Information Society Discourse

Information Society Discourse

Lech W. Zacher (Leon Kozminski Academy of Entrepreneurship and Management, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch312
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Abstract

Information society (IS) has a short history as a form of human organization and social context. However, information (signals, communications, various data, etc.) and use thereof have always been fundamental to people’s existence, survival, and development. Some important milestones included the Gutenberg printing press, telephone, radio, TV, computer, and all electronic devices and systems related to ICTs. In fact, the progress of technology, especially of electronics and telecommunications, marked out the directions and potentialities of social change. Coined as a term in the 1960s, information society is just emerging nowadays mostly in developed countries. As a result of the effect of present technological, economic, and political globalization processes, the whole world is being impacted and transformed by ICTs. IS can be per se perceived as the intellectual (scientific) model or ideal type having a set of specific characteristics and assigned interpretations. Needless to say, in the real world there are only concrete individual different information societies. Their difference concerns mostly: geographic, historical, educational, technological, cultural, political, and economic aspects and advancements already achieved in IS development (i.e., its stage, directions, pace, and so on) and their multifaceted impacts on societies, organizations, and individuals. In the social sciences?especially in sociology and political science?there are some indicators enabling measurement of these advancements and their consequences. The aforementioned societal advancements, initially always pre-informational or not yet informational, are constantly emerging from some “embryos”?often scientific and technological?and are progressing via multidimensional processes of organizational, social, economic, political, cultural innovations, and by their diffusion. In fact, all segments and features of society are heavily affected by them. These impacts are rather difficult to measure and evaluate. Quite often, they are treated generally as ICTs’ impact on a society. Certain analytical methods and procedures connected with technology assessment or?more comprehensive?impact assessment can be applied to this end. Since IS is still emerging, or in other words in the statu nascendi stage, it is reasonable and necessary to apply a prospective approach to its investigations and evaluations. Therefore, the future of ISs should be of interest not only to researchers, but also governments, business, and the public?referred to as civil society in democratic countries. Increasing use of the word “future” in its plural form, “futures,” has been accepted for a long time. In English this form has already functioned for decades, while in other languages “future” is used only in singular. The other reason is that people (and scientists) often perceived the future as non-optional (a rather fatalistic approach). By using the plural form, we emphasize the conviction and hopes that the future will be multi-optional, thus very differentiated for regions, states, societies, communities, and individuals. Therefore, differentiated ISs will not have the same futures. As such, the future of the whole world will be extremely complex. It does not seem probable that there will be one future for all.
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Introduction

Information society (IS) has a short history as a form of human organization and social context. However, information (signals, communications, various data, etc.) and use thereof have always been fundamental to people’s existence, survival, and development. Some important milestones included the Gutenberg printing press, telephone, radio, TV, computer, and all electronic devices and systems related to ICTs. In fact, the progress of technology, especially of electronics and telecommunications, marked out the directions and potentialities of social change.

Coined as a term in the 1960s, information society is just emerging nowadays mostly in developed countries. As a result of the effect of present technological, economic, and political globalization processes, the whole world is being impacted and transformed by ICTs. IS can be per se perceived as the intellectual (scientific) model or ideal type having a set of specific characteristics and assigned interpretations.

Needless to say, in the real world there are only concrete individual different information societies. Their difference concerns mostly: geographic, historical, educational, technological, cultural, political, and economic aspects and advancements already achieved in IS development (i.e., its stage, directions, pace, and so on) and their multifaceted impacts on societies, organizations, and individuals. In the social sciences—especially in sociology and political science—there are some indicators enabling measurement of these advancements and their consequences.

The aforementioned societal advancements, initially always pre-informational or not yet informational, are constantly emerging from some “embryos”—often scientific and technological—and are progressing via multidimensional processes of organizational, social, economic, political, cultural innovations, and by their diffusion. In fact, all segments and features of society are heavily affected by them. These impacts are rather difficult to measure and evaluate. Quite often, they are treated generally as ICTs’ impact on a society. Certain analytical methods and procedures connected with technology assessment or—more comprehensive—impact assessment can be applied to this end. Since IS is still emerging, or in other words in the statu nascendi stage, it is reasonable and necessary to apply a prospective approach to its investigations and evaluations.

Therefore, the future of ISs should be of interest not only to researchers, but also governments, business, and the public—referred to as civil society in democratic countries. Increasing use of the word “future” in its plural form, “futures,” has been accepted for a long time. In English this form has already functioned for decades, while in other languages “future” is used only in singular. The other reason is that people (and scientists) often perceived the future as non-optional (a rather fatalistic approach). By using the plural form, we emphasize the conviction and hopes that the future will be multi-optional, thus very differentiated for regions, states, societies, communities, and individuals. Therefore, differentiated ISs will not have the same futures. As such, the future of the whole world will be extremely complex. It does not seem probable that there will be one future for all.

Historically, various societies have had divergent take-off points, possibilities, development opportunities, trajectories, as well as performance, behavior, policies, cultural heritage, social capital, and so forth. In spite of some universalistic tendencies in production and consumption patterns, many diverse gaps currently exist in political systems, media performance, and so forth. Some time ago, it was fashionable to refer to them as technological, organizational, or managerial, information. There are other forms and names, for example, presently we talk about the digital divide and knowledge gap. Technological developments, their diffusion and transfer all over the world do not make the world equal regarding the stage and impacts of IS progress (understood in the abstract).

The irregular development of economies and societies throughout the world seems to be a historical regularity. The same applies to the present stage of development connected with ICTs. A historical perspective of IS development in particular countries requires grouping such into classes:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Future Types: Possible (open to all possibilities); plausible (an image of the future based on forecasts that might reasonably occur); preferred (the future desirable and sought after).

Information Society (IS): A society predominantly dealing with production and applications of information in all spheres of life (i.e., economic, social, political, cultural, etc.). It is also assumed that the mass info-activities are based on sufficient infrastructure, access, education, cultural capacity, efficiency, and so forth. Synonyms and closely related terms include information-rich society, network (or networked) society, e-society, virtual society, information society based on knowledge (or knowledge society ).

IS Diversity: The real world’s societies are much diversified in terms of the advancement of IS characteristics and indicators. The most developed create ICTs and use them widely and effectively. Most world societies are merely users and imitators (via technology transfer). There are also many limited to being merely impacted by ICTs (via the global Net, FDIs, international trade, etc.).

Future Scenarios: Comprehensive, internally consistent descriptive images of the future based on assumptions about relevant forces of all kinds (technological, economic, political, social, educational, environmental, etc.) together with their multiple interactions; external conditions and influences should be also considered.

IS Futures: The future of particular information societies should be presented and debated as multi-optional, not as universal/uniform—that is, the same for all societies. Such is implied by their diversity, which determines their differentiated progress now and in the future. Therefore, any conclusions and recommendations ought to consider their specificity, especially if they have practically oriented ambitions. It is important to remember that all long-term visions, predictions, and forecasts of IS are uncertain, even if we hardly strive for them.

Future: An image of what may be, composed of a set of elements in which interactions are shaped largely by a set of driving forces; also called a macroscenario (according to Bezold & Olson, 1986 , p. A-23).

Info-Futures: Future alternatives of development of societies, organizations, and institutions related to information (production and applications) and ICTs.

IS Determinants of Development: There are many—mostly complex, interrelated, and often fuzzy—conditions, factors, and mechanisms (including historical, geographic, economic, technological, educational, social, cultural, political, psychological, etc.) that determine the character, structure, pace, and effectiveness of IS emergence and its progress. They are connected with certain existing potentials, situations, and external context, as well as with deliberate efforts (like business strategies, government policies, activities of international organizations, people’s attitudes, education systems, and media presentations of the advanced patterns of IS development).

Information Era: An era where information is the main strategic resource upon which individuals, organizations, and societies rely for their growth and development. Also called information millennium .

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