An analysis of the information age in the 20th century

While the organization, identity and practices of data processing departments appear to have been quite stable across industries, Yates tells the story of information technology use within the life insurance industry as a self-contained narrative.

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Magnetic-core memory was developed from the research of Frederick W. Much less historical attention has been devoted to the use of computers than to the history of computer technologies and of computer manufacturing firms. These chapters also include some brief discussion of the organizational changes around the technology: feasibility studies, personnel issues, and worries about technological unemployment. Stories told from the viewpoint of the computer and its creators inevitably tend to produce tales of disruption and sudden upheaval. As historians come to grips with the business history of the end of the last century and the beginning of this one there will be few industry historians who can avoid the topic. The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. This is an observation of disciplinary norms rather than a criticism, and her narrative moves smoothly and convincingly throughout.

This technology led to digital televisionGPSand satellite radio through the s and s. In Structuring the Information Age, JoAnne Yates tells the story of the use of computers and tabulating machines within the life insurance industry.

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But to ascribe such actions to a firm is as much of a simplification as to ascribe it to an individual. Public digital data transmission first utilized existing phone lines using dial-up , starting in the s, and this was the mainstay of the Internet until broadband in the s. Managers complained about the perceived lack of loyalty of the computer staff, whose primary identity often formed around machines or skills rather than a particular organization or even industry. These case studies, sourced in part from interviews with managers involved in events, help to bring some texture to the story and demonstrate the interplay of industry-wide trends with personal and cultural factors specific to individual firms. The use of tabulating machines by insurance companies from the s onward is the subject of the next three chapters. Structuration theory aims to reconcile the freedom of individual action with the power and persistence of social structure. Yates provides a particular service by showing how identical machines were used in different ways by different firms. Throughout the book, she provides just enough detail on the technological capabilities of different generations of tabulating machines and early computers to support her analysis of their business applications. Early information theory and Hamming codes were developed about , but awaited technical innovations in data transmission and storage to be put to full use. This technology led to digital television , GPS , and satellite radio through the s and s.

A flood of books describing information technology use in different industries will sooner or later appear, and their authors will find Structuring the Information Age an invaluable guide and model.

Recent work by scholars such as James CortadaMartin Campbell-KellyJon Agar and me Haighhas begun to explore the role of organizations and individuals as users of information technology.

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Like most historians, Yates devotes little explicit discussion to methodological or theoretical questions.

Throughout the book, she provides just enough detail on the technological capabilities of different generations of tabulating machines and early computers to support her analysis of their business applications. The new ranks of technology managers and specialists, mediating between the practices and cultures of business and those of the computer room, faced a set of conflicts and challenges familiar to anyone who has leafed through a book of Dilbert cartoons.

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Structuring the Information Age: Life Insurance and Technology in the Twentieth Century