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Understanding the Web: Social, Political and Economic Dimensions of the Internet

Albarran, Alan & David Goff, eds. (2000). "Understanding the Web: Social, Political and Economic Dimensions of the Internet." Ames: Iowa State University Press. 289 pages. ISBN 0-8138-2527-X [hardcover].

Reviewed by Prof. Emmanuel C. Alozie, College of Arts and Sciences, Governors State University, USA

About sixteen years ago, when the Internet was evolving from military technology into civilian and commercial use, it promised to transform the way societies interact, conduct business, compete in the international market, deal with social welfare issues, and set agenda. To a large extent, it could be argued the Internet has fulfilled these promises in the developed world. It contributed to macro and micro structural changes in the economic system that led to the economic boom of the 1990s in Western nations. However, it should be noted that the Internet is yet to produce any discernible socioecomic impact in most developing nations.

Although many books have been written about the Internet, most dealt with how to use the Internet or how to create a web page. Few books have provided a thorough analysis of the social, political, economic, and cultural impact of the technology—as "Understanding The Web" promised and delivered. The strength of the book relates to its attempts to explore these issues in an analytical and descriptive manner without heavy reliance on theory. Albarran and Goff assembled a group of prominent scholars to produce this groundbreaking work on a technology that promises to keep shaping and impacting the way we trade, receive information, interact, and are entertained, as each chapter in the book demonstrates.

The demise of many information and communication technology oriented companies during the last year and a half has dampened the euphoria that greeted the more than one-and-a-half-decade-old technology and information economy it helped to build. The failures of technology firms have caused hundreds of millions of dollars to be lost. Thousand of jobs have been lost, and more job cuts are being expected. The U.S. economy that has been propelled with information and communication technology is sliding. The slide is being felt in other nations as some of world's leading economies stagnate. The exponential growth and use that was predicted about some years ago has not fully realized.

Chapter I explores the history and diffusion of the Internet. Chapter 2 examines how individuals, educators and government use the Internet people, while chapter 3 deals with how businesses and various organizations use the technology. Chapter 4 examines the growth and problems associated with electronic commerce, while chapter 5 addresses the importance of the Internet as a tool for marketing and strategic management. Chapter 6 addresses the role of the Internet as a newsgathering tool and its ethical implications. Chapter 7 addresses some of the vexing issues like security, privacy and protection of intellectual property that surround the Internet. Chapter 8 examines how the Internet has changed the political process, while chapter 9 expresses some concerns about Internet content. Chapter 10 examines the role of Internet in shaping world culture.

Chapter 10 exposes one of the key flaws in this book. As a technology that has produced a worldwide impact, any book on the subject should address the issue from a worldwide perspective. This book did not do so. It dealt primarily with the socioeconomic impact of the Internet in the United States. Although some chapters referred to other nations, supra-national organizations and multinational corporations, the book falls short of addressing the international impact of the Internet.

Notwithstanding, the contributors must be commended for providing a thorough analysis of the socioeconomic role of the Internet and for taking pains to address their subject without taking it upon themselves to predict an affirmative future for the Internet. The book takes the reader on a voyage of the Internet's short past, its present, and the future, but it does not promise to land you anywhere; rather, it casts you away and forces you to seek your way back. In an era when our culture seems to shun introspection and thoughtful thinking, this book is a welcome injection because it compels the reader to do just that. This is evident in chapter 11, in which Albarran and Goff attempt to synthesize and reach a conclusion based on the essay in the book. They fall short of capturing the essence of the book, but this is good because the failure poses as a challenge for the reader to keep thinking and exploring the role of the Internet in our lives and societies.

The digital divide that persists within nations and among societies has raised concerns. In addition to these problems, as the Internet technology evolves, it is also posing some challenges such as pornography, privacy, online security and protection of intellectual property. In view of the promises and challenges the Internet poses, the socioeconomic impact of the technology remains unpredictable, and the unpredictability of discerning the role of Internet in the national and international socioeconomic development represents the future of scholarship on the subject.

This review is not written in a manner that reveals every issue and debate that the contributors raised because that would be a disservice to the reader. Rather, it aims at raising your inquisitive mind and raising your curiosity to compel you to seek and read the text. I endorse it for undergraduate and graduate seminar classes because it is insightful and will compel students to think analytically. I recommend it for the general public and policymakers as well, because it serves as a guide as they explore the uncharted future of the Internet and the role in the lives of individuals and societies worldwide.

About Emmanuel C. Alozie

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