The industrial revolution meant a transition from agricultural to mechanized production. The digital revolution means a transition from material to intellectual production. Instead of steel, we process symbols. We create texts, performances and learning events rather than cars, clothes and buildings.
The new society has been called many things: post-industrial, post-modern, information or network society – but none of these labels have been generally accepted. The first two labels have no content of their own. The term information is too static – it does not reflect the interactivity and productivity involved. Network society is more appropriate: the digital revolution facilitates horizontal interaction between equals.
Manuel Castells, author of The Information Age trilogy, wrote that
The network society itself is, in fact, the social structure which is characteristic of what people had been calling for years the information society or post-industrial society.
Both “post-industrial society” and “information society” are descriptive terms that do not provide the substance, that are not analytical enough … a network society is a society where the key social structures and activities are organized around electronically processed information networks.
But it is the term knowledge society – and its economic counterpart – that are gaining ground. A quick Google search (April 12, 2009) shows that “information society” remains the most widely used term on the web as a whole:
- information society: 8.160 thousand hits
- knowledge society: 725 thousand
- network society: 715 thousand
- post-modern society: 56 thousand
- post-industrial: 42 thousand
But “knowledge” is clearly catching up. If we restrict the search to the last year only, we find:
- information society: 295 thousand hits
- knowledge society: 75 thousand
The ratio between the two frequencies is reduced from 11:1 to 4:1. And the favoured economic term is now knowledge rather than information:
- information economy: 61 thousand hits
- knowledge economy: 188 thousand
- Castells, M. (2001). Identity and Change in the Network Society. Conversation with Manuel Castells. Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley