Feb 1, 2010 Comments Off
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. He asserts that the shift from pre-industrial to post-industrial society occurred because of the increased distribution of goods led to higher incomes and an increased market for luxury goods. 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 social problems resulting from this shift as the educated professionals find themselves confronting the populace.
Bell begins his argument by describing the characteristics of pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial societies as a means of comparison. While pre-industrial society depends on natural resources and domestic life is important, industrial society is a goods-producing society in which the machine and semi-skilled worker use energy instead of raw muscle to produce items. A post-industrial society is one in which services are the main commodity and these services help determine the quality of life for the people. He notes that the final step in the transformation from industrial to post-industrial society is a growth in government as the market fails to fulfill the desires of the people for better services. Consequently, conflicts develop as the professional, whose status is based on ability, finds himself at odds with the populace, which seeks an active role for all members.
A key component of this switch was an increase in the number of white-collar workers. Bell notes that at the beginning of the century only three in ten workers were employed in service industries but by 1968 there were now six out of every ten workers employed in services. He calls this class the new middle class and notes that it exists to serve the business or working classes. With the emerging white-collar worker class comes an increase in the number of government workers, as the number of people employed in government jobs increased from 6.4 percent of the labor force in 1929 to 16 percent in the mid 1970s.
Another main point in Bells argument is the conflict faced by the educated class as it rises to prominence in post-industrial society. While Bell disagrees with the fact that the educated class is restricted by the desires of capitalism (this argument fails to see the increasing participation in the capitalistic sphere), he does note that educated people seek differentiation in their titles. For example, the term “engineer” has come to describe a variety of jobs from a trash collector to a mechanical designer.
What I find most interesting about Bell’s argument is the fact that he is a making these assertions in the mid 1970s. Almost forty years later, his descriptions of society are still valid and eerily accurate. Modern society is certainly centered around luxury goods as evidenced by the incredible technological race that seems to be dominating pop culture. Companies cannot compete fast enough to create newer more advanced gadgets to cater to the growing technological dependence of the people. Consequently, the educated class is also rising to prominence to create these gadgets. Just as Bell predicted, a larger government and more popular participation have become prominent features of political life as a result of this change into an information society. The amount of government influence that should be allowed in any given aspect of society has become an important debate, as many people feel that government is becoming involved in too many issues such as that of gay marriage. And as we now live in an information society, technology allows for the rapid spread of easily accessible information, which has become a key component in politics and campaigning strategies.