Introduction Living in a technologically sophisticated world, we are not citizens only of a defined territory, and mere citizenship is no longer enough to identify where we belong. The recently-coined word ‘netizen’ more effectively captures the present phenomenon, and while anecdotal, cannot be ignored. The considerable advances in technology in the last few decades have brought huge changes at a high speed to our day-to-day life and to society at large, a radical change accelerated by its rapid adoption of communication technology (Carolyn & David, 2007).
With the changes in technology and society, it has become very difficult to define today’s world in a single line or even in a couple of sentences. However, it is very common to define any period of time by its most influential and distinctive phenomenon (e. g. feudalism, capitalism, etc. ). The question is then, what is the most influential, or which is a more distinctive factor in our present world? There are arguments and discussions which may vary in propositions but potentially agree with the central idea of ‘the flow of information’.
Unlike traditional societies, there are many different forms of emerging societies that are based on information-technology, more specifically, computers and the internet. These societies altogether create a picture of our present societies, which are called information societies (IS) which was conceptualized since long before. According to Yoneji Masuda, there are four stages of technological development and when the highest level will be achieved, the information society will appear (Masuda, Y. 1981). Undoubtedly, we passed that level in the nineties.
Before going through the details, it is necessary to develop an overall idea of an IS. We find many characteristics of IS which can best define these types of societies. Defining Information Society (IS) As mentioned earlier, we divide and define our time by what it constitutes of with its influential and distinctive characteristics. It was not so difficult before when the societies were simple, close, and smaller in scale. However, it has become rather more difficult due to the rise of complexities and invisibility in the society.
Max Weber, a famous sociologist, had coined a term explaining the major differences between traditional societies and modern societies which is still relevant to this discussion. Later it was further clarified by other German sociologists, such as Tonnies, Simmel, etc. According to them, unlike the modern societies, the traditional societies were more personal, direct and stable. Weber stated these as Gemeinschaft in German. On the contrary, with some exceptions, the modern societies are more impersonal where relations within social groups are mostly temporary; in Weber’s language, Gesellschaft. (Memmi, D. 2006)
According to Scott Lash, ‘the information society is a knowledge society’ which deals with discursive knowledge (Lash, S. 2002). Here, information or knowledge itself creates money and they are produced and practiced on a large scale (and sometimes only to enlarge their size). In IS, the concept of labour also has turned into informational. Information itself has become the means of production whereas the product is no other than that. Webster identified extraordinary intellectual influence in post-industrial societies which geared up the information society to come into account later in the middle of the 1990’s. Webster, F. 2005) The social groups and human individuals act quite loosely and enjoy a high level of freedom in information societies. Moreover, the large number of members lessens the pressure of cohesion and ensures the highest mobility within the society. Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells coined the term informational capitalism instead of Bell’s post-industrial society arguing with him. He recalled the idea in his conceptualizing network society to analyze the complexity of the new economy, society, and culture that supplements the notion of information society. Castells, M. 2000). In an information society, the virtual existence is more common than actual existence. Information became the synonym for knowledge, and consumption supersedes its actual worth and itself has become focused instead of fulfilling the demand. Here we can critically analyze some of the features of information society explained above. Existence or Virtual Existence As technology develops further and becomes sophisticated, face-to-face human interactivity decreases rapidly.
With new inventions and technological developments of many life systems, physical human interaction has massively been reduced. Online social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, FlickR, have played an integral part of virtual existence. This has a negative and positive impact on our societies at the same time. The active participation in these computer-mediated social networks quite often reduces the face-to-face emotional interactions and engagements. Sometimes the direct physical interaction rather creates unease and discomfort than that of online.
People often prefer online conversation than that of in any typical restaurant or roadside cafe. On the other side, due to these social networking groups and online virtual societies, many old friends and relations are reconnected. They participate in the virtual platform with the same emotion, goal and commitment which is unlikely to the general forms of current societies. Due to this dichotomy in nature, virtual societies are ambiguous which in turn affect the general behavior pattern of the people. It puts them into a dilemma to rely either on their physical existence or virtual existence.
However, virtual existence is more likely to people to feel comfortable with in general, due to its convenience and easygoingness whereas their physical existence sometimes feels mere superficial, unwilling and opportunist. Daniel Memmi says, “One may witness in our time the emergence of a typical personality: affable, easy-going, pleasant and flexible. But this is often a superficial personality, cold and shallow behind the surface geniality. Such an individual is actually self-centered and calculating, ready to ditch obsolete causes in favor of newer, more profitable interests.
His social engagements are usually loose, temporary and unemotional. ” – Memmi D. (2006) The nature of Virtual Communities, AI & Soc, 20(3): P-292 In an information society, people have more attachments but fewer commitments. They are self-centered as Memmi mentioned with minimum respect towards human society. They are committed to the systems or to the virtual societies but not to the human society, perhaps because that does not exist anymore. The institutions have merged and limited into two instead of three: individual and the state; society is in fact absent from the present day world.
The virtual existence, on the other hand, has accelerated a global velocity and enhanced the upward and downward mobility within and across the societies (Schaefer, T. 2003). It has removed the boundaries of traditional societies, which has created an open ground for the people of different types in terms of colour, race, and religion. It enhanced human productivity and helped to develop cultural and media industries at the cost of their human character changed into sub-human machines. It earned restlessness in the exchange of convenience. Information Vs Knowledge
In a huge flow of information, it has become very difficult to differentiate between information and knowledge in IS. Despite living with unlimited information, our knowledge is significantly poor due to lacking in the contexts. We are facing a situation where everything is information, and one information may divert our concentration from the information we need. Thus we are getting lost in millions of data. Scott Lash Says, “The second type of information becomes ubiquitous, spins out of control. Now informationalization leads to an overload of communications. – Lash S. (2002), Critique of Information, Sage, London, P-144 According to Roberts and Wills, we find three different parts of knowledge; data, information, and knowledge which are organized into the following pyramid: – Roberts, Bob & Chris Wills, (2008), Lecture delivered on knowledge management Here, data is the basic element of information, whereas information is the result of accumulating and analysing data in a meaningful context, and knowledge is the application of information to a specific context which implies an understanding of the information by a knower. Roberts & Wills, 2008) The revolution of information blessed human being with the unlimited flow of information but converted them like a captive in the enormous waves of data. In the present world, many people gather such a large amount of information, which they cannot explore in a single lifetime. Obviously it has made our life easier compared to the past. From the grocery shops to the latest weapons, everything has become in the tip of the fingers. But it could not avoid the inherent problems following this pace that earned huge uncertainty and risk to the human lives. Conclusion
It does not matter, whether we accept the reality of IS or not. This is an obvious phenomenon before us. We tried to investigate through some of its characteristics so far from a value-free sociological perspective, which provide us an understanding that the negative aspects of IS supersedes its positive sides though it was initiated based on the romantic hypothesis. But we still can not say that it proved wrong, because the proper time is still ahead and the benefit of IS cannot be ignored by any chance. There are many ways to find the drawbacks of IS and change them into opportunity.
We find this positive approach in Daniel Memmi, when he says, “The issue is important because the exact nature of virtual groups is probably relevant to the design of good communicative or collaborative software. To better accommodate these new communities, we must first try to understand how they function. ” – Memmi D. (2006). The Nature of Virtual Communities, AI & Soc, 20(3): P-289 References 1. Baudrillard, J. (1993) Symbolic Exchange and Death, London, Sage 2. Castells, M. (2001) The Rise of Network Society, London, Blackwell 3. Lash, S. 2002), Critique of Information, London, Sage 4. Memmi, D. (2006) The nature of virtual communities, AI & Soc, Vol. 20, No. 3 pp. 288-300 5. Roberts, B. & Chris Wills (2008) Lecture delivered on knowledge management, London, Kingston University 6. Schaefer, Richard T. (2003) Sociology, USA, McGraw-Hill 7. Webster, F. (2005) Making sense of the information age: Sociology and Cultural Studies, Information, Communication and Society, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 471-476 8. Yoneji Masuda, The Information Society as Post-industrial Society, 1981, USA, World Future Society