May 9, 2010
Many individuals in my generation fail to recognize the extent to which modern society depends on technology, since it has been this way for much of what we can remember. However, the two readings this week remind us of the numerous transformations that occurred to create our modern society.
In Chapter 7 of The Information Society Reader, Bell describes the transition from a pre-industrial to industrial to post-industrial society and the implications that this shift has on working class society. The post-industrial society “is defined by the quality of life as measured by the service and amenities…now deemed desirable and possible for everyone” (87). However, while Bell concludes that this shift was beneficial as it created new market, that of services, he does not fail to comment on the multitude of social problems resulting from this, most notably the changes in the workforce.
In Chapter 8 of The Information Society Reader, Kumar looks further into societal transformation, focusing on the new information society. Kumar seeks to reveal how the growing number of information workers coincides with a loss of individuality for the information worker and the fact that machines are even beginning to gain more importance than the skilled worker. Ultimately, this transformation has resulted in a shift from dependence on services to dependence on the transmittance of information between members of the society.
While I feel that many of these changes have been extremely beneficial to our society, allowing individuals to become more connected to the world around them and giving them the ability to feel connected to events occurring beyond geographic boundaries, there are many social implications of this shift. In my opinion, the two most prominent issues faced as a result of the transformation to the information society are the magnification of social stratification and the loss of individualism.
One problem with operating on an information-based society is that knowledge accentuates current social hierarchy. This is true both internationally and domestically. In order for an information society to function, countries need to accurately transmit information between citizens and other countries. Consequently, technological advances are necessary to the success of these countries. Yet, not all countries have equivalent resources to expend in such endeavors. Developing nations, unable to produce much of the necessary technology to begin with, will fall behind the developed nations at a much higher rate than before. Originally, these nations struggled to provide their citizens with the tools to have a comfortable lifestyle more similar to that of citizens in developed counties. Now, poorer nations have also fallen behind in terms of the distribution of information as well. Yet, these countries should be focusing their resources on achieving a higher quality of life for their citizens before they worry about technological advancement, automatically putting them at a disadvantage in the information society.
Social stratification is also occurring within countries. Contrary to the post-industrial society of the past, the information society is one in which “monopoly capitalism…is now to a good extent ‘information capitalism’ (Kumar 108). Technology has become the most important asset in society, as success is defined through intangible means, rather than by the amount of physical product produced. While Bell asserts that the post-industrial society can be characterized by an increase in the number of white-collar workers due to the fact that they produce the services integral to the society, “Taylorism” is the main characteristic of the information society. Taylorism is the “de-skilling of most middle level managers, [and]…the loss…of overall comprehension and control of their work” (Kumar 110). The white-collar workers that were so important in the past are now becoming obsolete. They are being overrun by machines, as technology is just as capable of doing their tasks but with an increased efficiency. In modern society, there is no need to pay multiple individuals to do the same task that can be completed with a single machine. As white-collar workers are becoming unnecessary in the work-environment, they are also falling behind in the information society. Without a stable job, these individuals cannot purchase the newest technologies. Without these technologies, they will fail to follow the trend of the information society, and may even become inactive members of the society in which they live.
While white-collar workers are losing their spot in society, educated individuals are finding themselves in an even better position than they previously held. Technology and information transmittance are the two main concerns of countries in the information society, therefore giving technology-producing companies an important position. However, these companies cannot compete fast enough to create more advanced gadgets to cater to the growing technological dependence of the people. Consequently, the educated class is in greater demand than ever to share their creative skill. These people will receive the most important jobs, and therefore will be most able to buy the necessary technologies to keep up with information transfer. While the educated class had always been seen as “higher” in comparison to white-collar workers, this stratification is magnified. Instead of just being socially inferior in the minds of many individuals, white-collar workers are actually facing threats of not being able to keep up with society.
While magnified social stratification is one result of the information society, a loss of individualism is another. In his article, Hassan notes, “it is unarguable that the information society is a world where collective and personal autonomy…have been gradually diminishing” (31). However, he also asserts that the connectedness of the society “can allow us to express our individuality” (2). After analyzing this week’s readings, I find myself disagreeing with Hassan. Bell explicitly states that in a post-industrial society, “the social unit is the community rather than the individual” (88). While the post-industrial society is not the same as the information society, it preceded the information society and consequently has many of the same characteristics. Bell also argues “participation becomes a condition of community”; yet this ideal is challenged by the fact that many individuals in the community cannot participate due to stratification and the inability to stay up-to-date.
As technology has been able to replace skilled individuals, the need for individuality (or individual distinction in terms of ability) has vanished. Yes, educated workers are needed for their skill and unique creativity, but the loss of an entire class of workers potentially counters this shift. Individuals desire distinction in terms of their job, most notably through titles that connote social superiority. However, the information society blurs much of the distinction between titles, for example with the term “engineer”. An engineer of the past had technological and mathematical skills but modern society has made this definition much broader. An engineer could be a physicist or a trash collector.
In addition to the loss of individuality within the workforce, citizens are also becoming one in a mass. The information society is truly a communal one, as information sharing depends on the interconnectedness of individuals. Yes, technology has allowed community to extend far beyond geographic boundaries, however it still promotes conformity. Gadgets allow for the transmittance of information between individuals; by default everybody needs to use the same types of tools. And since there is a race between companies to see who can produce the most efficient and newest products, no individual wants to have a brand different from those of others. Everybody will want the newest brand, thus creating a mass of people hooked onto the same device. These devices oftentimes allow little time for personalization as they mainly focus on information transfer.
With the development of the Internet, individuality has been further diminished. People can anonymously go online and leave comments on forums, never informing their readers of their true identities. Additionally, people are beginning to resort to text and instant message conversations rather than face-to-face contact. This shift is resulting in a loss of expression, as small mannerisms and even physical appearance, which used to define an individual, are ignored. Instead, everybody is made the same through simple text.
While the shift to an information society has certainly had many advantages, it has also produced multiple social problems. And unless these problems begin to be addressed, they will only intensify until individuals become technological robots, glued to their technology and ignorant of those who cannot keep up.