When Napoleon reorganized French administrative units, Frances Cairncross tells us, he chose a size for the departement that would permit officials to travel anywhere within it and still be home for dinner. As Cairncross observes, on-the-spot investigation was the quickest way to get information. Now, of course, the patchwork localism of the Napoleonic world is as dead as a dodo. Worlds created by more recent technologies are also dead and improved communications are making the one we live in obsolete far faster than many people think. Although saying "many people think" may sound like the condescension to which reviewers are prone, Cairncross shows that this is not so; she notes, for instance, that 40 percent of Americans still think of AT&T as their local telephone company, though it ceased to be so in 1984.
"The death of distance", we are told, "will probably be the single most important force shaping society in the first half of the next century." Cairncross is a little breathless about the electronic communications that will conjure new worlds into existence. Nevertheless, because her text is well informed and her prose lucid, and because the technological developments are intrinsically exciting, she is more persuasive about the future than other DNE (Dawn of New Era) writers. Although she concentrates on technology, she does also pay regard to the roles of deregulation and competition in forcing the pace of change. If there is a fault, it is that her conclusions about the benign cultural and political implications of modern communications are perhaps a little overly optimistic, or maybe just too premature, though this does not detract from the clarity and force of the book as a whole.