Does the Information Age predate computers? Does it, in fact, predate the Industrial Age? Though this thesis isn't explicitly examined in A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present
, the reader can't help but think about it throughout. Editors Alfred D. Chandler Jr. and James W. Cortada assembled a healthy mix of historians and management consultants to write the history of information services in America, and the very mild pro-business bias is more than balanced by the deeper insight into the companies and corporations that did much to spur technological change.
Fascinating nuggets of post-McLuhan media history lie within this sober analysis; it's startling to read of the antebellum U.S. Post Office refusing to deliver abolitionist materials to slave states, for example. These help to contextualize the information architecture we take for granted, as well as the innovations made possible by this architecture--imagine 50-story buildings without telephones. Though the editors profess no gift of prophecy for themselves or their authors, A Nation Transformed by Information will still give canny readers something to think about as they make their way through the Information Age. --Rob Lightner
"A grand story, stretching from colonial newspapers to the Internet. Information has been a driving force in American for 300 years, and anyone who wants to understand its role today would be well advised to read this book."--Hal Varian, University of California at Berkeley
"The chapters of this wonderful book take us through two centuries of technological, economic, and business history. The description and analysis of the present context and how it is likely to evolve is as rich as the historical analysis of the factors molding the use of information in the American economy in earlier years. What a treat!"--Richard R. Nelson, Columbia University
"This book provides a marvelous demonstration that the information didn't spring full blown from the creators of the world wide web, but has roots that reach back over three hundred years. The creation, propagation, and dissemenation of information has been a central characteristic of American life since the establishment of printing presses in multiple centers of the colonial economy. Through a well linked set of essays going forward through technological systems including the post office, the telegraph, the telephone, accounting and filing, radio, motion pictures, to computers and the internet, both the continuities and the discontinuities are made apparent. The several authors engage not only their readers, but each other as well. A Nation Transformed by Information
is important reading not only for historians, but for anyone who wants to understand the age of dot.com."--Sheldon Hochheiser, Corporate Historian, AT&T
"This collection represents a timely and accomplished effort to provide invaluable historical perspectives on the long road to America's contemporary, information-rich society. Readers will rapidly appreciate that the Information Age, for all its novelty, has emerged from durable private- and public-sector commitments to broadening and speeding this nation's information flows."--Philip Scranton, Rutgers University and Hagley Museum and Library