There is much discussion, in industrialized countries, about moving into a post-industrial society.16 As described above, the transformation from an industrial to a post-industrial society is powered by innovations in electronic technology which have permitted the merger of the computer and the telecommunications industries. The emerging post-industrial society is generally viewed as based on information in contrast to the industrial society which is based on energy.

However, what about developing countries which are still largely pre-industrial societies? There are three options for such a developing country:

  • It can remain a pre-industrial society.
  • It can become an industrial society.
  • It can "leap-frog" from a pre- to a post-industrial society.
The first option is unacceptable. Poor countries can not live any longer alongside rich countries without creating intolerable social tensions. This tension will be intensified in a "global village" where the media confronts the poor daily with the contrast. The second option is unacceptable. Our planet could not sustain the industrialization of the developing countries. We are already pushing toward the limits to growth.17 This leaves the third option. The "leap-frog" strategy is therefore worth considering - even if only as the least of three evils.

This third option for the Third World is often dismissed with a number of arguments. It is a rationalization for depriving developing countries of the benefits of industrialization. Industrialized countries will not permit it since they wish to dump their obsolete technology on developing countries. (Alvin Toffler argues that we are now dumping an entire obsolete society on them by recommending that they repeat our mistake by moving into an industrial society - that is, taking option 2 above.) Developing countries want the old technologies since they associate them with the rich life-styles of developed countries.

Timing in the presentation of ideas is very important. If it is presented too soon, it is viewed as preposterous; if it is presented too late, it is viewed as obvious. One must hit the moment between the what! and the so what?. The "leap-frog" idea is still preposterous but, in our fast-moving times, may very soon become obvious. The first of this chapter is a small contribution toward inhibiting the tongue-jerk response of dismissing the "leap-frog" hypothesis as preposterous and, by presenting some arguments for it, however naive they may sound, helping it towards the obvious.

5.31: Pre and Post-Industrial Societies are Alike

Leaping industrial society with a single bound sounds as if it would cause great social upheaval. However, the "frog" may be smaller than we think. One desirable vision of the post-industrial information society has more in common with pre-industrial society than with industrial society. It emphasizes decentralization (trading telecommunications for transportation), living in small, intimate, rural communities, cottage industry (production by the masses rather than mass production). It is a global village and not a global metropolis.

It might, paradoxically, be easier to move to a post-industrial society from a pre-industrial society. There is less inertia to overcome from the established outmoded technology. The dramatic post-war recoveries of Japan and West Germany have been partly attributed to being "bombed back into the Stone Age". The war enabled them to start fresh by destroying their obsolete equipment. There is also less inertia to overcome from the established outmoded minds. The emphasis on images over words in a post industrial society is more congenial to pre-industrial peoples who have perceptual rather than conceptual-based cognitive systems. Anthropologists have often reported that pre-literate peoples have an incredible aptitude for working with modern technology.18

The facts that the Grassroots database (containing information for farmers) is the most successful in all the field trials of teletext and videotex systems to date and that farms have been a prime market for sales of personal computers hint that the information society and the agricultural society may be quite compatible.

16   See, for example:
Bell Daniel, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Basic Books, 1973.

Masuda, Yoneji, The Information Society as Post-Industrial Society. Tokyo: Institute for the Information Society, 1980.

Nora, Simon & Alan Minc, L'Informatisation de la SociÈtÈ. Paris: Documentation FranÁais, 1978.

Porat, Marc Uri, The Information Economy, Palo Alto, California: Stanford Centre for Interdisciplinary Research, 1976.

Serfini, Shirley & Michel Andrieu, The Information Revolution and its Implications for Canada. Ottawa: Communications Economics Branch, Department of Communications, November 1980.

17   Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers & William W. Behrens 111, The Limits to Growth. New York: New American Library, 1972.

18   Carpenter, Edmund, Eskimo Realities. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973.