Feb 1, 2010 Comments Off
In Chapter 8 of The Information Society Reader, Kumar looks in great detail at the social implications of the information society, and the effects that its economics have on the people. 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. He ends his argument by asserting that information and knowledge, while beneficial to the development of society as a whole, helps to solidify current social stratification.
According to Kumar, the information society developed as a result of the combination of two factors: the industrial society of the past and the military-industrial-scientific complex of the 1950s. Kumar notes that the information society developed because of the industrial revolution. As machinery became more prominent, more time and manpower needed to be spent monitoring these machines for efficiency and safety purposes, consequently laying the basis for a society in which information is the dominant factor. At the same time, the creation of computers as a means to serve the military led to technological developments, which allowed the easier transportation of information and created the information society. Kumar suggests that the information economy is rapidly becoming one of the most prominent sectors of the economy, as it accounts for 46% of the United States’ GNP and over 50% of the country’s salary and wages. In the 1970s, information workers constituted the largest portion of the workforce and it seems logical to assume that this trend continues into contemporary times. To further support this assumption Kumar notes how technology is invading our homes. People do not simply watch TV, but they enhance this leisure activity with cable or satellite and HDTV. Furthermore, people shop and pay bills online instead of leaving their houses to actually talk face-to-face with an employee. With the changing economic division, monopoly capitalism has transformed into information capitalism, even on a global scale. Just as we have seen the information economy rise in prominence here, in 1970, over half of Japan’s industries were hard industries. By 1980, this classification only applied to 27 percent of industries. One implication of this switch to knowledge-based services is that more developing countries will far further behind the developed ones. The successes of developed countries that identify themselves by an information economy depend on the countries’ abilities to more accurately and efficiently transport information. Therefore, technological advances will be critical to their successes. However, developing nations, unable to create much of the technology to begin with, will fall behind the developed nations at a much higher rate than before as they struggle to transport knowledge efficiently.
The information economy has also had an effect on the social structure in society. For the increasing number of white-collar workers, the development of Taylorism is threatening to attack their credentials as “skilled” workers, as clerks become extensions of the machine and have no real comprehension of their work. Furthermore, Taylorism results in the loss of control of work, greatly affecting managers. However, the author also notes the optimistic viewpoint of the argument; though Taylorism subtracts from the skill of workers, the increasing dependence on machinery will open up newer and more creative jobs. These jobs will then attract knowledge workers, who will embrace theoretical and technical skills and take advantage of the growing number of educational institutions in the country.
The downside of this societal transformation is that knowledge accentuates the current social hierarchy. While the Internet has made most knowledge available in the public domain, companies are beginning to privatize their information for a profit. Once again, only the monetarily privileged members of society can purchase this knowledge, which is key to maintaining an active position in society. As human dependence on technological gadgets increases, and the information economy further serves these demands, I fear that social stratification will increase. Companies will be able to take advantage of the public domain and restrict their services to those that can pay. And in order to keep up in such a technologically based society, it will become almost necessary to purchase the newest, most up to date technological devices. However, as the machine continues to dominate the workforce, eventually there might not be much of a need for white-collar labor, consequently leaving this huge class of workers unable to purchase the newest technologies. Without these technologies, these workers will fail to follow the trend of information society, and may even become inactive in the society in which they live.