Modernity and Technology

John Feather (Department of Information Science, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Feather, J. (2004), "Modernity and Technology", Library Review, Vol. 53 No. 6, pp. 335-335.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The relationship between modern and post‐modern culture and the technologies which sustain it is complex and controversial. Both the academic information scientist and the practising information manager or librarian need some insights into it if they are to have some conceptual understanding of the framework within which both the discipline and the related professions actually operate. An understanding of how technology and society inter‐relate cannot be achieved from a single disciplinary background. Sociologists, anthropologists, communication scientists, media specialists and even information and computer scientists have distinctive contributions to make, not least to one another's understanding of their own disciplines. The papers in the book – originally delivered at a conference held at the University of Twente in The Netherlands in 1999 – make many meaningful contributions towards this wider understanding.

Most of the contributors have an academic background in the social sciences, but the wide range of their individual expertise is well reflected in the spread of topics which they addressed. The theoretical and conceptual frameworks, within which an understanding of the issues might be developed, are explored in considerable detail in four important papers, including the introduction by the senior editor. The very idea of modernity is examined by the other two editors in their respective contributions. The fourth of these papers looks at the issues in the context of feminist theory, a neglected approach to technology studies. At a more concrete level, later papers address specific topics, including some which are based on case studies of particular experiences in the application of technologies in modern societies. All explore, in different ways, the central conundrum: is technological change a consequence of modernity or a necessary pre‐condition of it? And all take us far beyond that simplistic formulation of the problem. For the newcomer to the subject, or for someone seeking a brief yet authoritative introduction, the paper by Junichi Murata is an excellent starting‐point.

There is, however, as Arie Rip points out in his Afterword, a distinct lack of specificity in some aspects of some the papers. One cause of this is perhaps the very theorising which is one of the strengths of the book. Another, however, is that the changes with which the papers are concerned are simply happening too quickly. In the modern technological world which the authors seek to analyse, in the four years since the papers were delivered (and in the five or six since some of the underlying research was presumably conducted) the pace of change has certainly not decreased. The gaps between the technologically advanced and the rest of the world (both socially and geographically and in both cases with profound economic consequences) have probably increased. Every new sophistication of technology takes one group further ahead and leaves more people further behind. The issue of the relative pace of change needs to be addressed. So too does the consequence not merely of failure to change, but of the consequences of changes elsewhere. Exclusion is rapidly becoming one of the central social themes of the information society, and has perhaps been re‐emphasised by the developments of the last five years. The use of the key technologies of the post‐modern world – cheap and mobile digital information and communications systems – lies at the heart of an understanding of how economically advanced individuals, organisations and societies now function. However, an understanding of the true meaning of their absence for those with no access to them is just as important. That perhaps should be the subject of another conference, and perhaps of one whose proceedings could be published more expeditiously.

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