work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Stonier’s “microelectronic revolution” – a forgotten concept?

06.15.2012 · Posted in Uncategorized

I came across this more by accident (partly because I’m not greatly attracted to the author’s cosmic theories…), but Tom Stonier’s 1983 text on the “Microelectronic Revolution” not only predicts the crumbling away of the Soviet Empire when faced with the possibilities of new communication technologies, but also outlines the pattern that recently brought down a string of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. One would expect a revival – but so far Jaap van Till’s talk on the influence of social media on the progress and the obstruction of the revolutions in the Middle East is the only reference made to it I could find. What Stonier had to say nearly thirty years ago now sounds trivial (see the below quote), but given that this is decades before Twitter and Facebook… actually: it is before most people knew that there is such a thing as the internet, and given that it is written a good three years before Gorbachev ascended to power in the SU, this is quite amazing.

When it is no longer possible to control information flows from the centre,  it becomes almost impossible to  control public opinion.  The emergence of  a significant body of  public opinion opposing a regime on any specific issue, places an authoritarian regime in a predicament. Either it follows public opinion, or  it becomes repressive. In the first instance it cedes decision-making power, In the second, it alienates support.  (Stonier 1983: 145)

Not only that – while the Reagan administration was still sending the anti-Soviet Islamists in Afghanistan Stingers that they would later have to buy back dearly for fear of them being used in anti-American terrorist attacks, Stonier sees that for the next decades the major security threat will come from … Islamists. Now that may not such a great feat – but he also saw that in the end both nationalist and religious authoritarianism in the Middle East will encounter the same problems as the Soviet system before them. In my previous post I highlight the panicked reaction of religious authorities in Iran when confronted with oppositional music videos on Youtube… here’s waht Stonier had to say four years after the Islamic Revolution:

Some time early  in  the  next century even  the  Ayatollahs  will  be overtaken by the Communicative Era. The pace at which this will happen will depend on the policy stance the West adopts. This, then, becomes one of the major tasks for political scientists: to understand the impact of the new  microelectronic information technology on global society  and to develop a sound theory of political change on which political leaders can base their decisions. (Stonier 1983: 151)

Stonier, Tom (1983): ‘The Microelectronic Revolution, Soviet Political Structure, and the Future of East/West Relations’, in: The Political Quarterly, Vol.54, No.2, pp.137-51

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