1990,
Also, Richard Mark Friedhof, Visualization (The Second Computer
Revolution), Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, 1989.
53. Mark A. Clarkson, "An Easier Interface," BYTE, February 1991,
54. Walker, 1992.
55. Cover story on "PCs: What the Future Holds," Business Week,
August 12, 1991, esp. p. 59.
56. John S. Quarterman, The Matrix: Computer Networks and
Conferencing Systems Worldwide, Digital Press, Digital Equipment
Corporation, 1990. "All of the networks and conferencing systems that
are interconnected for mail transfer form a worldwide metanetwork, the
Matrix, which is the subject of this book." (p. 125) Peter J. Denning,
"Worldnet," American Scientist, September-October 1989, pp. 432-434.
William R. Johnson, Jr., "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime: The Future of
Networking," in Leebaert (ed.), 1991, pp. 150-175.
57. Robert W. Lucky, "In a Very Short Time: What Is Coming Next
in Telecommunications," in Leebaert (ed.), p. 348. Other analysts put
the current carrying capacity much lower, e.g., 100 million bits per
58. Roger Karraker, "Highways of the Mind," Whole Earth Review,
#70, Spring 1991, pp. 4-9.
59. Mike Antoniak, "The Electronic Front," Mobile Office, June
1991, pp. 36-43, esp. p. 43.
60. Peter Grier, "The Data Weapon," Government Executive, June
1992, pp. 20ff.
61. I do not know what has happened with this plan since the
break-up of the Soviet Union.
62. Frederick Williams, The New Telecommunications:
Infrastructure for the Information Age, The Free Press, New York, 1991,
provides a good overview. Most ISDN initiatives involve waiting for
fiber-optic cables, but Mitch Kapor and other leaders of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation propose using new compression techniques across the
current copper-wire cables to create a "Personal ISDN" system to benefit
large masses of the population in the near future. For one write-up,
see John Perry Barlow, "The Great Work, Communications of the ACM,
January 1992, pp.25-30.
63. Johnson, Jr., in Leebaert (ed.), p. 168.
64. Examples of widely used databases, especially for searching
through periodical literature, include Dialogue Information Service's
DIALOG system and Mead Data Central's NEXIS system.
65. John Markoff, "For the PC User, Vast Libraries," The New York
Times, July 3, 1991, pp. C1, C3.
66. See David Gelernter, Mirror Worlds, or the Day Software Puts
the Universe in a Shoebox...How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean,
New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. I am indebted to Bob Anderson
for pointing out the notion of "reality windows" whereby one may be able
to view through cameras spread here and there.
67. Bob Ryan, "Dynabook Revisited with Alan Kay," Byte, February
1991, p. 207.
68. Denos C. Gazis, "Brief Time, Long March: The Forward Drive of
Computer Technology," in Leebaert (ed.), 1991, pp. 41-76, esp. p. 69.
69. From a cover story, "Computer Confusion: A Jumble of
Competing, Conflicting Standards Is Chilling the Market," Business Week,
June 10, 1991, p. 76.
70. Eben Shapiro, "CD's Store the Data, But Sifting's a Chore,"
The New York Times, August 4, 1991, F-9.
71. Lucky in Leebaert (ed.), 1991, p. 366.
72. The term is generally credited to a seminal "cyberpunk" novel
by William Gibson, Neuromancer, Ace Books, 1984. Its unusual influence
extends to professional works like Quarterman, 1990, whose title, The
Matrix, is from the novel; Michael Benedikt (ed.), Cyberspace: First
Steps, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1991; and to conferences like
"Civilizing Cyberspace: Minding the Matrix," sponsored by Computer
Professionals for Social Responsibility, at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, Washington, D.C., June 26-27, 1991. A newsletter
Virtual Reality Report (Meckler Corp.) keeps track of definitions of
"cyberspace" and a related term, "virtual reality." Other terms that
get used include "noosphere," "infosphere," and "technosphere," which
appear in the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, Kenneth Boulding, and
Alvin Toffler. These all have broader meanings than the "Matrix" and
"worldnet" (footnote 6); the Matrix, as the network of networks, is
presumably where cyberspace will be constructed.
73. Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality, Summit Books, Simon &
Schuster Inc., New York, 1991, is the latest, best introduction. He is
writing a new book on "virtual communities." For a preview, see
Rheingold, "A Slice of Life in My Virtual Community," June 1992, draft,
available on the WELL. An earlier volume by Rheingold, Tools for
Thought: The People and Ideas Behind the Next Computer Revolution,
Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1985, was also quite good.
74. Michael L. Dertouzos, "Communications, Computers and
Networks," Scientific American, September 1991, pp. 62-69, quote from p.
75. Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom, The Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1983, quotes from
76. Pool, 1983, p. 28.
77. Pool, 1983, p. 10. His points resound throughout Brand, 1987.
78. arraker, Spring 1991, pp. 4-9.
79. Letter to the editor by James Bowery, Whole Earth Review, #71,
Summer 1991, p. 133.
80. Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer, "Cyberspace Colonies,"
The Second International Conference on Cyberspace: Collected Abstracts,
Group for the Study of Virtual Systems, Center for Cultural Studies,
University of California, Santa Cruz, April 19-20, 1991, pp. 110-111.
81. From my notes on the talk by Morningstar and Farmer,
"Cyberspace Colonies," Second International Conference on Cyberspace,
University of California, Santa Cruz, April 20, 1991. While I think
that the metaphor is illuminating, some listeners were disturbed that it
might imply the exploitation and subjugation of minorities.
82. Sheldon F. Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and
Innovation in Western Political Thought, Little, Brown and Company,
Boston, 1960, pp. 15-16. His statement continues as follows: "Although
most of these are the traditional categories of meta-physicians, the
political theorist does not state his propositions or formulate his
concepts in the same manner as a metaphysician. The concern of the
theorist has not been with space and time as categories referring to the
world of natural phenomena, but to the world of political phenomena;
that is to the world of political nature. If he cared to be precise and
explicit in these matters, he would write of 'political' space,
'political' time, and so forth. Admittedly, few if any writers have
employed this form of terminology. Rather, the political theorist has
used synonyms; instead of political space he may have written about the
city, the state, or the nation; instead of time, he may have referred to
history or tradition; instead of energy, he may have spoken about
83. There is a growing literature about the new technology's
effects on social space and time orientations. Bell, "Teletext and
Technology: New Networks of Knowledge and Information in Post-
Industrial Society," Encounter, April 1977, pp. 9-29, esp. p. 26ff.,
summarizes points he made in the 1960s and 1970s. Among recent studies,
Pool, Technologies Without Boundaries: On Telecommunications in a
Global Age, edited posthumously by Eli M. Noam, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1990, praises the technology for "crumbling the
walls of distance." Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in
Human History, A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1989,
argues that the technology has negative effects on people's use of time
and their relationship to the world.
84. Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel, The Medium
Is the Massage, Random House, Inc., New York, 1967, pp. 16, 63.
85. In saying this, I am going against the grain of other
forecasts (e.g., Rifkin, 1989) that computerization will continue to
obliterate people's sense of the past.
86. Bell, April 1977, pp. 26-27. Also, Bell, Spring 1967, pp.
108-109. Although time and space perceptions are not explicitly
mentioned, Theodore Lowi, "Government and Politics: Blurring of Sector
Lines; Rise of New Elites--From One Vantage Point," in Information
Technology: Some Critical Implications for Decision Makers, The
Conference Board, New York, 1972, pp. 131-148, and a similar, reprinted
1975 article by Lowi, "The Political Impact of Information Technology,"
in Forester (ed.), 1980, pp. 453-472, identify many of the same
implications as Bell.
87. I do not know where the term "post-bureaucratic" comes from,
but Toffler, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of
the 21st Century, Bantam Books, New York, 1990, pp. 166, 182ff. uses it.
88. One of the exceptions is Zuboff, 1984.
89. Bell's writings note this. Also see Lowi, in The Conference
Board, 1972, Lowi, in Forester (ed.), 1980, and Donald Michael, "The
Individual: Enriched or Impoverished? Master or Servant?," in The
Conference Board, 1972, pp. 37-59. Peter F. Drucker, The New Realities:
In Government and Politics, In Economics and Business, In Society and
World View, Harper and Row, Publishers, New York, 1989, pp. 180-186 and
passim, provides a recent analysis.
90. Bell, "The Social Framework of the Information Society," in
Forester (ed.), 1980, pp. 500-549, quote from p. 543.
91. Robert Reich, "Secession of the Successful," The New York
Times Magazine, January 20, 1991, pp. 16-17, 42-45, quote from p. 42.
For elaboration, see Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves
for 21st-Century Capitalism, Alfed A. Knopf, Inc., New York , 1991.
92. Reich, January 20, 1991, p. 45. Also, see Zuboff, 1984, on
93. Carl H. Builder, The Future of Nuclear Deterrence, RAND, Santa
Monica, Calif., P-7702, February 1991, foresees the formation of
"transnational factions" and "transnational communities" of scientists
who may help press for peace. The formation of "epistemic communities"
of scientists and activists located in different countries has become a
subject of analysis in the scholarly journal International Organization.
94. My familiarity with these themes benefitted from computer-
mediated discussions in "EnviroBioInfoWholeEarth Organizational
Structures," Topic 468, the Information Conference, on the WELL,
Sausalito, Calif., during July-August 1991. Postings by Mitsuharu
Hadeishi and Steven Rosell werre particularly useful to me. Writings by
Tom Peters were referred to during the discussion. Also, numerous
articles in the Harvard Business Review over the past five to ten years
address these themes.
95. Toffler, 1970, 1990. Drucker, 1989, and Drucker, "The Coming
of the New Organization," Harvard Business Review, January-February
1988, reprinted in Revolution in Real Time: Managing Information
Technology in the 1990s, A Harvard Business Review Book, 1990, pp. 3-15.
Lynda M. Applegate, James I. Cash, Jr., and D. Quinn Mills, "Information
Technology and Tomorrow's Business Manager," Harvard Business Review,
November-December 1988, reprinted in Revolution in Real Time, 1990, pp.
33-48. Bell, Spring 1967, p. 114, and Lowi, in The Conference Board,
1972, p. 144, and Lowi, in Forester (ed.), 1980, p. 464, also foresaw
that traditional bureaucratic forms would give way to new models, but
they were more circumspect and less optimistic than other analysts.
96. George P. Huber, "A Theory of the Effects of Advanced
Information Technologies on Organizational Design, Intelligence, and
Decision Making," Academy of Management Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1990,
pp. 47-71, esp. p. 57.
97. Warren E. Walker, Organizational Decision Support Systems:
Centralized Support for Decentrallized Organizations, P-7749, RAND,
Santa Monica, Calif., 1991.
98. Gelernter, David, Mirror Worlds, or the Day Software Puts the
Universe in a Shoebox...How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean, Oxford
University Press, New York, 1991, p.52.
99. Arno Penzias, Information and Ideas: Managing in a High-Tech
World, A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990, p.
100. Lowi, in The Conference Board, 1972, p. 148.
101. Anita Schiller, "Shifting Boundaries in Information," Library
Journal, April 1, 1981, pp. 705-709.
102. The blurring of public-private boundaries, and of the
boundaries between domestic and foreign policy, has also been pointed
out often in the literature on transnational interdependence since the
1970s. That literature recognizes the information revolution as one of
the factors explaining the growth of global interdependence.
103. Roger Benjamin, The Limits of Politics: Collective Goods and
Political Change in Postindustrial Societies, The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, 1980. Benjamin, "Some Public Policy Implications of the
Information Revolution," in Meheroo Jussawalla, Tadayuki Okuma,Toshihiro
Araki (eds.), Information Technology and Global Interdependence, East-
West Center and The Japan Institute of International Affairs, Greenwood
Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1989, pp.47-53.
104. Bell, Summer 1987, p. 14.
105. Bell, in Forester (ed.), 1980, p. 512. Benjamin and Bell
cite economists as sources for their thinking, including Kenneth Arrow.
106. This may mean that transaction-cost analysis--the approach to
organizational economics that germinates with Ronald Coase and
culminates in the writings of Oliver Williamson--should be modified, so
that the concept of networks is added to its traditional emphasis on the
concepts of markets and hierarchies.
107. The literature on these points is vast. Important new
additions include: Thomas W. Malone and John F. Rockart, "Computers,
Networks and the Corporation," Scientific American, September 1991, pp.
128-136; and Lee Sproull and Sara Keisler, "Computers, Networks and
Work," Scientific American, September 1991, pp. 116-123. Also see work
by Tora Bikson, notably Tora K. Bikson et al., Networked Information
Technology and the Transition to Retirement: A Field Experiment, R-3690-
MF, RAND, Santa Monica, CA, 1991.
108. The phrase in quotation marks is from Lowi's writings.
109. Webster, Summer 1984, p. 1162.
110. The excellent book by Stewart Brand, The Media Lab: Inventing
the Future at MIT, Penguin Books, New York, 1988, p. 263, notes that the
machines may serve the goal of humanism if they enhance both people's
connectedness and their autonomy.
111. Michael, "Too Much of a Good Thing? Dilemmas of an
Information Society," Vital Speeches of the Day, November 1, 1983, pp.
38-42, quote from p. 41.
112. Most readers forget that Big Brother was not all-seeing.
Only about 10 percent of the people were monitored at any time.
113. James Ducker, "Electronic information-impact of the
database," Futures, April 1985, pp. 164-169, quote from p. 167, who adds
(p. 167) that "A similar argument holds good for the developing
countries seeking to compete economically and politically with the
developed nations, and with the multinational companies...." Myrna
Oliver, "Fast, Efficient Computers: Electronic Legal Eagles," Los
Angeles Times, April 19, 1985, pp. 1, 27, reports that computerized
services enable small law firms to do research that was previously
feasible only for large law firms.
114. George Gilder, Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in
Economics and Technology, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1989, p. 346.
115. George Shultz, "New Realities and New Ways of Thinking,"
Foreign Affairs, Spring 1985, pp. 705-721, quote from p. 716.
116. Tom Stonier, "The Microelectronic Revolution, Soviet
Political Structure, and The Future of East/West Relations," The
Political Quarterly, April-June 1983, pp.137-151.
117. Steven C. Bankes and Carl H. Builder, The Etiology of
European Change, RAND, Santa Monica, Calif., P-7693, December 1990.
Donald Wilhelm, Global Communications and Political Power, Transaction
Publishers, New Brunswick, 1990.
118. Roger E. Levien, "The Civilizing Currency: Documents and
Their Revolutionary Technologies," in Leebaert (ed.), 1991, p. 210.
119. The classic studies are Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, "Some
Conjectures about the Impact of Printing on Western Society and Thought:
A Preliminary Report," Journal of Modern History, March 1968, pp. 1-56,
and the resulting book, Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of
Change, 2 vols., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1979.
On the expansion of empires, see Innis, 1950.
120. Bell, May-June 1979, p. 36.
121. The revolutionary change from the Shah to the Ayatollah
Khomeini in Iran is an example where too much information of a
modernizing nature may have helped induce a reaction and a return to a
traditional Islamic preference to exclude outside information. Yet it
should also be noted that in his quest for power, Khomeini took
advantage of the information revolution by using smuggled cassette tapes
to spread his message among the Iranian people.
122. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff, William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1990, p.76.
123. William H. Dutton, "The Political Implications of
Communication Technology: Challenge to Power?" draft, September 1988,
prepared for a chapter in Report from Namur: Landscapes for an
Information Technology, forthcoming. His point is based on Kenneth L.
Kraemer and William H. Dutton, "The Interests Served by Technological
Reform: The Case of Computing," Administration and Society, May 1979,
pp. 80-106. Kenneth Laudon also termed information technology a
"malleable" tool in Laudon, Computers and Bureaucratic Reform: The
Political Functions of Urban Information Systems, John Wiley, New York,
1974, p. 311. Also see Dutton, "Technology and the Federal System," in
Benjamin (ed.), 1982, pp. 109-130. Kraemer, "Strategic Computing and
Administrative Reform," in Charles Dunlop and Rob Kling, Computerization
and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices, Academic Press,
Inc., Boston, 1991, pp. 167-180, finds (p. 167) that "information
technology has tended to reinforce existing organizational arrangements
and power distributions in organizations."
124. Lowi, in The Conference Board, 1972; Michael, in The
Conference Board, 1972; and John P. Crecine and Ronald D. Brunner,
"Government and Politics: A Fragmented Society, Hard to Govern
Politically-From Another Vantage Point," in The Conference Board, 1972,
125. Richard N. Neustadt, "Electronic Politics," in Forester
(ed.), 1985, pp. 561-568, quote from p. 561.
126. Neustadt, in Forester (ed.), 1985, pp. 564, 567. Groups that
he felt had most exploited the new media included the churches.
127. David Burnham, The Rise of the Computer State, Random House,
New York, 1983, esp. Chapter 3. Kenneth C. Laudon, Dossier Society:
Value Changes in the Design of National Information Systems, CORPS
(Computing, organizations, Policy, and Society) Series, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1986. Bell, May-June 1979, p. 32, also
warned about these points.
128. Heard on television program "Smithsonian World," KCET
(Channel 28, Los Angeles), April 16, 1991.
129. Burnham, 1983, quotes from pp. 9, 234.
130. Willis Ware of RAND writes extensively about this. For
example, see Willis H. Ware, "Contemporary Privacy Issues," Presented at
the National Conference on Integrating Values in Computing, New Haven,
CT, August 1991. Recent specific issues include the demise of
"MarketPlace: Household," an initiative of the Lotus Development
Corporation to sell CD-ROMs full of household information, and the
start-up of "Information America," a little-known enterprise that can
cull through all kinds of on-line records about individuals and
131. Weiser, September 1991, p. 104, but he also says that "A
well-implemented version of ubiquitous computing could even afford
better privacy protection than exists today."
132. Ellul, 1990, pp. 384-385, 386-387.
133. Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in
America, South End Press, Boston, 1980, p. 51.
134. Ronfeldt, "China and the Doubled-Edged Sword of Information
Technology," in Ronfeldt, Three Dark Pieces, RAND, Santa Monica, Calif.,
P-7607, January 1990, pp. 5-8.
135. Vijay Gurbaxani et al., "Government as the Driving Force
Toward the Information Society: National Computer Policy in Singapore,"
The Information Society, Vol. 7, 1990, pp. 155-185.
136. Steven Levy, Artificial Life: The Quest for a New Creation,
Pantheon Books, New York, 1992, looks worth recommending.
137. Joe Weizenbaum, "Where Are We Going?: Questions for Simon,"
in Forester (ed.), 1980, pp. 434-438, quote from p. 438.
138. I base this on my scanning of various writings in Forester
(ed.), 1980, 1985, and 1989, passim.
139. For example, Herbert A. Simon, "What Computers Mean for Man
and Society," in Forester (ed.), 1980, pp. 419-433.
140. Critiques include Fred Block and Larry Hirschhorn, "New
Productive Forces and the Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism: A
Post-Industrial Perspective," History and Society, #7, May-June 1979,
pp. 363-395; and Tony Solomonides and Les Levidow (eds.), Compulsive
Technology: Computers As Culture, Radical Science Series, #18, Free
Association Books, London, 1985.
141. Converse, March 1985, p. 8.
142. Not just Marxist-Leninist regimes but all totalitarian
regimes, rightist and leftist, show similar patterns of information
control. The examples include Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's regime in
Haiti, and Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. A related aspect was the
attempt in the 1972s and 1980s by some Communist and Third World nations
to establish through UNESCO a "new world information order." Its
protagonists proposed international standards and a licensing system for
journalists that would have subordinated news agencies to government
dictates. They also proposed to have UNESCO finance improvements in the
communications facilities of liberation movements.
143. Though I lack data, a similar concern to make use of the new
information technologies may explain why Cuba had an Institute for
Cybernetic Socialism in the 1980s.
144. From "Book on Economics Hit as Neo-Malthusian," The Current
Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. 30, No. 14, May 3, 1978, p. 6. Another
Soviet writer, I. Bestuchew-Lada, The World in the Year 2,000, Dreisam-
Verlag, Freiburg, West Germany, 1984, p. 109, expressed a different
view: "Can an electronic machine think like a human being? The
question itself reflects the ridiculous arrogance so typical for the
representatives of the species Homo Sapiens. Contemporary man honestly
thinks that his thinking is thorough, logical and original. It does not
even occur to him how stereotyped, confused and primitive his thinking
is with few exceptions. If the computer could feel hurt, it would take
offense at such a question. The machine can not only think like a human
being; it can think much more thoroughly, logically, and originally."
(translation from German)
145. Marxism-Leninism was not the only reason. Culture and
tradition have disposed Russian rulers since long before the Russian
Revolution to seal their nation against foreign influence and impose
strong press and other informational controls over the local population.
146. See the discussion about information and capital in Section
II, and the citations to works by Bell, Drucker, Toffler, and Wriston.
More to the point, international communication theorist Howard Frederick
says that "If Karl Marx were alive today, he would not write Das
Kapital, but 'Die Information.'" Howard Frederick, Global Communication
and International Relations, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, Pacific
Grove, Calif., 1993 forthcoming, p. 208.
147. My point about cybernets may be related to Bell's point
(Section 5) about situses of knowledge elites. Cybernets may be
148. The term is from Builder.
149. Ware, 1991.
150. Michael Marien, "Some Questions for the Information Society,"
in Forester (ed.), 1985, pp. 651, 657-8. He also claims (p. 657) that
the lack of communication among researchers and policymakers is "largely
due to our obsolete industrial era colleges and universities, which
encourage attention to small and 'manageable' questions, technical
questions that result in 'hard' answers, and questions that conform to
the configurations of the established disciplines and professions."
151. Gilder, 1989, provides an engaging survey of the ideas of
Shannon and numerous other scientists who contributed to the development
of the computer and related technologies. I have not read Shannon's
writings and take my remarks from comments in various sources.
152. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics
and Society, Houghton Mifflin, Riverside, Boston, 1950. Also, Wiener,
Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the
Machine, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1948 (2nd ed. 1961).
153. Beniger, 1990, p. 38, and generally, Chapters 1-3. He argues
that all organized systems, including living organisms as well as
societies, depend at their core on information processing and its
154. For another agenda, see Steve Bankes and Carl Builder et al.,
"Seizing the Moment: Harnessing the Information Technologies," The
Information Society, vol. 8, no. 1, 1992, pp. 1-59.
155. Bankes has proposed a similar idea. Dedijer and Jequier
(eds.), 1987--a little noted book that deserves attention--contains many
useful points about the possible relationships between a society's
information infrastructure and its political, economic, and social
156. See the author's proposal, "CONAMI: A Council on North
American Information," Appendix B to Bankes and Builder, 1992, pp. 31-
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7795, RAND, Santa Monica, Calif., 1992.
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