Can new information technologies explain the discontinuities in the history of the West? This innovative book presents evidence of an overall pattern generated by radical changes in media, arguing that the major social revolutions in the West have been preceded by innovations that drastically alter the relative importance of informational scale economies (the impact of production volume on unit cost) and network effects (the gain to each member of a network when a new agent joins). These factors establish the optimal structure of a society by determining whether decision-making is centralized, decentralized or instead distributed across multiple agents. Dudley contends that an innovation that alters the balance between scale economies and network effects initially has a dramatic result, blasting apart existing interpersonal networks; however later, out of the debris, a new society emerges.
The latest of these innovations - the integrated circuit - is currently generating a wave of creative destruction that is spilling over into the rest of the world. To understand the rebirth that seems likely to follow, we must examine not the recent past but the Dark Ages of European history and the intervening centuries.
With detailed case studies addressing the sources of innovation in information technology, along with a conceptual framework to explain their effects, this book will be of interest to students and teachers of Western economic and social history, as well as to the general reader with an interest in the social impact of innovation.
Leonard Dudley, Professor of Economics, Universite de Montreal, Canada
Contents: Preface Introduction Part I: The Contractual Revolution 1. Words and the Man 2. The Ring of Cities Part II: The Consensual Revolution 3. The Counter-Attack of the Clones 4. King, Lords and Commons Part III: The Pre-emptive Revolution 5. Printing with Steam 6. Instant Information Part IV: The Prescriptive Revolution 7. The Circulation War 8. The Self-fulfilling Prophecy Part V: Another Contractual Revolution 9. The Decentralization of Desire Conclusion Epilogue References Index