GLOCOM Platform
debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books and Journals
Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 14:22 03/09/2007
Book Review #21: March 25, 2002

"Society on the Line: Information Politics in the Digital Age"

written and edited by William H. Dutton

Reviewed by Takahiro Miyao (GLOCOM)

Title: Society on the Line: Information Politics in the Digital Age
Author, Editor: William H. Dutton
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New York
Date/Time: 2001
Pages: English text 390 pages (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-19-877460-5 (pbk)

The Japanese translation of this book, entitled "Onrain Shakai No Joho Seijigaku," (edited by Fukashi Utsunomiya) has been published by Tokai Daigaku Shuppan Kai (2002).


This book is an attempt to synthesize various findings of social science studies on the information society by focusing on social and technical processes of shaping "tele-access," where the author, William Dutton, defines "the shaping of tele-access" as the way ICTs (information and telecommunication technologies) influence access to information, people, services and technologies. By utilizing this concept, the author tries to provide insights about the role of ICTs in social change and social choices.

There are various dimensions of tele-access as ICTs affect what you know, with whom you communicate, what you consume, and what other ICTs you get access to. The author summarizes these effects in four dimensions, namely, information, people, services and technologies, and emphasizes the fact that "the decisions of individuals and organizations about these issues [i.e., various issues in different dimensions] are interrelated facets of a single, broad 'ecology of choices' that ultimately shape tele-access."

Regarding this game approach to social change, one might be reminded of Stanford University Professor Masahiko Aoki's work in his recent book, "Towards a Comparative Institutional Analysis,"

In his analysis, Aoki defines an institution as an equilibrium outcome of games, simultaneously played in various dimensions (political, economic, social, and organizational) of the society, and studies institutional change in a world of multiple equilibria, in which case you could not predict the future path of institutional change unless you know initial conditions and the mechanism of games that people play in detail. Therefore, comparative and historical analyses are needed to understand actual outcomes of games in a changing environment.

Interestingly enough, a strikingly similar conclusion is obtained in this book, as the author says that "this concept [an ecology of games] represents an important step towards enhancing our understanding of why ICTs are not on a predetermined technical path that will redefine tele-access in predictable ways." In a sense, this book might be regarded as a comprehensive "case study" in the comparative institutional analysis, specifically focusing on social change in the information revolution.

This is the second book in the serious of studies that draw extensively on PICT (the UK's Programme on Information and Communication Technologies), one of the most ambitious social research initiatives in Europe on the role of ICTs in social change, according to the author, whose first volume is entitled "Information and Communication Technologies - Visions and Realities" (Oxford University Press, 1996).

"Society on the Line Information Politics in the Digital Age"

List of contents:

Part I. A New Perspective on the Information Revolution

1 Introduction: Tele-Access - The Outcome of an Ecology of Games
2 Information Politics, Technology, and Society

Part II. Social Dimensions of the Technical: Social, Cultural, and Political Processes Shaping Tele-Access

3 The Technological Shaping of Tele-Access: A Force for Social Change
4 The Social Shaping of Tele-Access: Investing our Futures

Part III. Tele-Access in Business, Management, and Work

5 The Reach and Boundaries of Management and Business: Virtual Organizations
6 Redesigning the Workplace: Challenging Geographical and Cultural Constraints on Access

Part IV. Public Access in Politics, Governance, and Education

7 Digital Democracy: Electronic Access to Politics and Services
8 Knowledge Gatekeepers: ICTs in Learning and Education

Part V. The Virtual City: Shaping Access in Everyday Life

9 The Intelligent Household: For Richer and Poorer
10 Wiring the Global Villege: Shaping Access to Audiences

Part VI. Industrial Strategies and Public Policies

11 Regulating Access: Broadening the Policy Debate
12 The Politics of Tele-Access: Social Relation in a Network Society

Appendix the Programme on Information and Communication Techologies (PICT)

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications