What is the Information Society?
Information has always been central to human development because data/information and knowledge is necessary for us to remember, learn, know and think. Why is it then that our society has become known as the information society? And what does this term mean?
It all started when digital technology enabled us to represent information that originated in any format (image, sound, text, numerals) in a homogeneous format that is accurately and efficiently stored, manipulated, and transmitted.
The spectacular technical advances that followed digital representation, the convergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the fact that computing power and digital storage became faster, smaller and cheaper, has resulted in the widespread dissemination of computers and digital information in our society (Webster, 1994, p.3).
More and more economic activity, associated with the wealth of a society, is based on production and trading of information-based goods, turning information into a major commodity (Bawden and Robinson, 2012, p. 232). According to Floridi (2010) a country qualifies as information society if at least 70% of the Gross Domestic Product depends on information-related goods (p. 5). The functioning and growth of these economies rely on generation of immense amounts of data and information related products, generated by a workforce with occupations found predominately in information work (Webster, 1994, p. 8).
ICTs has enabled the development of digital networks, which has had an unparalleled influence on how easy it is for people to connect, access and transmit information – resulting in the ability of humans to transcend the boundaries of space and time in the virtual spaces and communities where socialisation and transactions are now possible. IT infrastructure has made global integration possible, linking people regardless of time and space, allowing them to exchange information and knowledge (Webster, 1994, p.12). Castells sees the importance of networks so paramount that he refers to this society as “the Network Society” (2010, p. 500). He reasoned that “networks substantially modify the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power and culture”.
The digital nature of the information society has resulted in an information landscape that is characterised by multiple formats and delivery modes and an enormous increase in the amount of information available. Because of the ease of production and publication there are real concerns about the authority and authenticity of information (Fitzgerald, n.d.). Further problems associated with the availability of large volumes of information in different formats, are information overload, continuous partial attention, and the digital divide – poverty and generational gaps (Bawden and Robinson, 2012, pp. 243 – 245). Even though it has a global nature, the information society is influenced by national and international policies, laws and regulations in terms of intellectual property, copyright, patents, etc. (p. 235).
The fact that there is no one accepted definition for the information society may have to do with the fact that we are still very much in this era, an era that is already known for constant and accelerated change; as well as the fact that “information” has proved to be such a primitive concept, basic to human understanding, that it defies defining (Case, 2006, p.66).
Why is it important for the teacher librarian to understand the information landscape?
In the information society there has been a large increase in information available, both in new and old formats of media, in this landscape teacher librarians (TL) can give students access to information sources that support their individual needs.
In the connected digital era it is easy for students to rely on the Internet, believing that it is a one-stop-shop for information, where all information is good information, not realising that the fact that information is freely available does not mean that it is reliable or accurate (Combes, 2016). TLs have an important role to play in ensuring that, in this information landscape, students are critical users of information who develop the information skills needed to locate, retrieve and evaluate relevant information sources. We know that in the information society, the information landscape keeps changing as technology advances. TLs must stay abreast of current developments to stay relevant as professionals and to be able to support their patrons in finding the information they need.
Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2012). Information society. In Introduction to information science (pp. 231-249). London, UK: Facet.
Case, D. (2006). The concept of information. In Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs and behaviour, pp. 40-65. 2nd ed. Burlingham: Emerald Group Publishing Lid. ebook, CSU Library.
Castells, M. (2010). Conclusion: The network society. In The rise of the network society (2nd ed., pp. 500-509). Retrieved from https://deterritorialinvestigations.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/manuel_castells_the_rise_of_the_network_societybookfi-org.pdf
Combes, B. (2016). The nature of information: The story of chicken Little. [Webinar]. Retrieved Mar. 2018 from Interact2 CSU.
Fitzgerald, L. (n.d.). The information environment. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from S-ETL401_2018_30_W_D (Introduction to teacher librarianship) website: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_34577_1&content_id=_2060420_1
Floridi, L. (2010). Information: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Webster, F. (1994). What information society? The Information Society, 10(1), 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1080/01972243.1994.9960154