Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Digital Spreadsheets – Techno-Epistemological Power over People and Resources

Posted on | September 27, 2018 | No Comments

In previous posts, I wrote that digital spreadsheets had emerged as a constitutive technology that can shape perceptions, organize resources, and empower control over the lived experiences of people and the dynamics of social organizations. In this post, I look at how communicative, command, and cultural dynamics provide an important context for the use of spreadsheets and the production of power within various organizations. Spreadsheets are used in many ways in an organization and by many people. Who can use the spreadsheet? Who can enter information? Who can make decisions based on that information?

Understanding spreadsheets helps us see how they work in organizations and how they are implicated in the reproduction of their information practices and institutional memories over time. I previously described the different media components of the spreadsheet that come together to create the gridmatic framework that registers, classifies, and identifies new conceptual understandings of organizational dynamics. These institutions or collectivities can be a neighborhood coffee shop or a global corporation; they can be a local Girl Scout Chapter or an international NGO.

Spreadsheet use is a techno-epistemological practice that alters the structural reality of the organization and operates in the enabling and constraining aspects of its operations. They combine media and computational capabilities in ways that conceptualize organizational realities by inventorying and tracking resources, providing comprehensive schematic views, and facilitating managerial decision-making by modeling situations and providing “what-if” scenarios. Techno-epistemological practice is the production of knowledge or justified belief. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a person to know something? What gives spreadsheet knowledge its validity?

Spreadsheets are noted for their ease of use and a familiar tabular visual format for organizing and presenting information. Its central technology is the list, which has a long history of being integral to the management of palaces, temples, and armies.[1] Its table structure adds additional dimensions by combining columns and rows of lists that intersect at individual cells. The tabular grid of cells enhances the viewing and structuring of data values by using labels and annotations. Additionally, the computational capabilities of the spreadsheets connecting groups of cells and the low levels of competency needed for formulaic programming enhance their organizational effectiveness.[2]

For my analysis of spreadsheet power, I have often drawn on the work of Anthony Giddens, particularly his theory of “time-space power” that has information management and communication at its core as they “stretch” social institutions over durational time and geographic space. He identified three structural properties that work together to provide the cohesion institutions need to maintain themselves and grow over time. These are signification (meaning), domination (power) and legitimation (sanction).[3] An organizational agent utilizes these structures, called modalities, for social and operational interactions – communication and interpretive scheming; facilitation and provisioning; as well as; norms, shared values and proscriptions. Giddens sometimes uses the term “discipline” that resonates better with what I’m trying to argue than “domination,” so I will often use the latter term.

Gidden’s “duality of structure” describes some of the limits and possibilities of human action in a social context. The structure defines both rules and resources for the human operative as well as constraints and enabling factors. It acknowledges the knowledge-ability of the agent as well as the limits of rationality.

These structures simultaneously enable systems of comprehension and action for organizational agents. Together these structures often provide overlapping systems of cognition that form the communicative, command, and cultural dynamics of modern organizations. When spreadsheets are integrated into the organizations, they become implicated in the complex workings of these structural properties and, subsequently, they propel social organizations through time and across spatial dimensions, or what Giddens calls “time-space power.”


For the most part, my analysis of the spreadsheet has focused on signification. Words, list-making, table construction, and algorithmic formulations create points and grids of cognitive significance that produce the intelligibility of the spreadsheet. Each representation is structured by their own sets of rules and dynamics. Writing uses phonographic lettering (or ideographic in the case of Chinese and Japanese Kanji) systems with words and sentences organized by grammar and syntax.[4] The list is simple but profound – it is a non-syntactic ordering system that can be combined with columns to organize classification systems of major consequence. Tables create flexible grids of meaning that can show patterns, relationships, and connections.

Likewise, the placement system of numbers and the role of zero in a base-10 positional system helps organize accounting and financial systems. Indo-Arabic numerals standardized a book-keeping and calculative system that structured organizational dynamics and propelled global capitalism.


How does the spreadsheet work within an organizational context? How are spreadsheets connected to the power dynamics of a modern organization? The notion of power is complex, but as Giddens argues, it is key to structuring and stretching organizations over time and across spatial distances. Power operates to ensure the repetition and expansion of institutional practices and/or to intervene to create changes and disrupt an organization. It has a transformative capacity, sometimes enabling, and sometimes dominating. What conditions provoke which transformations? Budgets, in particular, work to organize resources in an organization, and the PC-based spreadsheet made it easier to enter data and change information to suit different goals.

Giddens emphasizes that control over resources is one key to power in an organization. Power can be authoritative – control over social actors such as employees, volunteers, inmates, students, soldiers, etc. With a spreadsheet, each person is identified, registered, classified, and associated directly with responsibilities, eligibilities, and accountability. Power can also be allocative – control over the distribution of material resources such as computer equipment, vehicles, office supplies, etc. Control may be a strong term, depending on the institution; administering, coordinating, or leading are some other terms that may be useful to understand how spreadsheets help manage authoritative and allocative resources.

Authoritative power defines the capability of agents to manage the social environment of the organization through a combination of disciplinary and motivational practices. Disciplinary power is enhanced by the spreadsheet in that information-keeping is simplified and visually expressive. Spreadsheet information is usually abbreviated (as opposed to the file), and situationally limited and organized with comparison with other personnel in mind. For example, as I coordinate teaching schedules, the spreadsheet lists courses, times, days, and instructors. Take this satirical quote from Colm O’Regan, an Irish stand-up comedian and writer:

    As much as oil and water, our lives are governed by Excel. As you read these lines somewhere in the world, your name is being dragged from cell C25 to D14 on a roster. Such a simple action, yet now you’ll be asked to work on your day off. It is useless to protest. The spreadsheet has been printed – the word made mesh.

Spreadsheets can provide a surveillance function when tracking detailed information on performances and can be used to compare different workers, students, patients, etc. Spreadsheets can also “organize the time-space sequencing” of events and actions when organized as time-tables. Contrarily, spreadsheets can be organized to monitor accomplishments and assign monetary or other awards.

The other category of resource power, allocative, involves control over material objects and goods. Allocation has to do with the distribution of resources, and provides a key nexus of power in organizations when only certain individuals are empowered to use or apportion resources. Think of a military structure where the chain of command signifies the power to assign duties to subordinates or allocate provisions such as food, water, and ammunition to different units. The development of different types of barcodes and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technologies are ways modern information systems are used to track resources and integrated right into spreadsheet formulas.

It is no accident that the privatization era emerged concurrently with the spreadsheet. While a number of historical forces converged to facilitate the mass transfer of public wealth into private hands, the spreadsheet became the enabler – listing, commodifying, and valuing resources. The transition of government-owned telecommunications systems or Post, Telephone and Telegraph organizations (PTTs) into state-owned enterprises and finally into publicly-listed corporations required the identification and inventorying of assets such as copper cable lines, telephone poles, and maintenance trucks.

Spreadsheets provided an extraordinary new tool to cognize and help control the resources of an organization, including its people. It is useful to include an analysis of power when examining the spreadsheet and its use in organizations as it is involved with both the control of authoritative and allocative resources and their implication in the reproduction or transformation of organizational routines.


The third structural property for social interaction, legitimation, deals with the norms or sanctions that operate within an institution. Giddens emphasizes that human action is crucial in the enactment of organizational structures. Their social identities and organization status emerge out of the interplay between signification, domination and legitimation in a process he calls “positioning.” Legitimation deals with moral constitution of the organization, its rights, its values, its standards, its obligations. It defines codes of conduct such as appropriate dress and way people are addressed.

Human actors negotiate their situation with their own knowledge and skills sets and the organizational contexts that provide the “rules” for appropriate actions and behaviors. Agents draw on stocks of knowledge gathered over time via memory, social cues, and signified regulations to inform him or herself about what is acceptable action. They anticipate the rewards of that action by considering the external context, conditions, and potential results of that action and its time-space ramifications. They learn to work within the guidelines of the organization, how to do the jobs they are assigned and how to read the political dynamics.

Different organizations have varying criteria for success and sanction. Success generally relies on some measure of competence while sanction refers to both the constraining and enabling aspects of authoritative power and involves permissions and penalties. What behaviors will be encouraged or penalized? What sets of values are rewarded? Who will be held accountable for certain actions and outcomes?

Those in the organization who know how to use spreadsheets for various tabulation, optimization, and simulation purposes in support of decision making have a decided advantage. Spreadsheets have been acknowledged for their support in managerial success, primarily because of their ability to model situations and provide “what-if” scenarios. The spreadsheet table combines cells that hold assumptions, cells that contain tentative values, and a formulaic framework that produces a prediction.

In this post, I attempted to connect how spreadsheets work with some of the communicative, cultural and political processes that occur in institutions to enable control over people and material resources. In particular, I show how a combination of resources, rules, and roles work to structure the relations in institutions and convey important messages about the degree of power held by different people and positions. Although often criticized for safety and usability, spreadsheets are part of the organization’s information system that propels it through time, and across space. More ethnographic research is needed to better understand the role of spreadsheets in the organizational context.


[1] Jack Goody’s (1984) Writing and the Organization of Society is noted for its historical research on the power of the list.
[2] Bonnie A. Nardi and James R. Miller (In D. Diaper et al (Eds.), “The Spreadsheet Interface: A Basis for End-user Programming,” Human-Computer Interaction: INTERACT ’90. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1990. Spring, 1990.
[3] “Structuration Theory in Management and Accounting,” by N.B. Macintosh and R.W. Scapens
“Structuration Theory in Management and Accounting N.B. Macintosh and R.W. Scapens” in Anthony Giddens: Critical Assessments, Volume 4. edited by Christopher G. A. Bryant, David Jary.
[4] “Differential processing of phonographic and logographic single-digit numbers by the two hemispheres,” by



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Cyberpunk Genre as Social and Technological Analysis

Posted on | August 13, 2018 | No Comments

I once taught a Freshman seminar at New York University in Information System Management (ISM). The course was introductory and only two credits so I felt we needed a focused, yet comprehensive set of analytical concepts to shape our discussions and assignments about ISM in the modern world. I decided to use the “cyberpunk” genre (a subgenre of science fiction) to look at the relationship between current digital technologies and the types of societies they were engendering.

Frances Bonner’s “Separate Development: Cyberpunk in Film and TV” in Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of the Narrative HAL-ICON(1992) pointed to cyberpunk’s “…frenetic pace, the excess of information, the inverted millenarianism (figured especially in various forms of decay) and the concentration on computers, corporations, crime, and corporeality–the four C’s of cyberpunk film plotting.”[1] All four “C’s” were integral components of the “Cy-Fi” literary classics such as Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) and William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) as well as films such as Blade Runner, The Matrix and the Terminator series.

Interestingly, cyberpunk has since gone mainstream and produced major blockbuster movies. Tony Stark, in the Ironman series, for example, certainly embodies corporeality with the Ironman exoskeleton, the corporation with Stark Industries, and computers with networked augmented reality. Its villainy indicts several sources including disgruntled Russians and aliens – not standard cyberpunk icons but an indication of the expansion of the genre towards “cy-fi” – cyberfictions. More recently, The Ghost in the Shell (2017) starring Scarlett Johansson reprised the anime classic by the same name. Created by Shirow Masamune, it became an animated movie in 1995.

Let’s discuss the 4 “C’s” in more detail:

Computers could easily be replaced with “cyberspace” as the combination of digital processing and networked communications provides a convenient point of departure for an analysis of contemporary cybersocieties. ColussusComputers initially appeared in literary productions as large, dominant “brains”, such as the giant computer in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) or HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), no doubt based on the SAGE computers built by IBM and MIT as a North American hemispheric defense system. By the 1980s, the network capabilities added new dimensions and thus plot devices. War Games (1983) drew on the history of the large mainframe computer (Whoppr) used for nuclear defense purposes but also introduced home terminals and a networked environment. Cyberspace soon competed with science fiction’s interstellar rocket-ship as the dominant literary icon.

Cyberspace is still often used to refer to realm of electronic communication. It usually refers to data stored in a large computer or network represented as a three-dimensional model through which a virtual-reality user can move. It is represented through graphics, keyboards, textboxes, and human-computer interfaces.

Corporations are organizations with limited liability. Investors are protected to amount of their investments and not liable for negligence or criminal conduct. They are designed to maximize profits for their investors and often with the ability to raise capital by selling shares to the public. Corporations often have a legal status as “artificial persons,” which gives them rights equal to citizens. This peculiar status emerged because of a legal decision called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad that applied the 14th Amendment to corporations. This amendment to the United States Constitution was originally designed to secure rights for the recently freed slaves.

Corporations are prevalent icons in the cyberfiction genres. Intelligent buildings such as Network XXIII’s headquarters in Max Headroom or DieHard‘s Nakatomi Tower represent the phallic connotation of corporate vitality. In the age of the ethereality of electric digital money, the marble and steel highrise is the material representation of modern power. In the theological context, where the power is arranged hierarchically, height attains a spiritual significance. In “real” life, the corporate Majestic Tower in Wellington, New Zealand was built next to St. Mary’s Catholic church and given a mocking halo of lights as the country’s elite embraced a new corporate mentality. Corporations are often represented through icons such as skyscrapers, board rooms, logos, AIs, stock prices, ticker tapes, executives.

Criminality is a standard literary device that was successfully applied to the cyberpunk genre. Known historically in crime fiction and especially for its use in the gangster genre. The gangster as a product of the new urban civilization confronted the contradictions of liberal capitalism with its promise of a classless, democratic society. The genre pitted desire against constraint, where the gangster violates the system of rules and bureaucracy in the name of tragic individualism. The gangster character-type with its propensity towards dramatic action and individualistic profiteering has long been a vehicle for politicizing capitalism’s perennial problems — alienation, debt, greed, poverty, and unemployment. While most cyberfiction reifies the individual neo-liberal hacker and “his” struggle against officialdom, its more politicized forms point to skill base and capital investment required of high tech corporate espionage. Criminality in fiction is often represented by icons such as dress, weapons, language, violence, bling, computer hacking, and mug shots.

Corporeality is one of the most intriguing and under researched areas of the cyberfiction domain. What is the relationship between human bodies and technologies? How do technological developments augment or replace the human body. How can the body be bio-engineered? How can the body be commoditized? Drugs, implant devices, and external aids such as eyeglasses and hearing aids are some of the ways technology has been used to augment or control the human body. Cybernetic organisms, Donna Haraway’s “Cyborgs” and Tim Luke’s “Humachines” constantly test the boundaries of what we consider human and what we consider machine. Corporeality is often represented by icons such as mind-body and other interfaces, drugs, and interchangeable body parts.

Bonner suggested that narratives can be categorized as “cyberpunk” when they include some combination of computers, corporations, crime, and corporeality.[2] The 4 Cs of cyberpunk genre analysis provides categories to examine the technological, economic, medical and legal issues facing modern societies. They can guide the explorations of not only various imagined futures but the types of visual and auditory techniques that shape our mental constructions of worldly environments and possible speculative outcomes of current trajectories.


[1] Frances Bonner’s Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of the Narrative (1992) (Slusser, G. and Shippey, T. eds. Athens: University of Georgia Press)
[2] ibid, p. 191.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Java Continues to be the Most Popular Programming Language

Posted on | May 31, 2018 | No Comments

It has been a while since I reviewed the most popular programming languages. The top 10 most popular programming languages according to the statistics gathered for the TIOBE Index for May 2018 are:

  1. Java
  2. C
  3. C++
  4. Python
  5. C#
  6. Visual Basic .Net
  7. PHP
  8. Javascript
  9. SQL
  10. Ruby
  11. R

The TIOBE Index uses several search engines to calculate the programming languages in which most lines of code have been written over the course of a month. In first place is the Java language that was developed by Oracle’s subsidiary Sun Microsystems in the mid-1990s.

Java was developed for interactive TV and mobile devices but found a more immediate home in the emerging World Wide Web. Sun had open-sourced the Java language under the GNU General Public License (GPLv2) in November 2006, so anyone else could copy and use its code. Java has consistently been in the top 5 programming languages for the last 15 years as has C and C++.

Java was a source of contention between Oracle and Google due to its influence on the Android operating system. Oracle claimed Google had infringed its Java copyright by using 11,500 lines of its code in its Android operating system. In 2016 Google won the Android case that protected the idea of “fair use” for APIs (application programming interfaces). The news was welcomed by developers who rely on access to open-source APIs to develop various services.

Java is valuable for developing apps in Android and is also popular in the financial field for electronic trading, confirmation, and settlement systems. Big Data applications like Hadoop, ElasticSearch, and Apache’s Java-based HBase also tend to use Java. It is also preferred for artificial intelligence (AI), expert systems, natural language, and neural network applications, mainly because of the availability of Java code bases and Java Virtual Machine (JVM) as a computing environment. It is also used for developing driverless car technology. Java tends to safer, more portable, and easier to maintain than other C languages.

Large organizations tend to use Java more than smaller, start up companies. If you want to work in start-up locations like San Francisco or Austin, Texas you might want to learn Python or a variation of Javascript. Seriously consider Java if you want to be employed in major cities with a high concentration of corporations, government agencies or research institutes.

Having said this, programming languages like C++ and Python continue to be popular. Python is probably the easiest to learn and is popular with Google Chrome and YouTube. Here are some other indexes that monitor the use and popularity of computer programming languages.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. From 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea, Marist College in New York, Victoria University in New Zealand, and St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas where he keeps his American home. He spent 9 years as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

YouTube Meaning-Creating Practices

Posted on | May 28, 2018 | No Comments

Youtube has emerged as the primary global televisual medium, attracting about 1.3 billion viewers from countries around the world with over 5 billion videos watched every day. People suck up some 3.25 billion hours of YouTube videos each month and over ten thousand Youtube videos generated over 1 billion views since they were posted. Youtube contents range from homemade DIY videos to professional high definition television productions.

Youtube also provides opportunities for new publishers or “vloggers” covering a wide range of topics. Together, the world’s 10 highest-paid YouTube stars made $127 million in the year between June 1, 2016, and June 1, 2017, almost double the year before.

One big star to emerge on YouTube is Daniel Middleton (DanTDM) who made US$16.5 million last year. Middleton is a British professional gamer, and his videos primarily cover games like Minecraft, Plants vs. Zombies, and other favorite games that DanTDM’s primary audience, young kids, enjoy. Here he reviews the massive hit called Fortnite.

What makes DanTDM’s YouTube videos successful? What does he do to keep the viewer’s interested in his content and what keeps his audience coming back for more? How does he create entertainment and meaning for those who watch his show?

This series of posts will set out to explore a crucial relationship in (digital) media studies – between cultural/technical production practices and the meanings and feelings that are produced by those practices. Media production involves a combination of equipment and processes to capture and construct various images, edit sequences, and integrate audio and sound effects to produce specific results. Can we use some of the same analytical techniques to “interrogate” YouTube channels?

A good deal of related work has been done on television and film content. By exploring camera shots: close-ups, zooms, pans, shot composition, as well as montage: cutting rates, parallel editing, reaction shots, wipes, etc., important meaning-making practices can be discerned in the realm of YouTube videos.

Social media apps like YouTube present significant new complications in understanding the power of the global mediasphere. One area of concern are the metrics associated with YouTube. Ratings were always a significant part of television services to determine the value of programming. Youtube measures “views” and adds likes, dislikes, shares, playlisting, and subscribers to measure the credibility and commercial viablity of a channel. But vulnerabilities in the system allow many of these numbers to be tweaked by the “fake-view” ecosystem that has grown around YouTube.

YouTube has become a new frontier for media studies. The opportunity exists now to pioneer strategies for understanding this intriguing visual medium and the sets of meanings they create. What techniques are used in YouTube “channels?” What types of persuasive techniques are effective on YouTube channels. How do they differ from techniques used in film and television? Who is driving the narration of the video and what voices are they using?

But there are broader issues to address as well. What are the cultural, economic, and social implications of YouTube? What new ideas and cultural forms diffuse via Youtube? What economic activities and opportunities are made available through the platform? What impact will YouTube have on existing institutions?


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Anchoring Television News

Posted on | May 8, 2018 | No Comments

“The news is privileged discourse, invested with a special relation to the Real.” [1]

The news anchor is a finely tuned instrument for television performance. Unlike print journalism where disembodied letters of information suggest an objective third person, the televisual anchor is intimate and direct. They lead the viewer through the news while “anchoring” their attention to specific topics. The anchor anchors meaning. The anchor fixes meaning, in the sense that connections are made and reinforced through the credibility of the speaker. The anchor emphasizes what’s important, and what is to be dismissed or ignored.

He or she, or both, believe in the news, and that makes all the difference. Groomed and conditioned into the voice of authority, the anchor trades in the currency of assurance and credibility.

As the anchor is a guest into the homes and offices of the viewer, they must be trustworthy, well groomed, appropriately dressed, and present the sufficient manners appropriate to such an intrusion. But as they make themselves at home, anchors engage in light banter, laughing and joking with each other, including the viewer, albeit vicariously, in their community.

The anchor pulls the viewer into the hyper-real globe of television news and establishes the link between the world and its representation. As surveillance of the world is one of the key aspects of mass media, the viewer is transported around the world, peeking in on floods and coups, hurricanes and elections, earthquakes and ethnic cleansings. The viewer is included in the sphere of politics and economics.

When the anchor reads the news, computer graphics are often used. In particular, charts give a dynamic, historical validity to the news. A graph of a company’s share price tracked over the last month gives an empirical rhetoric to the argument. A three-month chart of a company’s stock price, for example, reconfirms the anchor’s argument about the relative strength or weakness of that company.

Or now, the anchor can be totally designed as a computer graphic.

This post introduced some aspects of a formalistic analysis of television news. By examining the “anchor” of TV news, it suggests that television news has rhetorical dimensions that influences business decisions, government policies, and personal world-views.



[1] Morse, M. (1986) “The Television News Personality and Credibility: Reflections on the News in Transition. In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. (ed.) Tania Modleski.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. From 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea, Marist College in New York, Victoria University in New Zealand, and St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas where he keeps his American home. He spent 9 years as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Posted on | March 8, 2018 | No Comments

The Global Innovation Index (GII) signifies the key role of innovation in economic growth, competitiveness, and sustainability.

Co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the GII attempts to identify and measure key innovation drivers that assist countries in developing policies to increase employment, improve productivity, and support long-term output growth.

The index is based on data from several sources, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. It provides key insights on a wide range of national metrics that help policy-makers develop legislation and regulations that can facilitate economic activity. It currently assesses data in 127 national economies covering over 92% of the world’s population and 98% of global GDP.

The GII Report ranks world economies in terms of their innovation capabilities and results, recognizing the need for indicators that go beyond traditional measures of innovation such as research and development (R&D).

The GII publishes its data in seven major categories called “pillars.” Five input pillars comprise the Innovation Input Index
and capture elements of the national economy that enable or enhance innovative activities: Institutions, Human Capital and Research, Infrastructure, Market Sophistication, and Business Sophistication. Two pillars called the Innovation Output Index capture actual evidence of successful innovation outputs: Knowledge and Technology Outputs, and Creative Outputs.


The Institutions pillar captures the political economy framework of a country. These include political environment, political stability and absence of violence/terrorism, government effectiveness, and the regulatory environment. Business confidence and flexibility is important too and includes regulatory quality, rule of law, cost of redundancy dismissal, business environment, ease of starting a business, ease of resolving insolvency, ease of paying taxes.


This pillar gauges the human capital of countries and includes education levels and expenditures on education. This includes assessment in reading, mathematics, and science as well as pupil-teacher ratios in secondary and tertiary education and rankings of universities. Also considered are graduates in science and engineering, gross expenditure on R&D, and global R&D companies.


The third pillar measures information and communication technologies (ICTs), general infrastructure, and ecological sustainability. ICT includes ICT access, ICT use, government’s online services, and online e-participation. General infrastructure includes electricity output, logistics performance, and gross capital formation. Ecological sustainability measures GDP per unit of energy use, and environmental sustainability performance such as ISO 14001 environmental certificates.


The Market sophistication pillar has three sub-pillars structured around credit, investment and market conditions, trade, and competition. Areas include micro-finance, and venture capital as well as the total level of transactions.


The fifth enabler pillar tries to capture the level of business ability to assess how conducive firms are to innovation activity. These include number of knowledge workers: employment in knowledge-intensive services, firms offering formal training, and females employed with advanced degrees. Innovation linkages include university/industry, cluster development and research collaboration. Intellectual property and royalty payments have become prime indicators of innovation as are high tech imports, ICT services imports, and research talent in business enterprises.


This pillar covers all those variables that are traditionally thought to be the fruits of inventions and or innovations. These include knowledge creation, patent applications by origin, scientific and technical publications, and the rate of GDP per person engaged. Technology outputs include total computer software spending, high-tech and medium high-tech output, knowledge diffusion, intellectual property receipts, high-tech exports, and ICT services exports.


The last pillar on creative outputs measures the role of creativity for innovation. Areas include: intangible assets, trademark applications by origin, industrial designs by origin, ICTs and business model creation, ICTs and organizational model creation. Creative goods and services include cultural and creative services exports, national feature films produced, global entertainment and media market, printing and publishing output, and creative goods exports. Another area is online creativity such as generic top-level domains (gTLDs), Country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs), Wikipedia yearly edits, and Video uploads on YouTube.

These two indicators, the Innovation Input Index and the Innovation Output Index are averaged to compute the GII. The first combines five pillars while the second includes the last two and each score is calculated by a weighted average method. The overall GII score is the average of the Input and Output Sub-Indices. Below are scores tallied for the 2017 Report.

Global Innovation Index 2017 Rankings [Top 15]
Rank Country
1 Switzerland
2 Sweden
3 Netherlands
4 United States
5 United Kingdom
6 Denmark
7 Singapore
8 Finland
9 Germany
10 Ireland
11 South Korea
12 Luxembourg
13 Iceland
14 Japan
15 France



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Posted on | February 11, 2018 | No Comments

Starting “Down Under”
One of the first “guinea pigs” for the new system of digital monetarism was New Zealand. A one time a leader in the development of the “welfare state,” the small two-island nation-state in the deep Pacific Ocean had run into economic problems by the early 1980s. It had borrowed heavily during the previous decade, and its agricultural products were increasingly excluded from the rich United Kingdom markets due to their increasing participation in the European Community. New Zealand’s attempts to industrialize also ran up against rapidly escalating inflation, especially oil costs. The economy struggled, and a financial crisis ensued that would turn the tide of the country.[2]

In 1984, a new Labour government was voted in under Prime Minister David Lange. It was also a time when an active environmentalist and pacifist movement was growing in the small country. Subsequently, the new government voted to restrict nuclear vessels from coming into their ports. The decision represented a major diplomatic problem as the country was party to the ANZUS Treaty. This treaty brought the nation along with Australia under the defensive protection of the United States. As US policy was never to confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons on any of its ships, it effectively meant that no US ships could port in New Zealand.

Consequently, Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz traveled deep into the Pacific to meet with the leaders of the new Labour Government. Shultz had been Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of the Treasury and one of the architects of the Reagan economic changes. The contents of the meeting are sketchy, but the result was that New Zealand could keep its non-nuclear status but needed to undergo major economic restructuring in line with what was going on in the US and in Britain under Margaret Thatcher.

Under the direction of New Zealand’s Treasury and Ministry of Finance, a new strategy for the country was developed. Their Economic Management (1984) report contained the seeds of their intended transformation from a “Welfare State” to a new kind of “Enterprise Society” lubricated by digital financial activities. The new government instituted radical reform measures to cut government spending, implement a neo-liberal regulatory regime, “reinvent” civil service and privatize many government organizations, including the Post Office. The intention was to monetarize the national political economy in conjunction with emerging global financial and trade practices.

“Rogernomics” as it came to be called, was a strategy for reviving the sluggish and debt-ridden economy by refocusing on private exchanges or what are aggregately called “markets.” Named after Labour’s Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, the national program offered a host of measures designed to dismantle its welfare apparatus. Drawing on its strong export trade of animal and natural resource products and, New Zealand attempted to provide its citizens with free education, healthcare, unemployment insurance, and social security. The new Labour-led government would focus instead on cutting fiscal expenditures, streamline bureaucracy, sell off state assets, as well as liberalize trade and control inflation.

In 1985, the Labour Party government launched a review of the Post Office. Its final report recommended transforming the postal service into three state-owned enterprises. The government in 1986 passed through parliament the State-Owned Enterprises Act that corporatized several government agencies into state-owned enterprises (SOE).

The New Zealand Post Office’s corporatization was completed with the 1987 passage of the Postal Services Act. Along with the SOE Act, the legislation broke up the New Zealand Post Office into three corporations: the postal service New Zealand Post Limited, the savings bank Post Office Bank Limited, and the telecommunications company Telecom New Zealand Limited. Within a few years, PostBank and Telecom were privatized, and only New Zealand Post remained a state-owned enterprise. [3]

Central to the new strategy was the deregulation and privatization of the telecommunications sector. Previously, the sector was under the purview of the New Zealand Post Office (along with the national bank system) and operated like a traditional PTT. But under this new system, the telecommunications company was first valued and corporatized as a state-owned enterprise (SOE) and then sold off.

Throughout the world, the telecommunication infrastructure would be the regime of digital monetarism’s first target. The reason was twofold. First, telecommunications was identified as the main conduit for both domestic and transnational business. Digital monetarism needed the fluid movement of information and electronic money within and through national borders. The national telecommunications system, while mainly bureaucratic and voice-based, still presented the best opportunity to create a modernized data communications system. The second reason was that, because of the high level of investment needed for a modern telecommunications, a privatized “telco” would be a major listing on a domestic stockmarket and was a high priority for investment bankers.

Telecommunications companies became almost universally the largest companies by market capitalization (current share price times the number of shares sold) by the end of millennium. After a period of deregulation and modernization, New Zealand sold its Telecom SOE government to Bell Atlantic and Ameritech, two American “Baby Bells”. It also partially floated its shares on public stock markets and soon became the largest listing on the New Zealand Sharemarket. When the selloff occurred in 1989, it was announced with the expectation that it would retire 1/3 of the government debt.

The experiment was a move towards a newly liberalized market economy centered around digital financial transactions and telecommunications. It was led ideological by attacks on the Keynesian system of economic management but was driven by the global debt crisis of the 1980s. New monetary liquidity emerged after Nixon dismantled the Bretton Woods system of currency regulation and technological innovations were once again applied for financial gain. Companies like Reuters developed new computerized systems for currency trading and global news and a global “information standard” emerged that replaced the gold standard as the system for ordering the global economy.


[1] Herb Schiller quoted in his son ’s book, Digital Capitalism, p. 71.
[2] Britain had resisted joining the EEC because of its existing trading obligations with the Commonwealth, primarily former colonies including New Zealand. Also continental interests, primarily France, were suspicious of the British ties to the US. But as the post-WWII economic boom continued in Europe, it became too attractive and on January 1, 1973 Britain was admitted into the EEC. France agreed, partly because it represented a balance to Germany’s power.
[3] Patrick G. McCabe, (1994) “New Zealand: The Unique Experiment in Deregulation,” in Telecommunications in the Pacific Basin: An Evolutionary Approach. Edited by Eli Noam, Seisuke Komatsukzuki, and Douglas A. Conn. New York: Oxford University Press. Originally presented at the Pacific Telecommunications Conference.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Characteristics of Economic Goods and their Social Implications

Posted on | January 20, 2018 | No Comments

In a previous post, I wrote about how media products can be considered “misbehaving economic goods” because most don’t conform to the standard product that is individually owned and consumed in its entirety. Economics is mainly based on the assumption that when a good or service is consumed, it is used up wholly by its one owner. But not all goods and services fit this standard model.

Media products like a cinema showing or a television program have different characteristics. They are not consumed by an individual owner, and it may be difficult to restrict non-paying users/viewer/consumers from enjoying them. Cinemas can project one movie to large groups because it is not diminished by any one viewer although it need walls and security to keep non-payers out. TV and radio began by broadcasting a signal out to a large population. Anyone with a receiver could enjoy the broadcast. Cable distribution and encryption techniques allowed more channels and the ability to to monetize more households. These variations raise a number of questions about the ownership and consumption of different types of products and their economic analysis.

The characteristics of goods and services also raises questions about how society should organize itself to offer these different types of economic products. Media products and services have required a fair amount of government regulation and sometimes government ownership of key resources. Some goods, like fish, are mainly harvested from resources like lakes, rivers, and oceans that prosper if they are protected, and access restricted from overuse or pollution.

In this post, I will outline four categories of economic goods that need to be considered in today’s digital age with its global economy and changing social systems of governance. The major issues are 1) the degree of consumption or “subtractibility” and 2) whether non-paying consumers can be excluded from their consumption. Media products tend to be non-rivalous and non-excludable and are generally considered to be either “club goods” or “public goods.” Consequently, they are a useful point of departure to talk about other types of goods.

Private Goods

The standard category for economic goods is private goods. Private goods are rivalrous and excludable. A person eating an apple consumes that particular fruit, and it is not available for rivals to eat. Yes, an apple can be cut up and shared, but it is ultimately “subtracted” from the economy. Having lived in apple country, I know you can enter an orchard and steal some fruit. Economists like to use the term households, partially because many products, such as a refrigerator or a car, are shared among a small group of people. Other examples of private goods include food items like ice cream, clothing, and durable goods like a television set.

Common Goods

Common goods are rivalrous but non-excludable. This means that they can be subtracted from the economy, but it may be difficult to exclude others from non-payment. Fishing results in catches that are consumed as sashimi or other fish fillets, but the lakes, rivers, and oceans make it difficult to exclude fishing activities. Similarly, groundwater can be drilled and piped to the surface, but it is difficult to keep others from consuming from the same source. Public libraries loan out books making them unavailable to others. Table space and comfortable chairs at libraries can also be taken up, although it is difficult to exclude people from them.

Club Goods

Club goods are non-rivalrous and excludable. In other words, they cannot be consumed with usage, and it is possible to exclude consumers who do not pay. A movie theater can exclude people from attending the movie, but the film is not consumed by the audiences. The audience doesn’t compete for the cinematic experience; it shares the experience. That is why they are often called “collective goods.” These goods are usually made artificially scarce to help produce revenue.

Software is cheaply reproduced and not consumed by a user. However, the history of this product is wrought with the challenges of making it excludable. IBM did not try to monetize software and focused on selling large mainframes and “support” that included the software. But Micro-Soft (Its original spelling) made excludability a major concern and developed several systems used to protect software use from non-licensees. It only recently moved to a more “freemium” model with Windows 10. This strategy takes advantage of network effects and makes sure it gets out to a maximum amount of people.

Public Goods

The other category to consider are those products that are not subtracted from the economy when consumed and whose characteristics make it difficult to exclude nonpaying customers. Broadcast television shows or radio programs transmitted by electromagnetic waves were early examples. Carrying media content to whoever could receive the signals, the television broadcasts were not consumed by any one receiver. It was also difficult to exclude anyone who had the right equipment from enjoying the programs.

The technological exploitation of radio waves presented challenges for monetization and profitability. While some countries like Britain and New Zealand charged a fee on a device for a “licence” to receive content, advertising became an important source of income for broadcasters. It had been pioneered by broadsheets and newspapers as well as billboards and other types of public displays. As radio receivers became popular during the 1920s, it became feasible to advertise on its signals. In 1922, WEAF, a New York-based radio station charged US$50 for a ten-minute “toll broadcast” about the merits of a Jackson Heights apartment complex. These later became known as commercials and were adopted by television as well.

Cable television delivered programming that was also not rivalrous but developed techniques to exclude non-paying viewers. They broadcast content to paying subscribers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or light pulses emitted within fiber-optic cables. Set-top boxes are needed de-scramble and decode cable channels allow subscribers to view a single channel. Unfortunately, this has led to monopoly privileges and has resulted in many viewers “cutting the cord” to cable TV.

Generally recognized public goods also include firework displays, flood defenses, sanitation collection infrastructure, sewage treatment plants, national defense, radio frequencies, Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) and crime control.

Anti-Rival Goods

What happens when a product actually becomes more valuable when it is used? It is possible that an economic good not only be not be subtracted but increase in value when it is used, and increases its value when used by more people. A text application has no value by itself, but as more people join the service, it becomes more valuable. This is an established principle called network effects.

Merit Goods.

Merit goods are goods and services that society deems valuable and the market system does not readily supply. Healthcare and education, child care, public libraries, public spaces, school meals are examples. Merit goods can generate positive externalities that circulate as positive effects on society. Knowledge creates positive externalities, it spills over to some who were not involved in its creation or consumption.

These are not necessarily all public goods. While medical knowledge is becoming more readily available, a surgeon can operate on a person’s heart, and her resources are not available to others. Hospital beds are limited and medical drugs and subtracted when used. An emerging issue is medical knowledge produced through data science techniques. The notion of public goods is increasingly being used to guide policy development around clinical data.

Economic Goods and Social Policy

Market theory is based a standard model where products are brought to market and are bought and consumed by an individual buyer, whether an individual or a more corporate environment. But as mentioned in a previous post, some products are misbehaving economic goods. A variety of goods do not fit this economic model and as a result present a number of problems for economic theory, technological innovation, and public policy.

Much political debate about economic issues quickly divides between free-market philosophies that champion enterprise and market solutions on the one hand, and economic management by government on the other. The former may be best for private goods, but other goods and services may require alternative solutions to balance production and social concerns. Much of the US technological development was ushered in during the New Deal which recognized the role of public utilities in offering goods like electricity, telecommunications, and clean water for sanitation and drinking. The move to deregulation that started in the 1970s quickly became more ideological rather than practical. Digital technologies emerged within market philosophies, but practical questions have challenged the pure free enterprise orthodoxy.


Media products are misbehaving economic goods in that they do not fit the standard model of a market with products that are consumed by an individual consumer. Modern economics is largely based on the idea that goods are primarily private goods. But as we move towards a society based more on information and digital processes, we need to examine the characteristics of the goods and services we value. We need to design systems of production and distribution around their characteristics.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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