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06-07-2016, 00:24   #1
mzungu
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The Information Society

Sociologist Daniel Bell (1974) suggested that we were beginning to move towards an economy where knowledge was a commodity. This has been viewed by many as a foreshadowing of the 'information society'. Although no straight definition exists, the term 'information society' generally refers to the important role of information in our lives (Webster 1994).

In this world where information is now currency in the global economy, it has been suggested that the 'information society' is the successor to the Industrial Revolution.

There is no doubt that information is a key part of modern life. But what is doubt, is whether or not this is something completely new or merely a continuation of an older form?

Bell, D. (1974) The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Webster, F. (1994) What Information Society? The Information Society, Vol. 10(1), pp. 1-23.
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06-07-2016, 18:42   #2
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There is no doubt that information is a key part of modern life. But what is doubt, is whether or not this is something completely new or merely a continuation of an older form?
"Knowledge is power" has been attributed to Francis Bacon (Meditationes Sacrae, 1597), or "scientia potentia est" in Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1668), but in both cases such knowledge was powerful in that it was held by a few. Today's version was different given the extraordinary access to information via the web, and the expanding proliferation of information enabling hardware and software globally, that makes a substantial difference; i.e., information "society," rather than the esoteric access nested in academia, or other information rich niche groups.
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07-07-2016, 00:43   #3
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"Knowledge is power" has been attributed to Francis Bacon (Meditationes Sacrae, 1597), or "scientia potentia est" in Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1668), but in both cases such knowledge was powerful in that it was held by a few.
Indeed. It was similar in ancient Egypt where religious, astronomical and agrarian knowledge served as the bedrock of that society as the power was held by the few who had access it. The exact same can be said for Torah-knowledge in ancient Israel that served to structure society (Böhme & Stehr 1986).

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Today's version was different given the extraordinary access to information via the web, and the expanding proliferation of information enabling hardware and software globally, that makes a substantial difference; i.e., information "society," rather than the esoteric access nested in academia, or other information rich niche groups.
New technologies have allowed for instantaneous transactions. It could be argued that all that has changed is the speed. Webster (1994) asks us to consider if technology is the bedrock of this new society, then is there any specific reason we don't call it the 'automated society' or the 'cybernetic society'?

It could be argued that access to information is still held by niche groups. If we take Webster's (1994) example of the 'inner circle' corporate leaders:
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These are people who are empowered by communicative skills, analytical abilities, foresight, and capacities to formulate strategic policies, who also enjoy privileged educational backgrounds, connections through shared clubs and boardroom affiliations, plus access to sophisticated information and communications technologies. All of this provides them with extraordinary leverage over social, economic, and political affairs at the national and even international level. They are information specialists but radically different from the run-of-the-mill information workers that quantitative methodologists would crudely lump them with.
According to Webster, if we remove the veneer of new technology from society, it could be suggested that it features the same dynamics of knowledge that Hobbes spoke of. What we have today could be seen not as a radically 'new' information society, but rather a continuation of what has come before. That being a 'top down' society in which a small few still withhold the information that matters.


Böhme, G., & Stehr, N. (Eds.). (1986). The knowledge society: the growing impact of scientific knowledge on social relations (Vol. 10). Springer Science & Business Media.

Webster, F. (1994) What Information Society? The Information Society, Vol. 10(1), pp. 1-23.

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10-07-2016, 13:00   #4
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According to Webster, if we remove the veneer of new technology from society, it could be suggested that it features the same dynamics of knowledge that Hobbes spoke of. What we have today could be seen not as a radically 'new' information society, but rather a continuation of what has come before. That being a 'top down' society in which a small few still withhold the information that matters.
But technology cannot be removed, and although Webster may have merit in the short-run microcosm, in the long-run macrocosm he is in error. Certainly privileged wealthy and powerful groups attempt to keep access to their decision-making information proprietary (i.e., "knowledge is power"), but it's now too late to stop the continuous and rapid expansion of data access, the spread of the web, open source, and related enabling technologies globally. This data access and knowledge are going up geometrically, not linearly, and expanding rapidly to where few can keep up, including the power brokers, who in many cases had inherited, privileged, and exclusive access for centuries. Now we see dot-com billionaires spring up overnight, many of whom are not from the former established past or present aristocratic 1% moneyed class in the US and elsewhere. Such educated, free-thinking, and creative persons would have been burned at the stake 300 years ago, but now they are quickly displacing the old and stagnant aristocratic families as time and data access rapidly progresses.

By analogy, Prometheus (web) has given today's world population fire, and no matter what the Gods of Olympus wish, it's now too late to stop the access to data and expansion of knowledge. Picture today's world population access to data as a rapidly moving normal distribution curve, with access always increasing for the vast majority that occupy and fall within the 68% population mean. Those that occupy the leading plus 1 to 2, and 2 to 3 standard deviations above the mean are no longer the former inherited and privileged upper class, rather those intelligence-gifted randomly occurring in a population of billions of people. Centuries past the curve may have been bi-modal, with one tiny, tiny curve representing the aristocratic holders of data, knowledge, and power, and the much larger, massive following curve representing the vast majority of peasant population that had little or no education, no data access, and no knowledge, where superstitions, folklore, and divine right blood related aristocrats ruled in place of knowledge. Times are changing.

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12-07-2016, 00:43   #5
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But technology cannot be removed, and although Webster may have merit in the short-run microcosm, in the long-run macrocosm he is in error. Certainly privileged wealthy and powerful groups attempt to keep access to their decision-making information proprietary (i.e., "knowledge is power"), but it's now too late to stop the continuous and rapid expansion of data access, the spread of the web, open source, and related enabling technologies globally. This data access and knowledge are going up geometrically, not linearly, and expanding rapidly to where few can keep up, including the power brokers, who in many cases had inherited, privileged, and exclusive access for centuries. Now we see dot-com billionaires spring up overnight, many of whom are not from the former established past or present aristocratic 1% moneyed class in the US and elsewhere. Such educated, free-thinking, and creative persons would have been burned at the stake 300 years ago, but now they are quickly displacing the old and stagnant aristocratic families as time and data access rapidly progresses.
There are certainly more opportunities now than there ever was before, no question. Might be a bit off topic, but the dot-com billionaires, would they not become pretty much digital age aristocrats themselves?

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By analogy, Prometheus (web) has given today's world population fire, and no matter what the Gods of Olympus wish, it's now too late to stop the access to data and expansion of knowledge. Picture today's world population access to data as a rapidly moving normal distribution curve, with access always increasing for the vast majority that occupy and fall within the 68% population mean. Those that occupy the leading plus 1 to 2, and 2 to 3 standard deviations above the mean are no longer the former inherited and privileged upper class, rather those intelligence-gifted randomly occurring in a population of billions of people. Centuries past the curve may have been bi-modal, with one tiny, tiny curve representing the aristocratic holders of data, knowledge, and power, and the much larger, massive following curve representing the vast majority of peasant population that had little or no education, no data access, and no knowledge, where superstitions, folklore, and divine right blood related aristocrats ruled in place of knowledge. Times are changing.

The above would suggest that the influx of information and its availability would mean that we just have more of it. In that case would 'more information' really herald a 'new' society to what has come before? If the information society is a different society, then at some point society has changed. According to Manuel Castells (1989) & Anthony Giddens (1985) , we made this change from post-industrialist to the information society in the early 1970s. I am not so sure.

While there may be more easily accessible information out there, and the systems of governance and economics have adapted with technology. Society itself still fundamentally operates the same as it did in the early 1970s (and before). If post-industrialism was the last society (prior to the information society), then could we consider that as a new (or different) society when transitions ocurred from pre-industrialism to industrialism?

Castells, M. The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring and the Urban Regional Process (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989).

Giddens,A. The Nation-State and Violence: Volume Two of a Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (Cambridge: Polity, 1985).

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12-07-2016, 04:36   #6
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The above would suggest that the influx of information and its availability would mean that we just have more of it. In that case would 'more information' really herald a 'new' society to what has come before? If the information society is a different society, then at some point society has changed. According to Manuel Castells (1989) & Anthony Giddens (1985) , we made this change from post-industrialist to the information society in the early 1970s. I am not so sure.
If the shift from post-industrial to information society is occurring, or has occurred, it's doubtful that it all of a sudden crossed the line, that line more than likely being drawn in the sand. John Naisbitt (1982) in Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives used content analysis of key publications around the world to analyze what he called megatrends, and suggested that for the USA "We have shifted from an industrial society to one based on the creation and distribution of information." On 24 June 2012 Patrick Reddy concluded "This was Naisbitt's biggest, most important and most accurate prediction." Home computers in 1982 were at 10%, and in 2012 80%; as well as a shift from manufacturing jobs of about half of the 1950 labour force to about 12% today, while the information industry displaced manufacturing shifting from a tiny percentage back then to almost half of the labour force today.

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The above would suggest that the influx of information and its availability would mean that we just have more of it. In that case would 'more information' really herald a 'new' society to what has come before?
Does this observation suggest that more information access does not ensure more valid and reliable uses of that information? This critique may have merit. Then again, something has been happening for the first time in American society, perhaps in the world, and it's yet another megatrend that I do not recall Naisbitt labeling as one, that may function to aid in the collection, analysis, and use of such increased information access today. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education the enrollment and graduation percentages of women in American accredited colleges and universities has risen from about a third (occurring post-WWII) to over half of all enrollments and graduations today, surpassing male enrollments and graduations. The same shift by gender has occurred in accredited college and university business schools, where today women enrollments and graduations both exceed half, once again surpassing male enrollments and graduations.

I have not been able to find other nations exhibiting such a substantial increase of women in higher education in the world, nor could I find an historical precedent for such a megatrend, leading me to think that we have absolutely no idea what may happen as a result; i.e., no history to repeat itself as a predictive or explanatory paradigm. Is this substantial shift towards the higher education of women in America part of the substance that makes for information society, or was this merely a coincidental shift, or what?
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14-07-2016, 00:57   #7
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If the shift from post-industrial to information society is occurring, or has occurred, it's doubtful that it all of a sudden crossed the line, that line more than likely being drawn in the sand. John Naisbitt (1982) in Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives used content analysis of key publications around the world to analyze what he called megatrends, and suggested that for the USA "We have shifted from an industrial society to one based on the creation and distribution of information." On 24 June 2012 Patrick Reddy concluded "This was Naisbitt's biggest, most important and most accurate prediction." Home computers in 1982 were at 10%, and in 2012 80%; as well as a shift from manufacturing jobs of about half of the 1950 labour force to about 12% today, while the information industry displaced manufacturing shifting from a tiny percentage back then to almost half of the labour force today.
He pretty much had it spot on. No doubt he would have taken his queues from Daniel Bell on that. On the issue of jobs, with the information age helping globalisation, does the less secure jobs market of today hold more advantages over ones 50 years ago, when jobs may have been more secure. Granted, there was not half as many of them.

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Does this observation suggest that more information access does not ensure more valid and reliable uses of that information? This critique may have merit. Then again, something has been happening for the first time in American society, perhaps in the world, and it's yet another megatrend that I do not recall Naisbitt labeling as one, that may function to aid in the collection, analysis, and use of such increased information access today. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education the enrollment and graduation percentages of women in American accredited colleges and universities has risen from about a third (occurring post-WWII) to over half of all enrollments and graduations today, surpassing male enrollments and graduations. The same shift by gender has occurred in accredited college and university business schools, where today women enrollments and graduations both exceed half, once again surpassing male enrollments and graduations.

I have not been able to find other nations exhibiting such a substantial increase of women in higher education in the world, nor could I find an historical precedent for such a megatrend, leading me to think that we have absolutely no idea what may happen as a result; i.e., no history to repeat itself as a predictive or explanatory paradigm. Is this substantial shift towards the higher education of women in America part of the substance that makes for information society, or was this merely a coincidental shift, or what?
I think the shift might have more to do with the fight for equal rights, rather than any kind of knock on effect from the information society. Where I think it may have a role to play was in creating a more affluent and larger middle class thereby offering more opportunities for more people to go to college. This link gives a good overview: (http://www.ibtimes.com/why-are-more-...college-213255). That said, and something I mentioned above, the downside to the information economy is that the boom and bust nature of it can set things back quite a bit when things go wrong, leaving those on the financial borderline struggling. Overall though, I think the various movements down through the decades had a greater influence on the current gender disparities in education. The current gender disparity first started to appear in the early 1980s, so, it was a happening a long time before todays information society. Of course, one might say the early 1980s was an information society too, but just not on the scale of what we have today. I would like to hear Naisbitt's take on it though.

That point does deal with themes of responsibility regarding the thought behind whether or not the abundance of information available to us is actually a good thing. Enlightenment values might tell us that it is, but this might not necessarily be the case. Tsoukas (1997) reminds us that knowledge has always been seen as a danger for those that have it. He reminds us Prometheus was punishing for stealing it whilst Adam and Eve were expelled for eating at the tree of knowledge. He stops short of going down the route of a giving us an overtly negative critique of the effects of the information society, but does want us to be aware that it can 'obscure the 'paradoxes that are inherent in human knowledge'. We need to be aware those paradoxes may refine our ability to reflect on them and-who knows?-may enable us to find more sophisticated ways of coping with them'. Essentially, the upsides and the downsides may not be separate sides of the coin, but in reality are the one side of the coin. It being our best interests take heed of this, less we believe unfiltered access to information requires no responsibility on our part.

Tsoukas, H. (1997). The tyranny of light: The temptations and the paradoxes of the information society. Futures, 29(9), 827-843.

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12-03-2017, 02:40   #8
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Intellectual property. Traded. New ideas for coin. Francis Bacon aware during 1500's. Ancient Greeks before. New or prevalence? From knowledge of few, to knowledge of many (society) today?
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12-03-2017, 16:34   #9
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Intellectual property. Traded. New ideas for coin. Francis Bacon aware during 1500's. Ancient Greeks before. New or prevalence? From knowledge of few, to knowledge of many (society) today?
The knowledge of many has lead us to this point in capitalism today, aided of course by ICT's that allow it to be a global, rather than localised market.
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14-03-2017, 06:32   #10
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This makes me wonder to what extent the move to "information society" exemplifies the spirit and intent of Max Weber's march towards rationalisation (Economy and Society, 1922), where the expansion of verifiable and reliable information has spread from centuries old clerical accounting books kept by monks to global access of such information by anyone with web and search engine hookups, along with apps that help evaluate data?
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15-03-2017, 20:03   #11
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This makes me wonder to what extent the move to "information society" exemplifies the spirit and intent of Max Weber's march towards rationalisation (Economy and Society, 1922), where the expansion of verifiable and reliable information has spread from centuries old clerical accounting books kept by monks to global access of such information by anyone with web and search engine hookups, along with apps that help evaluate data?
"Iron cage" or "Shell of bondage" per Max Weber in Economy & Society, 1922 translation?
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15-03-2017, 22:44   #12
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This makes me wonder to what extent the move to "information society" exemplifies the spirit and intent of Max Weber's march towards rationalisation (Economy and Society, 1922),
Good point. I would agree that it does, very much so in fact. I think it would be nearly impossible to imagine our "information society" (and all that it entails) sans the efficiency and organisational structures of rationalisation. It could be said it was one of the main building blocks that made the entire process possible.
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where the expansion of verifiable and reliable information has spread from centuries old clerical accounting books kept by monks to global access of such information by anyone with web and search engine hookups, along with apps that help evaluate data?
The switch from older methods (clerical accounting etc) to new (ICT) is a tricky one. Webster (2014) asks was it the incorporation of ICT's at the personal level, or the institutional organisational incorporation of ICT's on a grand scale that heralded this shift? His question is, if the ICT is the "information society", then can we pinpoint the time that we moved into this new era?

Webster has an interesting point. Could we choose one specific era in the modern digital age for the turn, or would we need to go back further a few decades? Overall, Webster believes it is hard to pick one out, mainly because we still find technological influence to be "vague" and not easily describable, hence our trouble in locating the exact time this change occurred due to technological advancements.


Webster, F., 2014. Theories of the information society. Routledge. Vancouver.

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17-03-2017, 00:34   #13
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"Iron cage" or "Shell of bondage" per Max Weber in Economy & Society, 1922 translation?
My understanding of the Iron Cage would suggest that there was no escape from the increasing rationalisation of society in very general terms; whereas, the Shell of Bondage was a very specific instance that suggested employee fringe benefits functioned to attract, retain, and bind employees to a corporation (Krueger, PE, 1988, Structural Differentiation, Technology, & Employee Fringe Benefits: A Model of Formal Organization. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University PhD Dissertation).

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Webster has an interesting point. Could we choose one specific era in the modern digital age for the turn, or would we need to go back further a few decades? Overall, Webster believes it is hard to pick one out, mainly because we still find technological influence to be "vague" and not easily describable, hence our trouble in locating the exact time this change occurred due to technological advancements.
Compounded with this, may there be city, national, or regional differences that may experience differential rates of rationalisation transitioning from Weberian traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal in comparison to other parts of the world? Ali Al Katheeri (2017) in his UAE emiratisation study at California State University Fullerton suggests in his conceptual model that UAE was rapidly transitioning from tribal (traditional) to national founding (charismatic) to 2030 Strategic Plan (rational-legal) at an alarming rate, which has resulted in the employment of foreign nationals exceeding the population of UAE citizens several times to expedite this transitional process. In a few short decades UAE has gone from disorganised tribes living in tents and riding camels to the building of 21st Century cities like Dubai with the world's highest skyscraper and a suburb called Internet City.
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20-03-2017, 22:13   #14
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My understanding of the Iron Cage would suggest that there was no escape from the increasing rationalisation of society in very general terms; whereas, the Shell of Bondage was a very specific instance that suggested employee fringe benefits functioned to attract, retain, and bind employees to a corporation (Krueger, PE, 1988, Structural Differentiation, Technology, & Employee Fringe Benefits: A Model of Formal Organization. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University PhD Dissertation).


Compounded with this, may there be city, national, or regional differences that may experience differential rates of rationalisation transitioning from Weberian traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal in comparison to other parts of the world? Ali Al Katheeri (2017) in his UAE emiratisation study at California State University Fullerton suggests in his conceptual model that UAE was rapidly transitioning from tribal (traditional) to national founding (charismatic) to 2030 Strategic Plan (rational-legal) at an alarming rate, which has resulted in the employment of foreign nationals exceeding the population of UAE citizens several times to expedite this transitional process. In a few short decades UAE has gone from disorganised tribes living in tents and riding camels to the building of 21st Century cities like Dubai with the world's highest skyscraper and a suburb called Internet City.
It makes me wonder if various mineral rich African nations (e.g. Congo) could have developed at a similar pace with proper governance post-colonialism.
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23-03-2017, 05:22   #15
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It makes me wonder if various mineral rich African nations (e.g. Congo) could have developed at a similar pace with proper governance post-colonialism.
There are complex cultural, sociological, political, and economic reasons that affect the differential development rates of every nation.
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