An information society is a society where the creation, distribution, diffusion, use, integration and manipulation of information is a significant economic, political, and cultural activity. The aim of the information society is to gain competitive advantage internationally, through using information technology (IT) in a creative and productive way. The knowledge economy is its economic counterpart, whereby wealth is created through the economic exploitation of understanding. People who have the means to partake in this form of society are sometimes called digital citizens. This is one of many dozen labels that have been identified to suggest that humans are entering a new phase of society.
Some people think we are evolving into an information society but I don’t see it as a viable model.
Let me be clear – there is a market for information and information technology. We have entered what could be called an “information age” that has profoundly impacted society in ways we don’t even yet know.
But how do you base an entire economy on information? In order to do that you either need to control knowledge or control the flow of information (or both). Either one is problematic.
There is an old saying that “A secret shared is not a secret”. How do you control knowledge once you share it? DVD burners and multi-gig jump drives are cheap and plentiful.
We already have problems with illegal file-sharing and DVD piracy. As our resident pirate can tell you, any anti-piracy software one man can design another can defeat. The only real remedy is to keep prices low enough to make piracy not very profitable.
Trying to control the flow of information is even more problematic. The whole idea of an information society is predicated on cheap and easy access to the internet. If using the ‘net becomes to difficult or expensive, people either won’t use it or they will force government to use eminent domain to take possession of the information superhighway infrastructure.
Basing an economy on the flow of information is like trying to base an economy on transportation. The industrial revolution depended on cheap and easy transportation of raw materials to factories and finished products to market. If you don’t have something of value to move you don’t need transportation.
Which brings me to my final point. The information age has not resulted in a huge expansion of human knowledge. We have seen big improvements in technology, but that’s been going on since the beginning of the scientific revolution.
Take my field – the law has not changed dramatically in the past twenty years. The practice of law has changed quite a bit as legal research and writing became so much easier. But the law itself remains pretty much unchanged.
The internet has created a truly global marketplace as buyers and sellers can easily hook-up from opposite sides of the planet. But it’s still just buying and selling.
As I said earlier, I’m not convinced that an “information society” is a viable economic model. The same thing applies to a “service economy.” That’s because neither one is predicated on producing anything tangible of value.