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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2018

11 - Information society


We can see now that information is what our world runs on: the blood and the fuel, the vital principle.

James Gleick (2011, 8)

Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen. (Wherever they burn books, they will in the end burn human beings.)

Heinrich Heine

Common sense is a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind before you reach 18.

Albert Einstein


Since the later years of the 20th century, it has become commonplace for commentators to declare that we are living in an ‘information society’. If this is true, and it must be pointed out that some expert commentators find the whole idea unhelpful, then this must surely have major implications for the information sciences. It is beyond doubt that social issues impinge on the work of information scholars and practitioners alike.

In this chapter, we will first consider the nature of, and criteria for, an information society. We will then look at some of the frameworks – policies, laws, and ethics – which structure the ways in which information is used in society, and the organizations and infrastructures which support its use. We conclude with the role of information in the development of society, and some of the problems and issues which it brings with it.

What is the information society?

We will begin by considering the nature of an information society; how we know one when we see one. We will do so in outline only, referring interested readers to excellent and detailed texts (Feather, 2008; Webster, 2003; 2006; Cornelius, 2010).

There are a number of criteria by which present day Western society may be judged an ‘information society’. None of them is entirely convincing. For one thing, as we have seen in Chapter 2, every society for some thousands of years has had some form of recorded information, and has often regarded these records as important and valuable; yet we do not regard these as information societies. Nor is it sufficient to point to the evident fact that information is abundant and prominent in our society.

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