Open Journal Systems

Book Review Book Review

Global Ties Through Information.
Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association, 1989. 155 p. ISBN 0–87111–343–X. $25.00.

This monograph pulls together a collection of papers that were presented at the State–of–the–Art Institute in Washington, October 17–19, 1988. There are two perspectives in discussions on information management: information as a national resources to be guarded jealously; and information as a global resource, the access to which is an inalienable right of every individual. These perspectives often result in conflicting agendas. The schism between so–called North and South, with the North’s suspicion of the South’s call for a “New World Information and Communication Order” (leading to the withdrawal of the U.S. and Britain from UNESCO), is only one of the arenas in which the conflict is played out. The paper by Lee Edwards has the “information–as–a–global–resource” bent which re–emphasizes the need for global cooperation in managing information resources. To wit: “the open flow and sharing of information are essential for the economic and scientific progress and the political freedom of nations, as well as the promotion of international peace and harmony.” Edwards cites the concerns of developing countries and with information policy and resources domination, and supports the call for an international agreement to guide nations in the information economy.

Joseph N. Pelton’s article, “International Satellite Networks: How They are Changing the World,” emphasizes the shrinking of the globe made possible by advancd information technology, especially satellite technology and its communications networks. The paper is not so much about satellite networks as it is about the advancing information technology and the new opportunities that it opens up, what he refers to as “telepower.” Pelton’s discussion of telepower vs. teleshock brings to the fore a concern with the likely social–political and economic consequences of futuristic information technology, a concern that is all too often apt to be swept under the rug. For example, his discussion of the “electronic immigrants” demonstrates how, with the help of information technology–especially satellite communication networks – information processing–related jobs could easily be moved to countries with cheaper labor; products could be transmitted almost instantaneously to the employing country. This means that, for example, the concern American labor has had about the danger of immigrants driving wages down would have to be extended to “electronic immigrants”: persons who work here but are not really here.

An interesting suggestion is that telepower might increase organizational size by creating megacorporations to operate in the global market. The author cites the trend among large corporations to expand their technology base by acquiring other information technology firms. Pelton’s article is rich with eye–catching euphemisms. Examples: tele–war, tele–terrorists, tele–medicine, and the emergence of a new [tele–species]: homo electonicus!

Among the papers there are practical examples of information global–ties. Noreene Z. Janus describes the works of CARINET, a data communication network based in Washington, that facilitates transborder dataflow. CARINET “links users in Asia, Africa Europe, Latin America, the United States, and Canada,” providing communication access to commercial databases (it is noted that the first request for this access was from Botswana), “on–line specialists” (who can lessen the need for international travel and heavy consultant fees), e–mail networking, and computer–based long–distance university education. Janus takes issue with those who claim the computer only adds costs to communication and that the telephone by itself is a more cost–efficient method of communication in developing countries. She argues that data communication over the telephone like is a more efficient and cost–effective use of the channel, but this does not exclude the traditional use of the telephone.

Almost in passing, Janus raises a very important issue which unfortunately is not addressed adequately by her paper, i.e., the role and effect of national information policies in transborder data flow (this is explored later by two other authors in the volume). The author notes that although packet switching is an efficient and cost effective method of routing communication messages, some countries have made a policy decision not to join the international packet switching dada network (PSDN). Some of the reasons are intriguing as they are poignant: “(1) fears of inability to control the data traffic; and, (2) preferences for telex which, because the data move at slower speeds, brings more revenues.” Other policy problems may include prohibition of transmitting data our of the country (data export) or even carrying any data over phone lines. Janus reminds us that though the promise is great in this new telecommunication technology, the cost is still prohibitive for most developing countries; she suggest a rate structure for education and development–related communication similar to that of postal rates for printed material.

Oswald H. Ganley’s paper paints a gloomier picture of the effect, on developing countries, of international communications and information in the 1990’s. While the success of many newly–industrialized countries has been made possible by adopting information–intensive economics, the author declares that “many LDCs will remain at a near subsistence level as the world nears the year 2000.” Yet he also seems to blame developing countries for an increase in sophisticated electronic methods of violating proprietary intellectual rights, e.g., by putting cheap imitations on the market, copying cassettes, etc. I think the author was just trying to make the point that it is easier to do this nowadays, anywhere.

Mark D. Director’s article gives a succinct account of how national and international information policies affect the flow of data across national boundaries in developed countries and notes that the trend is for unrestricting the flow. Karl P. Sauvant continues the discussion by identifying the United States as being the champion of this liberalization, as it also stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries due to its increasing market share in service transactions. He notes that a structural change is occurring in the economies of both developed and developing countries, towards an emphasis on service and data transactions. Sauvant warns us that: “The ingrained intellectual bias in favor of the goods sector must be corrected if we want to understand the realities of today’s domestic and international economic developments.”

R. Brian Woodrow enumerates some of the conflicts/tensions emerging from international information and telecommunication policies, especially when they are placed in trade policy perspective. He describes a web in which the manufacturer, the service provider, the user, and politics that affect information and telecommunication policies interact to define the form of the international information networks and the range of data services offered. Woodrow observes that many Third World countries are paying little attention to the development of international telecommunication and information networking, as their energy is not focused on domestic networks. They also tend to hold fast to their monopolies in communication networks. This situation is likely to create conflict when outsiders need competitive access to those domestic networks or when technology renders the monopolies irrelevant. Furthermore, international trade in telecommunication and data services is likely to complicate the position of developing countries regarding telecommunication monopolies.

The problem of language as a factor in transborder data flow is demonstrated by the case of Japan, as discussed by Makiko Miwa. The author notes that journal literature published in Japanese is seldom covered by international bibliographic databases while much of that published in English is. Furthermore, most of the world’s scientific and technological literature is in the Roman alphabet. Due to the difficulties posed by Japanese characters, information–processing technology has not advanced as in countries with the Roman alphabet. It costs more to process Japanese characters than it does alphanumeric ones, at least for now. Because of this language and script problem, Japan is in the respect similar to developing countries in its dependence on foreign databases, despite the problems of the Roman alphabet. Unlike developing countries, however, Japan has the resources to create local databases in Japanese, and it does. As a result of increasing global needs for access to Japanese data Japan is even looking towards the export market for its databases. This of course uncovers the converse problem of other users trying to access Japanese literature. It is interesting to note that developed countries are beginning to educate some of their citizens for fluency in Japanese, especially in the area of science and technology.

The last part of the volume, “International Collaboration: Real World Information Sharing,” seems to promise the reader several perspectives on the use of telecommunication systems to manage emergencies, but in the end only Robert Lee Chartrand actually discusses this important topic, although he fails to provide an international perspective.

This slim volume is essential reading for anyone interested in the global aspects of information policy and telecommunications issues. It manages to address many pertinent problems and opportunities that will result from the inevitable global interdependence in the information resources management arena.

About the Reviewer

John N. Gathegi is Assistant Professor of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University. A native of Kenya, he had extensive library experience there before moving to the United States. He has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, plus master’s degrees in librarianship and political science. A specialist in the sociology of information, information policy, scientific communication, and technological change, Dr. Gathegi is now participating in the FID Special Interest Group on training for information resources management in developing countries.

© 1990 John N. Gathegi.

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