Libraries & Culture 39.1 (2004) 108-109
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Only Connect: Shaping Networks and Knowledge for the New Millennium. By Trevor Haywood. London: Bowker-Saur, 1999. 330 pp. $64.00. ISBN 1-85739-2167.
Studies on the "current" state of technology often run the risk of finding themselves outdated almost as soon as they roll off the press. It is therefore a testament to Trevor Haywood's keen understanding of the fundamental forces that drive technologies and our interactions with them that his book is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was published in 1999. From the start, Only Connect highlights issues that have today become the center of news and debate, from the growing cultural divide between the Western and Islamic worlds to the almost inevitable scandals of huge corporate conglomerates, and sets them in terms of rapidly expanding information and communication technologies (ICTs). The central problem for Haywood is whether, in an increasingly and more discrepantly wired world, our ability to communicate and connect with each other is valuably increasing or only becoming more diluted. As he states in his preface: "[T]he emotional and social context is still where we live, it is still the driver of all the things we value, and this book is as much about that context as about the tools we use to connect and communicate" (xv).
Haywood's concern is, of course, not a new one. But in a period when so many writers on the social implications of technology seem locked into either Luddite nostalgia or techno-deterministic possibility, Haywood presents an insightful and refreshingly objective perspective on where we have been in the past century, where [End Page 108] we now stand at the beginning of the twenty-first, and where we might direct ourselves in the future. His book balances a recognition of the values and potentials of ICTs with a thoughtful consideration of the necessity for unmediated communication in our lives. "ICT offers us tremendous convenience and is always seductive because of that but there are times when the inconvenience of moving around to meet people will result in better transactions, better decisions and better understanding" (96). While displaying the invaluable possibilities of telecommunications to collapse distance, Haywood also offers many examples of the importance of physical proximity in promoting ideas and innovation, whether in corporate and technological "hotbeds" or just in our personal lives.
After considering how ICTs have influenced our current lifestyle, including their effects on our conceptions of family and work, Haywood turns in the later chapters to explaining the corporate and government policies behind the rise and current state of telecommunications and the internet. These sections provide a necessary and excellent background to Haywood's larger discussion of our interactions with technologies, lucidly untangling the complicated web of mergers and acquisitions among telecommunications and media companies across the world. He lays out a concise history for the reader, from the forced break-up of AT&T into the Baby Bells to the current battles among multimedia con-glomerates seeking to bring nearly every ICT point of access under their own umbrella. Haywood's firm grasp of both European and U.S. policy also allows him to explain clearly the intricacies of the globalizing market and communications forces that have brought us into the twenty-first century, and, as he explores in chapter 6, where they are likely to take us in the near future.
The scope of the book is necessarily broad, which often leaves the reader wishing that the issues it raises were considered more thoroughly. But whether the reader is approaching the book from an academic or corporate background or as an introduction to communication policies and issues, Haywood offers many valuable insights on the still young field of ICT and its implications for human relationships. And it is to that emphasis on the human side of technologies that Haywood always returns, continually questioning how our advancements in connectivity may or may not impact the "defining" elements of our lives and relationships with each other. As our ability to...