Page 1

Executive Summary

There has been a revolution in computing and communications in the past few decades, and all indications are that technological progress and use of information technology will continue at a rapid pace. These advances present many significant opportunities but also pose major challenges. Today, innovations in information technology are having wide-ranging effects across numerous domains of society, and policy makers, although currently lacking sufficient understanding and analysis of the consequences of their decisions, are acting on issues involving economic productivity, intellectual property rights, privacy protection, and affordability of and access to information, among other concerns. Choices made now will have long-lasting consequences, and attention must be paid not only to their technological merit, but also to their social and economic impacts.1

Despite the significance of these impacts for society, there has been relatively little investment in research to help understand, predict, and shape them. Among the reasons for this underinvestment are the rapid emergence of these phenomena and the difficulties in conducting the interdisciplinary work required to understand them. In the cross-cutting arena of the information economy, research on how information technology affects organizations and economic productivity can lead to better use of the technology for the benefit of society and individuals alike. Improved knowledge of how people interact with computing and communications technology, the circumstances under which people will benefit from it, and the differential impacts that such technology has on different communities can be incorporated as well into decisions affecting technology design and deployment.

To explore possibilities for research on the impacts of information technology and ways to assess these impacts, the Steering Committee on Research



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Page 1 Executive Summary There has been a revolution in computing and communications in the past few decades, and all indications are that technological progress and use of information technology will continue at a rapid pace. These advances present many significant opportunities but also pose major challenges. Today, innovations in information technology are having wide-ranging effects across numerous domains of society, and policy makers, although currently lacking sufficient understanding and analysis of the consequences of their decisions, are acting on issues involving economic productivity, intellectual property rights, privacy protection, and affordability of and access to information, among other concerns. Choices made now will have long-lasting consequences, and attention must be paid not only to their technological merit, but also to their social and economic impacts.1 Despite the significance of these impacts for society, there has been relatively little investment in research to help understand, predict, and shape them. Among the reasons for this underinvestment are the rapid emergence of these phenomena and the difficulties in conducting the interdisciplinary work required to understand them. In the cross-cutting arena of the information economy, research on how information technology affects organizations and economic productivity can lead to better use of the technology for the benefit of society and individuals alike. Improved knowledge of how people interact with computing and communications technology, the circumstances under which people will benefit from it, and the differential impacts that such technology has on different communities can be incorporated as well into decisions affecting technology design and deployment. To explore possibilities for research on the impacts of information technology and ways to assess these impacts, the Steering Committee on Research

OCR for page 1
Page 2 Opportunities Relating to Economic and Social Impacts of Computing and Communications held a 2-day workshop on June 30 and July 1, 1997, involving participants with expertise in economics, social sciences, and computer science and engineering. Since this was an endeavor of limited budget and time frame, centered on discussions and interactions among participants at a single workshop, the workshop steering committee focused on identifying and developing examples of some significant research issues and concerns, rather than aiming to cover the full range of relevant topics. The content of this workshop report thus reflects suggestions made and issues raised in workshop activities and in the position papers submitted by workshop participants. Chapter 1 outlines some of the trends in the growth of computing and communications discussed at the workshop and highlights several policy areas—including economic productivity, wage inequality, and technology design—in which interdisciplinary research involving both information technologists and social scientists can contribute to a better understanding of the economic and social impacts of information technology. The value of the social science approach, which draws on systematically developed theories of human behavior in combination with sound supporting data, is contrasted with the overreliance on anecdotes, extrapolation, and sloganeering that often characterizes the writing of pundits. Chapter 2 presents examples of cross-cutting research that has been conducted to understand information technology's influence in personal, community, and business activities and gives suggestions regarding important open research questions. Incorporating examples given at the workshop and in position papers, it indicates some ways in which use of methodology from economics and the social sciences might contribute to important advances, and it describes how interdisciplinary research between social scientists and information technology researchers might help to improve knowledge of outcomes affecting private life and the household, the community, the social infrastructure, and business and the workplace. Chapter 2 concludes with a list of broad research topics offered by the steering committee as examples of promising areas for ongoing research. Social science research depends on researchers having access to enough reliable data to establish a basis for reaching valid conclusions. Chapter 3 provides a brief overview of the types of data used by social scientists in their investigations and describes some of the problems encountered in data collection, management, and use. According to some workshop participants, researchers working at the intersection of information technology and socioeconomic issues confront a number of challenges related to the availability of data. Chapter 3 concludes with some suggested approaches to meeting these challenges. Based on discussions at the June 1997 workshop and on material in the position papers submitted by its participants, the steering committee identified several options for fostering interdisciplinary research and making the results of

OCR for page 1
Page 3 this research more accessible to the public and policy makers. Chapter 4 presents these options. The appendixes list the workshop agenda and participants and include a selection of the position papers submitted, as well as two additional background papers commissioned for the workshop. Examples Of The Applicability Of Social Science Research Presented at the 1997 workshop and in participants' position papers was an array of examples showing applications of the results of social science research to improve understanding of the economic and social impacts of information technology in different domains, including the following: • Private life and the household—Social experiments can be used to measure the impact of computerization on household members' behavior. • Community—Sociological studies can illustrate the differential impact of technology on user communities and members of organizations. • Social infrastructure—Economic analysis and historical studies can be used to illustrate some of the policy trade-offs involved in universal service.2 • Business and labor   — Social science methods can be used to examine decisions about organizational structure.   — Economic analysis of changes in labor markets can contribute to effective economic policy.   — Historical studies of technological adoption of the electric motor are relevant to current issues in computer technology.   — Sociological studies of technical support communities can contribute to better practices within those communities. • Information economy and society   — Historical analysis of intellectual property disputes can yield insight into current problems in this area.   — Economic analysis of networks can lead to greater understanding of market phenomena.   — Economic analysis of pricing can shed light on how online commerce will be conducted. Illustrative Broad Topics For Ongoing Research Workshop discussions and position papers yielded numerous suggestions for research topics. The list below was compiled by the steering committee as an illustrative set of promising areas for research.

OCR for page 1
Page 4 • Interdisciplinary study of information indicators—Researchers have recognized and begun to analyze the increasing role that information plays in all aspects of society. Interdisciplinary study could help to identify and define a set of broadly accepted measures of access to, and the use and impact of, information and information technology. Composite information indicators such as an interconnectivity index (characterizing the extent to which individuals, organizations, and businesses are linked to each other) and a marginalization index (characterizing the extent to which the benefits of information and information technology are not available to certain segments of society) could be established. • Impacts of information technology on labor market structure—To enable informed decision making on critical policy issues such as how to respond to increasing wage inequality (involving, for example, efforts to assess the potential benefits of additional investment in training), it is important to understand to what extent and how the use of computers might affect wage distribution. • Productivity and its relationship to work practices and organizational structures for the use of information technology—Gains in productivity come not only when new technology is introduced but also when new ways are found to use the technologies. Compilation of work that has already been done in this area is needed. Continued research also could illuminate how better to quantify the economic inputs and outputs associated with use of computers. • Intellectual property issues—Policy makers considering revisions to intellectual property law or international agreements, as well as firms evaluating possible approaches to protecting intellectual property, would benefit from continued theoretical and empirical research. • Social issues addressed at the protocol level—Widespread use of the Internet has ramifications in such far-reaching concerns as intellectual property rights, privacy protection, and data filtering. Exploring how these concerns might be addressed at the protocol level—through policies, rules, and conventions for the exchange and use of information—could prove to be a promising approach to addressing complex social issues arising from the use of new computer and communications technology. Approaches To Meeting Requirements For Data As was noted in workshop discussions and some of the position papers submitted by participants, approaches such as the following could contribute to meeting the requirements for data needed to study the economic and social impacts of information technology: • Making data related to the social and economic impacts of computing and communications available to the research community through a clearinghouse; • Exploring ways for researchers to obtain access to private-sector data; • Increasing data collection efforts by government;

OCR for page 1
Page 5 • Exploring the development of new multipurpose data sets by the research community; • Establishing stronger ties with industry associations to facilitate collaborative research; and • Exploring in workshop sessions uses of the Internet as a source of data on social interactions that take into account ethical and privacy issues associated with data collection, archiving, and reporting. Options For Fostering Interdisciplinary Research And Improving Access To The Results Of Research Based on discussions at the June 1997 workshop and material in participants' position papers, the steering committee identified several options for fostering interdisciplinary research and making the results of such research more accessible to the public and policy makers. • Encouraging interdisciplinary studies and collaboration between researchers in information technology and researchers in the social sciences and economics through use of the following:   — Interdisciplinary workshops to convene researchers with expertise in a range of fields to explore successful approaches to conducting research on the impacts of information technology, as well as to foster increased collaborative work;   — Interdisciplinary curricula to help prepare students for collaborative work with researchers in other fields; and   — Interdisciplinary fellowships to stimulate intellectual cross-fertilization and development of professional contacts. • Funding to strengthen interdisciplinary research through the use of the following:   — Evaluation of large technology system research proposals with attention to their inclusion of interdisciplinary research on behavioral, social, legal, and economic implications;   — Synergistic use of major research programs that build or deploy prototypes of computing and communications systems, so as to improve understanding of impacts and to enhance outcomes; and   — Collaboration with private foundations and industry so as to leverage resources. • Making the results of interdisciplinary research more accessible through the use of mechanisms such as the following:   — A World Wide Web page containing headlines and abstracts of policy-relevant social science research, pointers to the print and/or online published results, and regularly updated reviews of literature summarizing the state of

OCR for page 1
Page 6     the art in various fields as well as directories of specialists in particular areas; and   — Supplemental ways of disseminating the results of research, such as by providing testimony at hearings held by policy makers or organizing specialized briefings for policy makers. Notes 1. Throughout this report, the term ''impacts" is used as a shorthand expression to indicate a complex set of multicausal, multidimensional outcomes of the use of technology. Technology does not typically have a single impact, but rather a range of different outcomes depending on the context or settings. For more discussion, see Box 1.1 in Chapter 1 and Attewell's and Kling's papers in Appendix B of this volume. 2. Universal service is the practice of making telecommunications and information services—such as basic telephone service—available at an affordable price to all people within a specified jurisdictional area.