Americans, Europeans, and East Asians have been inundated with media coverage about the "Information Age," the "Internet," and on the "Information Highway," for more than a decade. Time magazine even named the computer its "Man of the Year" for 1983. The messages are similar: The Internet is new, the Information Age has suddenly arrived, everything is different. However, looking at the historical experience of the United States suggests a very different story.
A close look at the record clearly demonstrates that North Americans got on the Information Highway in the I600s and by the late I700s they were experiencing traffic jams. To carry the analogy further, Americans by 1800 could see highway construction underway (the U.S. postal system and roads for the mail to travel on), traffic regulations (copyright laws), and a variety of information vehicles cluttering the roads (e.g., newspapers, books, pamphlets, and broadsides). During the nineteenth century Americans applied electricity and creative tinkering to invent or highly develop key information technologies used around the world: telegraph, telephone, phonograph, and motion pictures, among others. In the twentieth century, they continued to add more vehicles to the Information Highway, most notably the computer and its smaller version, the ubiquitous personal computer. In short, Americans have been preparing for the Information Age for more than 300 years. It did not start with the introduction of the World Wide Web in the early I990s.
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate this fact, pointing out how North Americans embraced information as a critical building block of their social, economic, and political world, and invested in the development and massive deployment of the infrastructures and technologies that made it possible for all the "hype" about the Information