Taking apart the roads ahead: user power versus the futurology of IT

Article English OPEN
Gooday, G. (1998)
  • Publisher: Sage Publications

How often have futurologists ever succeeded in making accurate global predictions? Bell’s utopian vision of a leisure-laden ‘Post-Industrial’ society now seems hopelessly naive; Fukuyama’s ‘End of history’ thesis was arguably just a fleeting Reaganite delusion about the stabilization of post Cold War politics. Notwithstanding the failure of such widely hailed prophesies, and despite the lack of any well-attested laws about the historical development of information technologies, a brazenly upbeat futurology pervades many debates on new IT. This is most obviously the case in Bill Gates’ recently updated The Road Ahead. To challenge Gates’ prognostications about the future of information technologies, I will argue for the importance of users (vis-à-vis producers) in the social shaping and ‘consumption’ of IT, especially the power of many (if not necessarily all) such users to resist falling into futures that others prescribe for them. I contend that the non-passivity of IT users undermines the cogency of any claims about the inevitability of technological change, and helps to explain why so many past ‘futures’ of IT have never fully materialized.
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