An information society is a society where the creation, distribution, use, integration and manipulation of information is a significant economic, political, and cultural activity. Its main drivers are digital information and communication technologies, which have resulted in an information explosion and are profoundly changing all aspects of social organization, including the economy, education, health, warfare, government and democracy. The people who have the means to partake in this form of society are sometimes called digital citizens, defined by K. Mossberger as “Those who use the Internet regularly and effectively”. This is one of many dozen labels that have been identified to suggest that humans are entering a new phase of society.
The markers of this rapid change may be technological, economic, occupational, spatial, cultural, or some combination of all of these. Information society is seen as the successor to industrial society. Closely related concepts are the post-industrial society (Daniel Bell), post-fordism, post-modern society, knowledge society, telematic society, Information Revolution, Information Age, liquid modernity, network society (Manuel Castells), and society of the spectacle (Guy Debord).
In sociology, informational society refers to a post-modern type of society. Theoreticians like Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells argue that since the 1970s a transformation from industrial society to informational society has happened on a global scale.
As steam power was the technology standing behind industrial society, so information technology is seen as the catalyst for the changes in work organisation, societal structure and politics occurring in the late 20th century.
In the book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler used the phrase super-industrial society to describe this type of society. Other writers and thinkers have used terms like “post-industrial society” and “post-modern industrial society” with a similar meaning.
A knowledge society generates, shares and makes available to all members of the society knowledge that may be used to improve the human condition. A knowledge society differs from an information society in that the former serves to transform information into resources that allow society to take effective action while the latter only creates and disseminates the raw data. The capacity to gather and analyze information has existed throughout human history. However, the idea of the present-day knowledge society is based on the vast increase in data creation and information dissemination that results from the innovation of information technologies. The UNESCO World Report addresses the definition, content and future of knowledge societies.
Information and communication technology
The growth of Information and communication technology (ICT) has significantly increased the world’s capacity for creation of raw data and the speed at which it is produced. The advent of the Internet delivered unheard-of quantities of information to people. The evolution of the internet from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 offered individuals tools to connect with each other worldwide as well as become content users and producers. Innovation in digital technologies and mobile devices offers individuals a means to connect anywhere anytime where digital technologies are accessible. Tools of ICT have the potential to transform education, training, employment and access to life-sustaining resources for all members of society.
However, this capacity for individuals to produce and use data on a global scale does not necessarily result in knowledge creation. Contemporary media delivers seemingly endless amounts of information and yet, the information alone does not create knowledge. For knowledge creation to take place, reflection is required to create awareness, meaning and understanding. The improvement of human circumstances requires critical analysis of information to develop the knowledge that assists humankind. Absent reflection and critical thinking, information can actually become “non-knowledge”, that which is false or inaccurate. The anticipated Semantic Web 3.0 and Ubiquitous Web 4.0 will move both information and knowledge creation forward in their capacities to use intelligence to digitally create meaning independent of user-driven ICT.
The social theory of a knowledge society explains how knowledge is fundamental to the politics, economics, and culture of modern society. Associated ideas include the knowledge economy created by economists and the learning society created by educators. Knowledge is a commodity to be traded for economic prosperity. In a knowledge society, individuals, communities, and organizations produce knowledge-intensive work. Peter Drucker viewed knowledge as a key economic resource and coined the term knowledge worker in 1969. Fast forward to the present day, and in this knowledge-intensive environment, knowledge begets knowledge, new competencies develop, and the result is innovation.
A knowledge society promotes human rights and offers equal, inclusive, and universal access to all knowledge creation. The UNESCO World Report establishes four principles that are essential for development of an equitable knowledge society:
- Cultural diversity
- Equal access to education
- Universal access to information (in the public domain)
- Freedom of expression
However, they acknowledge that the digital divide is an obstacle to achievement of genuine knowledge societies. Access to the internet is available to 39 percent of the world’s population. This statistic represents growth as well as a continued gap. Among the many challenges that contribute to a global digital divide are issues regarding economic resources, geography, age, gender, language, education, social and cultural background, employment and disabilities.