Information society

Categories: Wealth And Poverty
About this essay

Questions surrounding the nature and scope of the media’s impact upon society are intrinsically contentious; the wide variety of media on offer to the consumer creates a naturally eclectic set of norms and values from which individuals might draw conclusions. A cultural explanation, unlike Webster’s economic, occupational and spatial definitions of an information society (Webster) remains too esoteric to allow for detailed quantitative data to be collected. And whilst the qualitative data it inspires could be considered to have equal value, it is nevertheless more open to interpretation than its statistics-heavy brethren.

So what is an information society? The idea should not be taken to its literal route, that technology has allowed free exchange of information on a scale unprecedented throughout t history is not in question. The concept of an information society stems from an idea that information is the commodity in so far as it transcends the limitations of more traditional commodities, such as oil or food.

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In an information society, information and wealth are seen as one and the same, with information acting as a societal nervous system from which all financial transactions react.

Information in this social model is not limited to the economic, it is also a social resource one that reinforces and defines culture, particularly at a generic international level. The suggestion that this is indeed an information society does of course need some qualification, a simply blanket definition emphasising its importance in the modern age will not suffice. What is needed is a more in depth examination of the criteria used to define an information society.

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These definitions as defined by Webster are the economic, the technological, the occupational, the spatial and the cultural. How does the economic state of society support or refute the notion that this is indeed an information society? One does not have to wait over long before some major information company makes headline news with massively expensive acquisitions such as Google’s purchase of You Tube for $1. 6 billion last October (BBC). Such acquisitions support an economic variant of the debate that we are indeed living in an information age.

With massive profit to be made, some of the largest companies in the world work almost exclusively in the province of information. However, as Salvaggio points out “Examining the economic structure alone, provides only a limited view of the social and cultural implications associated with information societies. ” (Salvaggio) It could be argued that we are as much a pharmaceutical society as an information one since pharmaceutical companies have also encountered massive growth; the empirical evidence to support such a contention would be impressive.

This is not to say that economic indicators should not be taken into account, they clearly allow us to measure the depth and velocity of the growth of information as a cultural force albeit one that cannot offer us definitive conclusions as to the nature of any technological society we might presuppose. If the economic evidence alone is insufficient to offer any definitive proof that this is indeed an information society then how might the technological fare? Does technology itself helps to define the world we live in?

To be clear we must acknowledge that technology is important to this argument. As Webster points out, Commonsensicaly, these (technological) definitions of the information society do seem appropriate. After all, if it is possible to see a ‘series of inventions’ steam power, the internal combustion engine, electricity, the flying shuttle – as the key characteristic of the ‘industrial society’, then why not accept the virtuoso developments in ICT as evidence of a new type of society?

Commonsense though such definitions might be, they still struggle to conclusively demonstrate that the existence and use of said technology denotes a de rigueur use within a society. By the turn on the 19th Century the steam engines that revolutionized industry were being used en mass but the Luddite passions of much of the lower classes suggested a strong current of resentment towards the new ‘society’; if this was the age of steam then it was also the age of political awareness, of Imperialism or any one of dozens of social revolutions that were occurring at this time.

Thus the technological criteria suffer from one intrinsic weakness, that being that the use of technology is not necessarily a culture defining event. However, Webster is pointing to the ubiquitous use of certain technologies that in this instance are primarily designed to deliver information from consumer to consumer. It is the sheer scale of this usage that helps justify it’s inclusion as one of the five criteria defining an information society. Of the two remaining definitions the ‘occupational’ remains more easily understood.

An ‘Agrarian’ society such as that which existed in Europe during the Middle-Ages was precisely that, the overwhelming majority of people within the society were subsistence farmers. In the modern period no one occupation dominates, information however permeates all levels of occupational society. Regardless of the specific occupational role, information plays a significant role, whether via the use of new technologies (such as the internet) or by economic infrastructures made possible by a culture of global information.

Webster’s use of the spatial criteria suggests that the increased connectivity we as a society benefit from is in and of its self a method of defining this period as an information society. The rapid growth of and the increasing reliance on communication as a means of achieving goals, has major impacts on how things are done, how much time that projects take and so on and so forth. If a society can be defined on how it prioritizes its resources then we can see that the huge growth in information networks does indeed point to an information society.

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Information society. (2017, Apr 27). Retrieved from

Information society

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