Information society

From Academic Kids

An information society is one which the creation, distribution and manipulation of information is becoming a significant economic and cultural activity. The knowledge economy is its economic counterpart whereby wealth is created through the economic exploitation of knowledge.

The information society is a new kind of society. Specific to this kind of society is the central position information technology has for production and economy. Information society is seen as successor to industrial society. Closely related concepts are post-industrial society (Daniel Bell), post-fordism, post-modern society, knowledge society, Telematic Society, Information Revolution, and informational society (Manuel Castells).

One of the first people to develop the concept of the information society was the economist Fritz Machlup. In 1933 Machlup began studying the effect of patents on research. His work culuminated in the breakthrough study "The production and distribution of knowledge in the United States" in 1962. This book was widely regarded (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=227258) and was eventually translated into Russian and Japanese. The Japanese have also studied the information society jōhō shakai (情報社会, Umesao), which means the highest stage of societal evolution seen in analogy to biological evolution. This concept was discussed already in the 1950s and 1960s. [1] (http://infosoc2.informatik.uni-bremen.de/lehre/ig/WS99-00/studienbrief/abschnitt1_3.html)

There is currently no universally accepted concept of what exactly can be termed information society and what shall rather not so be termed. Most theoreticans agree that we see a transformation which started somewhere between the 1970s and today and is changing the way societies work fundamentally. Information technology is not only internet, and there are discussions how big the influence of specific media or specific modes of production really is.

Some people, such as Antonio Negri and Newt Gingrich, characterise the information society as one in which people do immaterial labour. By this, they appear to refer to the production of knowledge or cultural artifacts. One problem with this model is that it ignores the material and essentially industrial basis of the society. However it does point to a problem for workers, namely how many creative people does this society need to function? For example, it may be that you only need a few star performers, rather than a plethora of non-celebrities, as the work of those performers can be easily distributed, forcing all secondary players to the bottom of the market. It is now common for publishers to promote only their best selling authors and to try and avoid the rest- even if they still sell steadily. Films are becoming more and more judged, in terms of distribution, by their first weekends performance, in many cases cutting out opportunity for word of mouth development.

Another problem with the idea of the information society is that there is no easily agreed upon definition of the term, which can not only include art, texts, blueprints and scientific theories, but also lies, football results, trivia, random letters, mistakes and so on. Information is not necessarily productive or useful. It can even be harmful.

Considering that metaphors and technologies of information move forward in a reciprocal relationship, we can describe some societies (especially the Japanese society) as an information society because we think of it as such (James Boyle, 1996, 6).

One of the central paradoxes of the information society is that it makes information easily reproducible, yet corporations need to confine it, or demarcate it in some way, otherwise they cannot sell it and make a profit. This is also one of the central political struggles, will open source beat copy restriction, will all of the natural world be gradually copyrighted so that you cannot use biological functions without paying a licence fee. In many parts of the world it is hard for farmers to grow crops without paying agricultural companies for seeds. They cannot use saved seeds.

One issue which makes information much more important than before is the integration of photography, film, etc. with the computer; which moves gradually from being a universal machine to being a universal media-machine. Another important issue is the close relation between information technology, modes of production and globalization.

Caveat: Information society is often used by politicians meaning something like "we all do internet now"; the sociological term information society (or informational society) has some deeper implications about change of societal structure.

See also: World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)


The Information Society is also the title of an sociological journal, founded 1981, which defines itself as a "critical forum for leading edge analysis of the impacts, policies, system concepts, and methodologies related to information technologies and changes in society and culture" (homepage).


Information Society was also a musical group, see Information Society.

See also

fr:Socit de l'information ja:情報化社会 pl:Społeczeństwo informacyjne uk:Інформаційне суспільство

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