In the information society the media is the central holder of information that comes in many different forms like films, television, radio, and print. It is a society in which every aspect of information such as its “creation, distribution, access and use” (Karvalics, 2007, p. 10) are the height of economic and cultural activity. In this type of society people are heavily reliant upon technology in their everyday lives.
As noted by Mills and Barlow (2012), “The information society is an idea which has its origins in economics and sociology” (p. 513). Due to the rise of globalization and capitalism, numerous people struggle to understand the overall structure of their society. Many individuals are surrounded by the everyday exchange of information, causing them to become paralyzed by the information that they are obtaining at particularly high rate. As a result, these individuals fail to use this information and do anything with it.
In the economic sense, information is dispersed by the media to the masses, as this is how large, private corporations gain profits. Corporations disguise their information by turning it into products that appeal to the masses (Mills and Barlow, 2012). Products such as television advertisements, magazine covers, movie trailers, etcetera. These products are sent out to the media as it has multiple platforms (tv, radio, print) that connects to the masses in the form of consumerism. (Mills and Barlow, 2012).
The history of when societies entered the information society remains unclear despite the number of theorists that have dedicated their time in understanding the theory (Karvalics, 2007). According to Karvalics (2007), there is only a small number of researchers that share their viewpoints as to the start of the information society.
There are a number of theorists associated with its theory such as Daniel Bell, Alvin Toffler, and Manuel Castells among other theorists. First, Daniel Bell was an American sociologist who believed that the post-industrial society would be information-based and eventually replace industrialism as he perceived information to be a dominant asset in society (Daniel, 1973). From Bell’s perspective, humans gained dominance over their environment to proceed from an industrial society to a post-industrial society and as a way to increase economic productivity and security of the population (Laughey, 2007).
Second was American writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler. In similarity to Bell’s concept of “the pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial” (Laughey, 2007, p. 161) was Toffler’s creation of the ‘wave theory’. According to Toffler, the wave theory represents the three types of societies with each wave representing one society (Laughey, 2007), and as each wave comes over the other this is Toffler’s analogy to new societies replacing older societies and its cultures.
The third is Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, who contradicts Toffler’s wave theory argues that the ‘waves’ are not separately manifested. Rather, Castells believes that all of the waves overlap each other with their connection to information (Laughey, 2007). At the same time, Castells also contradicts another theorist, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” (Laughey, 2007, p. 153). Instead, Castells perceives it the other way around with the message as the medium which means that the content defines the medium it is delivered through. Despite these varying theories, it is possible to see the idea of the information society in everyday life.
An example of the information society in the real world can be seen through Aaron Swartz. In Brian Knappenberger’s film The Internet’s Own Boy (2014), it tells the story of a young American computer programmer named Aaron Swartz. He was a child prodigy by the age of ten years old and soon later attended prestigious schools including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Swartz’s story can be related back to the information society as his titles consisted of being the co-founder of Reddit. Swartz and his founding partner, Alex Ohanian developed Reddit as a website in which users from a global scale can aggregate news and discuss topics of multiple of levels. The platform of Reddit that started out as a website has now integrated into an application for smartphones, making it more accessible than ever before. Users from all around the world can be anywhere at any given moment and they are still connected to the social platform of Reddit.
Another example of the information society materializing in the real world can be witnessed through MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show (2012) which follows a “catfish”, or a person who creates a fake profile on any given social platform to lure someone else into an online relationship. In the show, there are tv show hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph who are the ‘catfish’ investigators.
The tv shows originally stemmed from the documentary titled Catfish (2010) where Nev Schulman is lured into an online relationship with a catfish. The success of the documentary later led on to the creation of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show (2012). By using the internet’s sources, Nev and Max can gather further information that leads to the true identity of the mysterious catfish, based on the initial information provided by their catfish victim. Throughout the series, Nev and Max commonly use Spokeo, a people search website (Spokeo, 2018). On this website, Nev and Max are able to narrow down their search as the website provides them with a handful of closely-related individuals. All the tv hosts have to do is have the most basic information such as a phone number, address or a person’s first and last name (occasionally provided by the catfish victim). By typing in any of the three, the tv hosts are able to get a substantial amount of results, and from there it is a process of elimination until they come across someone suspicious or confirms that they have relations to the catfish victim. This ongoing tv show demonstrates the theory of the information society as the tv show hosts heavily rely on the people search website, Spokeo.
This website is a database containing most if not all of peoples’ information including their current and past home addresses, phone numbers, family members and financial income.
The information society is a place where every part of information is controlled by the media as a way to persuade the masses into dependency. The use of technology in this kind of society is heavily dominant which makes it difficult to separate oneself from any sort of information as it is transported through the various mediums. Though theorists Daniel Bell, Alvin Toffler, and Manuel Castells all establish their own meaning of the information society, it is difficult to determine what counts as information or when the information society came to be (Karvalics, 2007).
Daniel, B. (1973). The coming of post-industrial society: A venture in social forecasting. London: Heinemann.
Jarecki, A. et al. (2012). Catfish: The TV show [Television series]. United States: Catfish Picture Company.
Karvalics, L. (2007). Information Society – what is it exactly? (The meaning, history and conceptual framework of an expression). Retrieved from http://www.msu.ac.zw/elearning/material/1349116439Information-Society-whatis.pdf
Knappenberger, B. (Director). (2014). The Internet’s Own Boy [Motion Picture]. United States: Los Angeles.
Laughey, D. (2007). Postmodernity and the information society. In Key Themes in Media Theory (pp. 160-166). New York: Two Penn Plaza.
Mills, B. & David, M. (2012). The information society. [Excerpt]. In Reading Media Theory (p. 512). 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge.
Spokeo. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.spokeo.com
Image Attribution: “Aaron Swartz” by Fred Benenson (CC: 2.0); “Alvin Toffler” by KUBS (Korea University Business School) (CC: 1.0); “Catfish TV Hosts” by Bébéranol (CC: 4.0)
Written by Patricia Rana, 2018