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Limits of the Information Age

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THIS is the Age of Information, made possible by the electronics revolution. During the Automobile Age, Detroit became the center of productive might, though that status has now shifted to Tokyo. The theme of the auto era, which is continuing in much of the world, was personal mobility. More recently Silicon Valley, Boston's Route 128, and other electronics park communities have become the centers of the economic elite, though they too are fading. The electronics era delivers fast, universal access to information. It creates a ``timeless'' work environment with information surging, say, between financial centers in London, Tokyo, and New York. Information companies become computer warehouses of data, taking just seconds to run a search for newspaper and magazine stories on almost any given subject. Because of computers, the development time for new products is measured now in months instead of years.

Novelties continue: A Boston computer expert has just created the first cloudless computer map of the globe's surface. New light-driven computers promise to be faster than electricity-based computers.

The impact of this information is still widening: The sudden political and economic changes overcoming the East bloc are in part laid to the electronic revolution. Images of Western prosperity have created expectations that cannot be satisfied by the creaking Marxist-Leninist system. The qualifying times for the global economic olympics have been falling faster than the East bloc's rate of technological gains.

The latest theories of ``time-based'' management urge companies to solve problems at the worker level. Hierarchy is thought too slow for removing bottlenecks. Information, not authority, is the key to influence.

But the information age, like the auto age that gave us smog and long commutes, has its downsides.

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