Few modern technologies are designed to stand alone. Because most machines must now fit into systems and be compatible with other technologies, the creation of standards has become a fundamental element of design and engineering. Conflicts such as the "color television war" of the 1970s and recent disputes over high-definition television (HDTV) highlight the complexities of the standard-setting process.
Susanne Schmidt and Raymund Werle present three case studies from the telecommunications industry to highlight the actors, the process, the politics, and the influence exerted by international organizations in the construction of standards. The case studies include the standards for facsimile terminals and transmission, videotex (a service that, with the exception of the French Minitel service, largely failed), and for electronic mail. The authors follow each trail from the realization by certain actors of the need for a standard, through the complex negotiation processes involving many economic, political, and social interests, to the final agreement on a standard. Throughout their stories, they emphasize the institutional embeddedness of these processes, demonstrating the value of an institutionalist approach to technology studies.
About the Author
Susanne K. Schmidt is Vicedean of the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences at the University of Bremen.