(Reprinted with permission from the Washington Post, written by Mike Mills.)
In 1985, David Byrne wrote a song called “In the Future,” in which he lampoons those who make predictions for a living: “In the future there will be so much going on that no one will be able to keep track of it.”
To lapse into techno-utopian future-speak is one of the obvious dangers of writing a book about technology. Another, of course, is that the subject matter evolves so rapidly, the book usually is out of date before it gets shipped to the stores.
Frances Cairncross avoids neither of these pitfalls in The Death of Distance. But for the forgiving reader who needs a quick layperson’s fix on the Information Age, her book is a useful guide.
Tying together themes that she has written about for The Economist, Cairncross’s message is that the steep fall in prices for international communications will cause enormous global economic and social change. Indeed, she claims, this will be “the single most important force shaping society in the first half of the next century.”
Well, we’ll see. Most of her supporting predictions are less hyperbolic and more interesting: Companies will organize work in three shifts according to the world’s three major time zones; location no longer will be important to most business decisions; small companies will compete with large on a global scale; and deregulated nations will form new commercial bonds, making them less likely to wage war against one another.
The book occasionally is eclipsed by events, and it tends to skip from topic to topic, without diving very deeply into any single area. But, most helpfully, Cairncross accurately describes why the Internet is important, how it will challenge today’s concepts of the telephone and television—and how it will be the catalyst for carrying out most of her predictions.