When the machines of the information society take over, will the old political machine throw a rod? Two Democratic Party activists answer in the affirmative. Noting the profound economic shift in the last half-century, which began with three in four workers being employed in manufacturing and is ending with a labor force largely centered on the knowledge or service industries, the authors suggest that decentralized, nonhierarchic organizations (including a streamlined government) are best equipped to respond in a timely way to new social and economic demands. For all the info-wonking of a Newt Gingrich or an Al Gore, the authors assert, neither right nor left understands this profound economic shift and the demands it makes on organizations of all kinds. Their call for a new politics, however, is less than resoundingly made. Hard-pressed to explain why Republicans won the 1994 elections, given their putative devotion to industrial-age politics, Winograd and Buffa prophesy the victorious rise of a ``New Democrat'' who will equip people to help themselves and crush the Contract with America. That prophecy seems to be mere wishful thinking, and the authors are no more specific elsewhere in the book, which abounds with airy pronouncements. There is, for instance, their assertion that the only way to address critical questions of public policy is to ``give up old ways of thinking and explore new possibilities for the future.'' This is a manifesto rich in data (the authors note that in 1995 Americans sent 2.2 billion fax messages abroad), but frustratingly short in thought-through ways to realize the authors' call for ``an entirely new political structure, in which each citizen will have the ability to take control of his or her own economic destiny.'' Students of the Information Age will find little new here, but Winograd and Buffa still offer useful points for debate.
Read full book review >