Information Society Definition Example Essays
Bell’s ‘Post-Industrial Society’: Visions and Realities
Bell’s ‘post-industrial society’, criticisms of his analysis of the role of information and knowledge in relation to contemporary social change and the extent of these changes. (2005)
In this essay, first, I will discuss the main features of Bell’s ‘post-industrial society’, second, the criticisms that have been made of Bell’s analysis of the role of information and knowledge in relation to contemporary social change and third, I will assess the extent of these changes. I shall do so by referring to primary and secondary empirical evidence and will conclude by summarising the main points.
Bell, an American sociologist is regarded as the key proponent of the theory of ‘post-industrial society’ (P-IS), which attempts to characterise the changing nature of contemporary society, particularly the USA and other advanced ‘industrial’ countries. This is expounded by Bell in his seminal book ‘The Coming of Post-Industrial Society’. (Webster 2002:30)
He asserts that
‘[t]he concept of the post-industrial society deals primarily with changes in the social structure, the way in which the economy is being transformed and the occupational system reworked, and with the new relations between theory and empiricism, particularly science and technology.’ (Bell 1974:13)
In developing his thesis, he rejects Marxist approaches that focus on the stratification system and capitalist exploitation to account for social change. Instead, Bell claims that Western economies have ‘deindustrialised’, (Mackay 2001:22) in this context an absolute and relative decline in manufacturing employment. (Massey 1988:53-54)
Bell’s methodology rejects holist notions of society1, (Webster 2002:35) ‘an orientation in which all aspects of society are contained within a single system, […] driven through time by a unitary dynamic logic’. Instead, he divides society into discrete realms: nature, technology and society and focuses on the latter. (Waters 1996:28,31)
In turn, he subdivides society into three discrete dimensions2 or realms: the ‘social structure’, ‘polity’3 and ‘culture’4, (Waters 1996:31,32) such that ‘an occurrence in one realm cannot be presumed to shape another’. (Webster 2002:35) These dimensions are only distinguished by their ‘axial principle’, the central, defining or ‘energizing’ principle that has the primary logic around which all other principles are organised. (Bell 1974:10)
Bell is primarily concerned with changes in the social structure, (Webster 2002:36) which is composed of technology, the economy and the occupational system. (Bell 1974:12) Its axial principle is ‘functional rationality’ which relates to cost limitation and optimisation of output, that is to say efficiency and productivity. (Waters 1996:32,33) This dimension is concerned with the ‘organization of production and the allocation of goods and services’. (Bell 1976:11)
Using this framework, Bell clarifies the idea of P-IS by tracing its antecedence from pre-industrial and industrial societies and compares the features of each. (Bell 1976:126)
A pre-industrial society is characterised by primary economic sector occupations and extractive industries such as agriculture, fishing and mining which dominate the economy. Raw material is the main source of technology. (Waters 1996:108)
An industrial society is based on the secondary sector which ‘centres on human-machine relationships’ and the application of energy to mass manufacturing and processing of tangible goods. The key occupations are the engineer and semi-skilled factory worker. (Waters 1996:109)
A P-IS is dominated by the service sectors and professional and technical occupations. It is marked by the centrality of human relationships and ‘intellectual technology’, based on information and information and computing technology (ICT), which ‘rises alongside of machine technology’. (Bell 1974:116,117)
Bell explains his theory by specifying five dimensions of PI-S.
‘Creation of a service economy’ is the first dimension. Bell asserts that a ‘post-industrial society is based on services’: there is a shift from an economy primarily based on goods production to one based on services. (Bell 1974:14,127) According to Waters this service economy emerged in the USA in the mid 1950s and now underpins the economies of ‘much of the Western world, Japan and some of the Asian dragons’. (Waters 1996:110)
Mackay asserts that ‘Bell does not really define what he means by a ‘service’, only contrasting it with the ‘goods’ of industrial society’. (Mackay 2001:26) The Economist defines services as ‘[p]roducts of economic activity that you can’t drop on your foot’. (Economist 2003:6) Roberts et al. refer to Hill and expand this definition and assert that services are ‘consumed simultaneously with their production’, they cannot be stored and are intangible. (Roberts et al. 2000:2)
Initially, services support industrial expansion through the development of transportation and public utilities. The mass consumption of goods by an increasing population is reflected by the growth of goods distribution, finance and real estate for example. As wealth increases through income generated in the other two sectors, new demands arise for ‘luxury’, personal services such as hotels, restaurants and entertainment. ‘[A] crucial feature of modern society’ is the expansion of health and education services, which leads to the growth of government to compensate for the inadequacy of market supply. (Bell 1974:127-128)
As well as a service economy, Bell asserts that P-IS has an ‘information economy’. 5 He assesses the scope of this by adding a fourth sector to his typology, the ‘information sector’ and through the work of Porat, assesses the value of information related (either directly or indirectly) activities in the economy, by analysis of national product, national income and workforce. (Bell 1980:518-521)
Bell predominantly focuses on the primary and secondary sectors of Porat’s six-sector model and asserts that the former, which includes banking, education and advertising is the ‘productive locus of an information-based economy’ (Bell 1980:519) and through quantitative analysis of all the information sectors concludes that information is a strategic resource of P-IS. (ibid. 1980:545) As such, he declares that the ‘post-industrial society is an information society’. (Bell 1974:467)
He argues that the ‘expansion of the service economy with its emphasis on office work, education, and government has naturally brought about a shift to white-collar occupations’, which leads to ‘[t]he pre-eminence of the professional and technical class’, the second dimension of P-IS. (Bell 1974:15,17)
‘[The] heart of post-industrial society’ is professional and technical employment, especially scientists and engineers, who through education and training have the necessary skills to maintain P-IS. (Bell 1974:17-18) This results in increased importance and volume of information in circulation and in turn leads to a qualitative change to society. An inclination towards planning means that there is a systematic ordering of the ‘anarchy of the free market’, directing the economy with strategies, plans and forecasts, bringing with it a level of control previously unthinkable. (Webster 2002:40) These professions are ‘people-oriented’ and so a ‘new consciousness’ emerges, resulting in a ‘caring society’. (Mackay 2001:28)
Underlying this mode of work is information and knowledge, and this leads to the third dimension of P-IS, ‘[t]he primacy of theoretical knowledge’, the axial principle of P-IS. (Bell 1974:18-20)
The distinguishing feature of P-IS is the ‘character of knowledge itself’. Theoretical knowledge is abstract, general and can illuminate ‘many different and varied areas of experience’, (Stehr 1994:66) counterpoint to the empiricism of the applied practical knowledge of the ‘talented tinkerers’ of industrialism. (Webster 2002:52,53)
Waters refers to Bell, who offers an operational definition of knowledge6, to measure its growth: ‘Knowledge is that which is objectively known, an intellectual property, attached to a name or group of names and certified by copyright or some other form of social recognition (e.g. publication)’. (Waters 1996:115) This knowledge can be ‘commodified’ as property, measured and communicated as it can be represented objectively, codified through language, writing, printing and data storage. (Stehr 1994:13-14,109)
Bell offers two major reasons why theoretical knowledge is the key strand to P-IS, which support his view that P-IS is a ‘knowledge society’. (Bell 1974:212)
First is the role of theoretical knowledge as a causal agent in bringing science and technology7 closer together to underpin research and development, the driver of innovation. (Bell 1974:212) Presumably, the effect of this causality underlies and allows the assertion that technology is ‘the basis of increased productivity, and productivity has been the transforming fact of economic life’. (ibid. 1974:191) In part, this explains the second reason: knowledge accounts for a larger share of employment and an increased proportion of gross national product. (ibid. 1974:212)
Advances in theoretical knowledge have enabled ‘technological forecasting’, or ‘[t]he planning of technology’, the fourth dimension of P-IS. (Waters 1996:111)
This is the ability to assess and plan technological expansion so that alternative technologies can be considered to reduce or eliminate undesirable consequences. (Bell 1974:26,27) That is to say that the introduction of new technology can be subject to forward assessment of cost, risks and advantages. This can be controlled and regulated by implementing policies. (Waters 1996:111)
This planning is underpinned by ‘[t]he rise of new intellectual technology’ , the fifth dimension of P-IS. (Bell 1974:27)
At the heart of ‘intellectual technology’ lies information and knowledge, coupled with computers and data transmission systems, which facilitate decision-making and ‘intuitive judgements’.8 (Bell 1980:503-505) Bell asserts that the computer is instrumental in defining rational action and identifying a strategy to achieve an optimal or ‘best’ solution. This is because the complexity and multiplicity of variables involved in arriving at such decisions is beyond human intuitive judgement. (Bell 1974:30-33)
The coalescence of the five dimensions outlined above, lead Bell to declare a P-IS and to recapitulate, this is a
‘changeover from a goods-producing society to an information or knowledge society; and in the modes of knowledge, a change […] from empiricism […] to theory and the codification of theoretical knowledge for directing innovation and the formulation of policy’. (Bell 1974:487)
The theme is of change and novelty, a decisive break from the past. (Webster 2002:124)
To many, this ‘transformative’ interpretation of social change is a fault. To Webster, this is one of many faults. Webster asserts that P-IS is ‘deeply flawed empirically, theoretically and methodologically’. (Webster 2002:33)
Underlying Bell’s oeuvre is technological determinism; technology is the basis of productivity and productivity transforms the economy, or more broadly, technology determines social change. This is transparent in his writing, which resonates with such thought. (Mackay 2001:29) Technological determinism is at the core of ‘functional rationality’, the ‘axial principle of social structure’, which when unfolded, equates with ‘technology determines productivity’. (Webster 2002:42,43) Other common social science themes such as power, capital and class are generally excluded. (Mackay 2001:29)
Bell’s utopian vision of a ‘caring society’ is, as Webster points out, ‘unconvincing’ and seems illusory. (Webster 2002:50) The notions of planning for environmental care and a ‘new consciousness’ seem to be ‘ideal types’. (Mackay 2001:28) The negative impacts of P-IS are largely omitted. Important issues include civil liberty infringements such as surveillance through databases, the ‘electronic means of potential totalitarian control’, analogous to Foucault’s ‘Panoptican’. (Lyon 1988:93,98) Also, information is identified as a key dimension of poverty and inequality and deskilling of occupations. (Mackay 2001:95,101-102) Furthermore, Bell rings with repetition, conceptual ‘looseness’ and inconsistency. (Waters 1996:144)
Webster criticises Bell’s anti-holistic disjunction of social structure, polity and culture as an untenable construct, as it appears unrepresentative of the society it models and he offers no evidence or explanation of it. He continues and argues that Bell uses this as a convenient device to sidestep questions ‘posed by events in one sphere for others’. (Webster 2002:35) He highlights Bell’s contradictions and refers to Steinfels who asserts that ‘the three realms are inextricably intertwined, it is precisely their interrelationships that intensely concern Bell’. In doing this he neutralises Bell’s argument from the outset. Indeed, paradoxically Bell does this himself, by raising issues throughout that challenge his model. (ibid. 2002:36)
Another fundamental criticism is linear development, the ‘march through the sectors’, from agricultural to industrial to service dominance of employment. Mackay refers to Gershuny and Miles and asserts that instead of a shift from manufacturing, a more plausible interpretation of the employment data is a shift from agriculture to services. (Mackay 2001:24) This is illustrated by the employment data for the USA between 1900 and 1970 as shown in Figure 1. (Lyon 1988:47)
Figure 1: Percentage distribution of employment by sector in USA 1900-1970 (Adapted from Lyon 1988:47)
Reduced manufacturing employment can be accounted for by other factors such as recession, government policies and ‘feminisation of the workforce’, as experienced in the UK during the 1980s. (Webster 2002:45-46) Furthermore, ‘deindustrialisation’ can be viewed as ‘global’ relocation of workers instead of reduced manufacturing employment. (Lyon 1988:13) Bell’s focus on the USA isolates his analysis, which can be misleading in a broader context.
Gershuny casts doubt on Bell’s correlation of growth in service employment and demand for services, by proposing that the growth of the service sector is through ‘new demand for material production from manufacturing industry’. (Gershuny 1978:58-59) The ‘classification of ‘manufacturing’ and ‘services’ is often inconsistent, in that many ‘services’ are clearly linked with ‘manufacturing’. (Gershuny & Miles cited in Lyon 1988:47) This can be illustrated by a division of labour in manufacturing, through ‘producer services’ such as banking and insurance that support manufacture, but are in themselves services. This can ‘artificially’ boost the importance of service employment. (Webster 2002:47)
Gershuny even suggests that consumption of services has decreased. (Gershuny 1978:57) This is exemplified by the notion of a ‘self-service economy’, where new social arrangements and technology have led to services such as domestic work being replaced by machines. (ibid. 1978:57-58) In terms of occupation, Lyon questions the importance of professionals. He asserts that whilst many groups seek and are classified as ‘professional status’, this is not evidence for ‘a growing band of qualified personnel’. (Lyon 1988:47)
So, Bell’s identification of an increase in service employment and a growth of service demand can be seen as false. (Gershuny 1978:59) Gershuny’s empirical evidence of employment and consumption patterns in the UK over the last 25 years ‘reveals, not the gradual emergence of a ‘service economy’, but its precise opposite’. (ibid. 1978:8)
Although Webster agrees with Bell about increases in service sector employment, professional occupations and white-collar work, he differs and says this does not represent a new epoch. (Webster 2002:50) However, there is a general consensus that ‘information and information activities’ have played a greater role strategically in economic, social and political life. (ibid. 2002:51) This can be described as ‘informatisation’, the gradual increased prominence of information. (ibid. 2002:266) He refers to Giddens who asserts that ‘modern societies have been “information societies” since their beginnings’ and Webster reflects that ‘informational developments must be accounted for in terms of historical antecedents and continuities’. (ibid. 2002:202,266) Echoing this idea, Stehr implies that these developments are better accounted for in grounded economic discourse, as ‘phenomena best understandable in terms of long-established and familiar market-based criteria’, (Schiller cited in Stehr 1994:12) as a reconfiguration of capitalism, described by Schiller as ‘corporate capitalism’, dominated by a handful of oligopolistic corporate institutions with ‘global’ reach. (Webster 2002:128-129) Perhaps ‘technocapitalism’ is a more appropriate strain to capture the role of capital, labour and production, emphasising the role of knowledge and ‘high’ technology. (Kellner 1999:6)
Giddens refers to Marx and describes the essential features of capitalism: it is a ‘system of commodity production’ where commodities are exchanged, often in an international market. (Giddens 1971:46) There are two general stages to the organisation of production in the capitalist system: first, handicraft is replaced by manufacture, marked by efficiency through a division of labour and second, inadequacy of the market to supply growing demand necessitates machinery, the reason for the industrial revolution. (ibid. 1971:34) As shown by Gershuny, much service or information work is supporting manufacture in its production and in this sense there appears to be no fundamental transition since the industrial revolution.
Webster refers to Schiller who summarises this by stating that capitalism has generated information and ICTs, which ‘extends and consolidates its relations’. This is illustrated by the ‘commodification’ of information, as a saleable item, similar to a tangible good. (Webster 2002:128-129) Also, corporations with ‘global’ reach require a ‘sophisticated computer communications infrastructure’ to distribute the flow of information that coordinates and controls their daily operation. (ibid. 2002:30) This increased information flow is derivative of corporate needs and so information has been channelled in ‘these’ particular directions rather than ‘those’. This perspective is the antithesis of P-IS, as capitalism is shaping information and knowledge and simultaneously information and knowledge are sustaining capitalism. (ibid. 2002:129-130)
For Bell, P-IS breaks with the ‘elemental relations’, most importantly capital and labour, as knowledge supersedes them as the ‘decisive factor of production’. (Schiller b 1988:30-31) The foundation of Bell’s thesis centres on theoretical knowledge as a catalyst for technological development and in this sense, they are mutually constitutive in terms of increasing productivity. This coupling is embodied in and exemplified by ‘functional rationality’, which results in more output per input and as such, goods production generates more wealth. (Webster 2002:43) In turn, this leads to increased consumption of services and necessitates a transition in the occupational structure, which becomes dominated by the ‘professional and technical class’. This class plans technological development, empowered by technology itself, ‘intellectual technology’, which in turn leads to increased and improved theoretical knowledge, which was applied to generate this technology in the first case; a virtuous circle overlapping another. This is partly why theoretical knowledge has ‘axial principle’ status, the ‘energizing’ principle of P-IS.
Bell’s argument is presented convincingly, as each dimension is organically bound, each one apparently reciprocating development in the others. Ironically, this expresses a fundamental fault in dividing the realms of social structure, polity and culture, as they can be seen to behave in a similar way and this is one reason why Bell’s work has been described, in an Orwellian sense as ‘good bad’! (Webster 2002:32) Bell’s manipulation of empirical evidence to ‘fit’ and thereby ‘prove’ his theory, again is convincing although when manipulated in another way invalidates it. Nevertheless, many strands of his theory appear to mirror contemporary society and to some extent his ‘forecasting’ stands.
‘Continuist’ approaches as presented by Marxian thinkers, ‘Critical Theorists’ for example, offer another account of the role of information in contemporary social change. When contextualised in this way, technology and knowledge are deployed as an instrument to extend the existing capitalist system. Rooting change diachronically in the ‘ruck of history’, whilst ‘dealing with the realities of the here and now’, appears a superior starting point. (Webster 2002:156,273) It can be seen as sensible to view the ‘information society’ as an ‘internal modification’, a ‘gradual accumulation of change from within’, (Giddens 1971: 245) as a process of ‘informatisation’. (Webster 2002:266)
One proposition of a ‘best fit’ theory is one which encapsulates both continuities and discontinuities as proposed by Kellner. (Kellner 1999:4) To a considerable degree, depending upon philosophical standpoint, all of these approaches can coexist and be seen as ‘right’; as social constructions, in a sense it is largely a matter of opinion.
This is exemplified by a dialectical transformation, a quantitative change in a fundamental variable of an approach, which leads to a qualitative change in society. (Wikipedia 2004:2) In this case, this can be viewed as a parallax focused on the means of production: technology. (Castells b 2000:14-16) Here, the ‘continuist’ and ‘transformative’ approaches decisively split. Bell’s ‘theoretical knowledge’ and associated ICTs as the means of production is antithesis to capitalist thought that energy and ‘machine technology’ remain prominent, although their synthesis relates to the means of production. (Wikipedia 2004:2) So, Bell constructs and proves through his model that there is a qualitative change to society through a quantitative increase in the use of theoretical knowledge and ICTs. Pivotal to this is Bell’s disjunction of realms. Kumar observes that qualitative change occurs when society feels that there is a change, no matter how difficult this is to measure. He points out that theories such as ‘P-IS’ and ‘information society’ are ‘clearly part of a widespread feeling’. Perhaps this feeling is misplaced he argues, but in theorising society it must be considered. (Kumar 1995:153,154)
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Bell, D. (1976) The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, London: Heinemann
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Roberts, J. et al. (2000) ‘Knowledge and Innovation in the New Service Economy’ in B. Andersen, et al. (eds) Knowledge and Innovation in the New Service Economy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar
Schiller b, D. (1988) ‘How to Think About Information’ in V.Mosco & J.Wasko (eds) The Political Economy of Information, London: University of Wisconsin Press
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1 Waters refers to Bell who defines society as ‘a set of social arrangements, created by men, to regulate normatively the exchange of wants and satisfactions’. (Waters 1996:31) This implies that Bell views society as socially constructed and as a regulated, interactive network of evolving relationships. (Waters 1996:31)
2 These dimensions are ‘ideal-type’ constructions, that is, conceptual schemas or representations that embody specific attributes and allow simplification of a complex reality. (Bell 1974:9,116) That is to say that they are ‘structured only by logic rather than being constrained by substance’. (Waters 1996:32)
3 The polity relates to justice and regulation of social conflict through the application of power. This justice is informed by a framework of values embodied in society’s traditions or in its constitution, written or unwritten. (Waters 1996:33) The axial principle is legitimacy and ‘in a democratic polity it is the principle that power can be held and governance exercised only with the consent of the governed’. This emphasises equality through participation. (Bell 1976:11)
4 Culture refers to the ‘overall pattern or shape of life in a society’, (Waters 1996:34) which Bell restricts to ‘expressive symbolism’, such as religion and the arts, that addresses the universalities of existence. The axial principle of modern culture is self-expression and self -realisation: here, subjective value of this symbolism is primary. (Bell 1976:12)
5 He defines information as ‘the storage, retrieval, and processing of data’ and asserts that it is ‘central to all economic transactions’ and remarks that ‘even when it is sold, remains with the producer’. (Bell 1974:504,511,512)
He refers to Shannon, who asserts that information ‘can be treated very much like a physical quantity such as mass’ that can be measured absolutely. Bell rejects this idea and refuses to offer a quantifiable definition, although he does consider that information can be quantified as a statistical concept. (Bell 1980:508,509, 547) Bell asserts that information is a ‘pattern or design that rearranges data for instrumental purposes’. He acknowledges that this process of rearrangement is by the ‘knower’ or recipient and as such implies that information carries semantic meaning. (Bell 1980:509)
6 Bell also offers a more formal definition: ‘a set of organized statements of facts or ideas, presenting a reasoned judgement or an experimental result, which is transmitted to others through some communication medium in some systematic form’. (Bell 1974:175 emphasis removed)
7 7Waters refers to Bell who asserts that ‘[t]echnology is the instrumental ordering of human experience within a logic of efficient means, and the direction of nature to use its powers for material gain’. (Waters 1996:30) That is to say that technology is embodied in social relationships and is the systematic and repeatable application of knowledge to a task or to nature for (material) benefits. (Castells a 2000:8-9)
Bell cautiously asserts that the ‘pace of technological change has increased in recent decades’ (Bell 1974:195) and this may be partly derived from ‘the action of knowledge acting upon knowledge itself’, a virtuous circle where information processing improves the technology of knowledge generation. (Castells b 2000:17)
8 Waters emphasises that this technology ‘lies behind the machines’ in software and networks for example. (Waters 1996:153)Top
For other uses, see Information society (disambiguation).
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, liquid modernity, and network society (Manuel Castells).
There is currently no universally accepted concept of what exactly can be termed information society and what shall rather not so be termed. Most theoreticians agree that a transformation can be seen that started somewhere between the 1970s and today and is changing the way societies work fundamentally. Information technology goes beyond the internet, and there are discussions about how big the influence of specific media or specific modes of production really is. Frank Webster notes five major types of information that can be used to define information society: technological, economic, occupational, spatial and cultural. According to Webster, the character of information has transformed the way that we live today. How we conduct ourselves centers around theoretical knowledge and information.
Kasiwulaya and Gomo (Makerere University) allude[where?][dubious– discuss] that information societies are those that have intensified their use of IT for economic, social, cultural and political transformation. In 2005, governments reaffirmed their dedication to the foundations of the Information Society in the Tunis Commitment and outlined the basis for implementation and follow-up in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society. In particular, the Tunis Agenda addresses the issues of financing of ICTs for development and Internet governance that could not be resolved in the first phase.
Some people, such as Antonio Negri, characterize 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 to avoid the rest—even if they still sell steadily. Films are becoming more and more judged, in terms of distribution, by their first weekend's performance, in many cases cutting out opportunity for word-of-mouth development.
Michael Buckland characterizes information in society in his book Information and Society. Buckland expresses the idea that information can be interpreted differently from person to person based on that individual's experiences.
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.
The word information may be interpreted in many different ways. According to Buckland in Information and Society, most of the meanings fall into three categories of human knowledge: information as knowledge, information as a process, and information as a thing.
The growth of information in society
The growth of technologically mediated information has been quantified in different ways, including society's technological capacity to store information, to communicate information, and to compute information. It is estimated that, the world's technological capacity to store information grew from 2.6 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 1986, which is the informational equivalent to less than one 730-MB CD-ROM per person in 1986 (539 MB per person), to 295 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2007. This is the informational equivalent of 60 CD-ROM per person in 2007 and represents a sustained annual growth rate of some 25%. The world’s combined technological capacity to receive information through one-way broadcast networks was the informational equivalent of 174 newspapers per person per day in 2007.
The world's combined effective capacity to exchange information through two-way telecommunication networks was 281 petabytes of (optimally compressed) information in 1986, 471 petabytes in 1993, 2.2 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2000, and 65 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2007, which is the informational equivalent of 6 newspapers per person per day in 2007. The world's technological capacity to compute information with humanly guided general-purpose computers grew from 3.0 × 10^8 MIPS in 1986, to 6.4 x 10^12 MIPS in 2007, experiencing the fastest growth rate of over 60% per year during the last two decades.
James R. Beniger describes the necessity of information in modern society in the following way: “The need for sharply increased control that resulted from the industrialization of material processes through application of inanimate sources of energy probably accounts for the rapid development of automatic feedback technology in the early industrial period (1740-1830)” (p. 174) “Even with enhanced feedback control, industry could not have developed without the enhanced means to process matter and energy, not only as inputs of the raw materials of production but also as outputs distributed to final consumption.”(p. 175)
Development of the information society model
One of the first people to develop the concept of the information society was the economist Fritz Machlup. In 1933, Fritz Machlup began studying the effect of patents on research. His work culminated in the study The production and distribution of knowledge in the United States in 1962. This book was widely regarded and was eventually translated into Russian and Japanese. The Japanese have also studied the information society (or jōhōka shakai, 情報化社会).
The issue of technologies and their role in contemporary society have been discussed in the scientific literature using a range of labels and concepts. This section introduces some of them. Ideas of a knowledge or information economy, post-industrial society, postmodern society, network society, the information revolution, informational capitalism, network capitalism, and the like, have been debated over the last several decades.
Fritz Machlup (1962) introduced the concept of the knowledge industry. He began studying the effects of patents on research before distinguishing five sectors of the knowledge sector: education, research and development, mass media, information technologies, information services. Based on this categorization he calculated that in 1959 29% per cent of the GNP in the USA had been produced in knowledge industries.
Peter Drucker has argued that there is a transition from an economy based on material goods to one based on knowledge.Marc Porat distinguishes a primary (information goods and services that are directly used in the production, distribution or processing of information) and a secondary sector (information services produced for internal consumption by government and non-information firms) of the information economy.
Porat uses the total value added by the primary and secondary information sector to the GNP as an indicator for the information economy. The OECD has employed Porat's definition for calculating the share of the information economy in the total economy (e.g. OECD 1981, 1986). Based on such indicators, the information society has been defined as a society where more than half of the GNP is produced and more than half of the employees are active in the information economy.
For Daniel Bell the number of employees producing services and information is an indicator for the informational character of a society. "A post-industrial society is based on services. (…) What counts is not raw muscle power, or energy, but information. (…) A post industrial society is one in which the majority of those employed are not involved in the production of tangible goods".
Alain Touraine already spoke in 1971 of the post-industrial society. "The passage to postindustrial society takes place when investment results in the production of symbolic goods that modify values, needs, representations, far more than in the production of material goods or even of 'services'. Industrial society had transformed the means of production: post-industrial society changes the ends of production, that is, culture. (…) The decisive point here is that in postindustrial society all of the economic system is the object of intervention of society upon itself. That is why we can call it the programmed society, because this phrase captures its capacity to create models of management, production, organization, distribution, and consumption, so that such a society appears, at all its functional levels, as the product of an action exercised by the society itself, and not as the outcome of natural laws or cultural specificities" (Touraine 1988: 104). In the programmed society also the area of cultural reproduction including aspects such as information, consumption, health, research, education would be industrialized. That modern society is increasing its capacity to act upon itself means for Touraine that society is reinvesting ever larger parts of production and so produces and transforms itself. This makes Touraine's concept substantially different from that of Daniel Bell who focused on the capacity to process and generate information for efficient society functioning.
Jean-François Lyotard has argued that "knowledge has become the principle [sic] force of production over the last few decades". Knowledge would be transformed into a commodity. Lyotard says that postindustrial society makes knowledge accessible to the layman because knowledge and information technologies would diffuse into society and break up Grand Narratives of centralized structures and groups. Lyotard denotes these changing circumstances as postmodern condition or postmodern society.
Similarly to Bell, Peter Otto and Philipp Sonntag (1985) say that an information society is a society where the majority of employees work in information jobs, i.e. they have to deal more with information, signals, symbols, and images than with energy and matter. Radovan Richta (1977) argues that society has been transformed into a scientific civilization based on services, education, and creative activities. This transformation would be the result of a scientific-technological transformation based on technological progress and the increasing importance of computer technology. Science and technology would become immediate forces of production (Aristovnik 2014: 55).
Nico Stehr (1994, 2002a, b) says that in the knowledge society a majority of jobs involves working with knowledge. "Contemporary society may be described as a knowledge society based on the extensive penetration of all its spheres of life and institutions by scientific and technological knowledge" (Stehr 2002b: 18). For Stehr, knowledge is a capacity for social action. Science would become an immediate productive force, knowledge would no longer be primarily embodied in machines, but already appropriated nature that represents knowledge would be rearranged according to certain designs and programs (Ibid.: 41-46). For Stehr, the economy of a knowledge society is largely driven not by material inputs, but by symbolic or knowledge-based inputs (Ibid.: 67), there would be a large number of professions that involve working with knowledge, and a declining number of jobs that demand low cognitive skills as well as in manufacturing (Stehr 2002a).
Also Alvin Toffler argues that knowledge is the central resource in the economy of the information society: "In a Third Wave economy, the central resource – a single word broadly encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology, and values – is actionable knowledge" (Dyson/Gilder/Keyworth/Toffler 1994).
At the end of the twentieth century, the concept of the network society gained importance in information society theory. For Manuel Castells, network logic is besides information, pervasiveness, flexibility, and convergence a central feature of the information technology paradigm (2000a: 69ff). "One of the key features of informational society is the networking logic of its basic structure, which explains the use of the concept of 'network society'" (Castells 2000: 21). "As an historical trend, dominant functions and processes in the Information Age are increasingly organized around networks. Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power, and culture" (Castells 2000: 500). For Castells the network society is the result of informationalism, a new technological paradigm.
Jan Van Dijk (2006) defines the network society as a "social formation with an infrastructure of social and media networks enabling its prime mode of organization at all levels (individual, group/organizational and societal). Increasingly, these networks link all units or parts of this formation (individuals, groups and organizations)" (Van Dijk 2006: 20). For Van Dijk networks have become the nervous system of society, whereas Castells links the concept of the network society to capitalist transformation, Van Dijk sees it as the logical result of the increasing widening and thickening of networks in nature and society. Darin Barney uses the term for characterizing societies that exhibit two fundamental characteristics: "The first is the presence in those societies of sophisticated – almost exclusively digital – technologies of networked communication and information management/distribution, technologies which form the basic infrastructure mediating an increasing array of social, political and economic practices. (…) The second, arguably more intriguing, characteristic of network societies is the reproduction and institutionalization throughout (and between) those societies of networks as the basic form of human organization and relationship across a wide range of social, political and economic configurations and associations".
The major critique of concepts such as information society, knowledge society, network society, postmodern society, postindustrial society, etc. that has mainly been voiced by critical scholars is that they create the impression that we have entered a completely new type of society. "If there is just more information then it is hard to understand why anyone should suggest that we have before us something radically new" (Webster 2002a: 259). Critics such as Frank Webster argue that these approaches stress discontinuity, as if contemporary society had nothing in common with society as it was 100 or 150 years ago. Such assumptions would have ideological character because they would fit with the view that we can do nothing about change and have to adopt to existing political realities (kasiwulaya 2002b: 267).
These critics argue that contemporary society first of all is still a capitalist society oriented towards accumulating economic, political, and cultural capital. They acknowledge that information society theories stress some important new qualities of society (notably globalization and informatization), but charge that they fail to show that these are attributes of overall capitalist structures. Critics such as Webster insist on the continuities that characterise change. In this way Webster distinguishes between different epochs of capitalism: laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century, corporate capitalism in the 20th century, and informational capitalism for the 21st century (kasiwulaya 2006).
For describing contemporary society based on a dialectic of the old and the new, continuity and discontinuity, other critical scholars have suggested several terms like:
- transnational network capitalism, transnational informational capitalism (Christian Fuchs 2008, 2007): "Computer networks are the technological foundation that has allowed the emergence of global network capitalism, that is, regimes of accumulation, regulation, and discipline that are helping to increasingly base the accumulation of economic, political, and cultural capital on transnational network organizations that make use of cyberspace and other new technologies for global coordination and communication. [...] The need to find new strategies for executing corporate and political domination has resulted in a restructuration of capitalism that is characterized by the emergence of transnational, networked spaces in the economic, political, and cultural system and has been mediated by cyberspace as a tool of global coordination and communication. Economic, political, and cultural space have been restructured; they have become more fluid and dynamic, have enlarged their borders to a transnational scale, and handle the inclusion and exclusion of nodes in flexible ways. These networks are complex due to the high number of nodes (individuals, enterprises, teams, political actors, etc.) that can be involved and the high speed at which a high number of resources is produced and transported within them. But global network capitalism is based on structural inequalities; it is made up of segmented spaces in which central hubs (transnational corporations, certain political actors, regions, countries, Western lifestyles, and worldviews) centralize the production, control, and flows of economic, political, and cultural capital (property, power, definition capacities). This segmentation is an expression of the overall competitive character of contemporary society." (Fuchs 2008: 110+119).
- digital capitalism (Schiller 2000, cf. also Peter Glotz): "networks are directly generalizing the social and cultural range of the capitalist economy as never before" (Schiller 2000: xiv)
- virtual capitalism: the "combination of marketing and the new information technology will enable certain firms to obtain higher profit margins and larger market shares, and will thereby promote greater concentration and centralization of capital" (Dawson/John Bellamy Foster 1998: 63sq),
- high-tech capitalism or informatic capitalism (Fitzpatrick 2002) – to focus on the computer as a guiding technology that has transformed the productive forces of capitalism and has enabled a globalized economy.
Other scholars prefer to speak of information capitalism (Morris-Suzuki 1997) or informational capitalism (Manuel Castells 2000, Christian Fuchs 2005, Schmiede 2006a, b). Manuel Castells sees informationalism as a new technological paradigm (he speaks of a mode of development) characterized by "information generation, processing, and transmission" that have become "the fundamental sources of productivity and power" (Castells 2000: 21). The "most decisive historical factor accelerating, channelling and shaping the information technology paradigm, and inducing its associated social forms, was/is the process of capitalist restructuring undertaken since the 1980s, so that the new techno-economic system can be adequately characterized as informational capitalism" (Castells 2000: 18). Castells has added to theories of the information society the idea that in contemporary society dominant functions and processes are increasingly organized around networks that constitute the new social morphology of society (Castells 2000: 500). Nicholas Garnham is critical of Castells and argues that the latter’s account is technologically determinist because Castells points out that his approach is based on a dialectic of technology and society in which technology embodies society and society uses technology (Castells 2000: 5sqq). But Castells also makes clear that the rise of a new "mode of development" is shaped by capitalist production, i.e. by society, which implies that technology isn't the only driving force of society.
Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that contemporary society is an Empire that is characterized by a singular global logic of capitalist domination that is based on immaterial labour. With the concept of immaterial labour Negri and Hardt introduce ideas of information society discourse into their Marxist account of contemporary capitalism. Immaterial labour would be labour "that creates immaterial products, such as knowledge, information, communication, a relationship, or an emotional response" (Hardt/Negri 2005: 108; cf. also 2000: 280-303), or services, cultural products, knowledge (Hardt/Negri 2000: 290). There would be two forms: intellectual labour that produces ideas, symbols, codes, texts, linguistic figures, images, etc.; and affective labour that produces and manipulates affects such as a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion, joy, sadness, etc. (Ibid.).
Overall, neo-Marxist accounts of the information society have in common that they stress that knowledge, information technologies, and computer networks have played a role in the restructuration and globalization of capitalism and the emergence of a flexible regime of accumulation (David Harvey 1989). They warn that new technologies are embedded into societal antagonisms that cause structural unemployment, rising poverty, social exclusion, the deregulation of the welfare state and of labour rights, the lowering of wages, welfare, etc.
Concepts such as knowledge society, information society, network society, informational capitalism, postindustrial society, transnational network capitalism, postmodern society, etc. show that there is a vivid discussion in contemporary sociology on the character of contemporary society and the role that technologies, information, communication, and co-operation play in it. Information society theory discusses the role of information and information technology in society, the question which key concepts shall be used for characterizing contemporary society, and how to define such concepts. It has become a specific branch of contemporary sociology.
Second and third nature
Information society is the means of getting information from one place to another. As technology has advanced so too has the way people have adapted in sharing this information with each other.
"Second nature" refers a group of experiences that get made over by culture. They then get remade into something else that can then take on a new meaning. As a society we transform this process so it becomes something natural to us, i.e. second nature. So, by following a particular pattern created by culture we are able to recognise how we use and move information in different ways. From sharing information via different time zones (such as talking online) to information ending up in a different location (sending a letter overseas) this has all become a habitual process that we as a society take for granted.
However, through the process of sharing information vectors have enabled us to spread information even further. Through the use of these vectors information is able to move and then separate from the initial things that enabled them to move. From here, something called "third nature" has developed. An extension of second nature, third nature is in control of second nature. It expands on what second nature is limited by. It has the ability to mould information in new and different ways. So, third nature is able to ‘speed up, proliferate, divide, mutate, and beam in on us from else where. It aims to create a balance between the boundaries of space and time (see second nature). This can be seen through the telegraph, it was the first successful technology that could send and receive information faster than a human being could move an object. As a result different vectors of people have the ability to not only shape culture but create new possibilities that will ultimately shape society.
Therefore, through the use of second nature and third nature society is able to use and explore new vectors of possibility where information can be moulded to create new forms of interaction.
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 number of terms in current use emphasize related but different aspects of the emerging global economic order. The Information Society intends to be the most encompassing in that an economy is a subset of a society. The Information Age is somewhat limiting, in that it refers to a 30-year period between the widespread use of computers and the knowledge economy, rather than an emerging economic order. The knowledge era is about the nature of the content, not the socioeconomic processes by which it will be traded. The computer revolution, and knowledge revolution refer to specific revolutionary transitions, rather than the end state towards which we are evolving. The Information Revolution relates with the well known terms agricultural revolution and industrial revolution.
- The information economy and the knowledge economy emphasize the content or intellectual property that is being traded through an information market or knowledge market, respectively. Electronic commerce and electronic business emphasize the nature of transactions and running a business, respectively, using the Internet and World-Wide Web. The digital economy focuses on trading bits in cyberspace rather than atoms in physical space. The network economy stresses that businesses will work collectively in webs or as part of business ecosystems rather than as stand-alone units. Social networking refers to the process of collaboration on massive, global scales. The internet economy focuses on the nature of markets that are enabled by the Internet.
- Knowledge services and knowledge value put content into an economic context. Knowledge services integrates Knowledge management, within a Knowledge organization, that trades in a Knowledge market. In order for individuals to receive more knowledge, surveillance is used. This relates to the use of Drones as a tool in order to gather knowledge on other individuals. Although seemingly synonymous, each term conveys more than nuances or slightly different views of the same thing. Each term represents one attribute of the likely nature of economic activity in the emerging post-industrial society. Alternatively, the new economic order will incorporate all of the above plus other attributes that have not yet fully emerged.
- In connection with the development of the information society, appeared information pollution, evolving information ecology - associated with information hygiene.
Today, It is important to selectively select the information. Due to information revolution, the amount of information is puzzling. Among these, we need to develop techniques that refine information. This is called data mining. It is an engineering term, but it is used in sociology. In other words, if the amount of information was competitive in the past, the quality of information is important today.
One of the central paradoxes of the information society is that it makes information easily reproducible, leading to a variety of freedom/control problems relating to intellectual property. Essentially, business and capital, whose place becomes that of producing and selling information and knowledge, seems to require control over this new resource so that it can effectively be managed and sold as the basis of the information economy. However, such control can prove to be both technically and socially problematic. Technically because copy protection is often easily circumvented and socially rejected because the users and citizens of the information society can prove to be unwilling to accept such absolute commodification of the facts and information that compose their environment.
Responses to this concern range from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States (and similar legislation elsewhere) which make copy protection (see DRM) circumvention illegal, to the free software, open source and copyleft movements, which seek to encourage and disseminate the "freedom" of various information products (traditionally both as in "gratis" or free of cost, and liberty, as in freedom to use, explore and share).
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. Because we lack political control of intellectual property, we are lacking in a concrete map of issues, an analysis of costs and benefits, and functioning political groups that are unified by common interests representing different opinions of this diverse situation that are prominent in the information society.
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