Publisher: Blackwell Date of Publication: 2005
Price: £19.95 ISBN: 0 631 23332 6
Pages: xiii + 199 Format: Paperback

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1 - Uncovering the geography of the internet industry; 2 - Origins and shape of the internet; 3 - Mapping the internet industry; 4 - Economic clusters, knowledge circulation, and venture capital; 5 - Connecting venture capital to the geography of the internet industry; 6 - Finance and the brokering of knowledge; 7 - Foundation of the dot-com boom; 8 - Panning for digital gold; 9 - Dot-com hangover?



The first reaction of seeing this text here might be wonderment - what is an ecological site doing reviewing a computer text? Apart from the fact it's not strictly a computer text (it comes from a series entitled The Information Age Series) it actually strikes at the heart of a problem noted some years back. This reviewer was at an international education conference listening to the range of talks when the idea of computers came up. At the time the internet was new but many saw the benefits. At length, one African speaker stood up to note that computers were all very well but where did the electricity come from? His argument was that he could never use a computer because his part of the city (and it was a capital city and not a remote village) only had power for three hours and they never knew which three hours. It brought home the lack of resources still prevalent. Recent work on cyberspace has shown that there are vast areas of the world with virtually no impact on the internet at all. Here's the ecological side (and the reason this book was requested): if we have no knowledge of and communication with the majority of the world then we can't make good ecological decisions. Alternatively, all we get on the 'net is a one-sided view.

This is one of the first texts to try to put some spatial dimensions to an ostensibly aspatial medium. Despite people talking about the 'net being ideas and not places, the actual servers have to reside somewhere and be maintained by people in the locality. If we can see how it's constructed we might get a better idea about how it is being constrained. The opening chapter is a brief scene-setter. It notes the history and spread of the internet and outlines the research that went into the book. Chapter two is one of the most revealing for our purposes. It describes the origins and development of the internet in terms of both space and use. The steep climb in use is paralleled by the growth in physical locations . However, the most striking picture is that vast areas - Africa, S. America and most of Asia, are blank - they don't 'exist' in cyberspace. Chapter three look at mapping the internet in a more local fashion. Using the USA as the case study it shows how the original ARPANET boomed into the clusters we see today - not just California but other major centres as well. Much ecological information is provided 'free' courtesy of governments and NGOs but there is still the cost of infrastructure to be paid for - the boom in the internet helped fuel this expansion. Chapter four looks at how the early firms got hold of capital (with the argument here being that as more people went on-line so they would demand more information). Chapter five and six continue this focus on finance with a more detailed look at the way in which capital (initially wary of these new ventures) started to take notice and invest. So fast did money enter the system that it led to considerable hyperbole and, eventually, the dot-com boom - an event rightly compared to the Dutch Tulip Mania of the 17th Century. Like tulips, the dot-coms largely died out. Whereas the rise and fall are documented in chapters 7 and 8 it is chapter 9 that looks out from the wreckage to see where it might go in the future.

This is a most interesting text. Whereas its topic probably restricts itself to the more tech-oriented ecologists amongst educators and undergraduates it does have some important issues to raise that are more generally applicable. It shows how a universal idea is actually quite focussed in a few locations; that knowledge is more restricted than a simple website address might show and that if we are looking at global issues we might need to ensure we actually get a global focus. As the author notes this is one of the first attempts to look at this topic. Given that the series editor is the noted Manuel Castells one could hope for more texts of this quality to study, in detail, the spread of knowledge and the implications it has for all of us.


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