The dawn of the Information society

Nowadays, it seems like the world is getting smaller; media give you access on any event on the planet, one can contact anybody everywhere quasi-instantly by several means, such as phone, email, fax (if one can afford it) and it seems like all economic factors are linked. So in order to understand the complexity of this transformation of our societies, I need in my literature search to clarify and explore what exactly these changes are. I plan to do so by understanding two concepts, the new technologies revolution, and globalisation. Why these two? Because the combination of the two is transforming the society, we are living in and create a new one called "the Information Society". There will be changes in our ways of working and human relations, they will not be restricted to economic and commercial life, but touch all aspects of society. Those changes will become more extensive and proceed more rapidly than most former changes in society. Of course, such subjects could be a dissertation of their own; for that reason I just want to give an overview of the main ideas because they are a necessary background before going deeper into the topic.

The new technologies revolution

These two statements "Information technology is to this revolution what new sources of energy were in successive industrial revolutions... since the generation and distribution of energy was the key element underlying the industrial society" (Castells 1996, 31), and "Computer technology is to the information age what mechanization was to industrial revolution" (Naisbitt in Kumar 1995, 9) clearly emphasize the impact of information technology in our history. It appeared by the dawn and the expansion of microelectronics and other related technologies, regrouped by the term "new technologies’’. Since the transformations of society are linked to their development, I want to give some important dates. The two first break-throughs were the first programmable computer ENIAC in 1946 and especially the invention of the transistor the following year, source of microelectronics. A decisive step was the integrated circuit in 1957 that permits mass production and therefore allows for significant price drops. Another big step was the invention of the microprocessor in 1971, which gives the possibility to put a computer on a chip. This opened the door to its spread everywhere, not only in our everyday life, but also in all other sciences. In the same period, the US Defense department set up an electronic communication network between computers that would grow to become the current Internet. The future technologies will be characterized by the coupling of Internet with all other digital devices to extend even further its influence and prominence in people’s life.

These developments and progress in communication (optic fibre, satellites…) have been unified under the name of Information and Communication technologies (ICT), a broader term than ‘’new technologies’’ and which clearly states the purpose of it, the production and the diffusion of information.

The high-speed spread of ICT products is also a main characteristic of these materials. For example, if it took 38 years for the radio to reach the 50 million users and 13 for television, the World Wide Web achieved the same thing in only 4 years (PNUD, in le Monde économie, p2). The number of Internet users is also a good figure that shows the incredible speed of development. According to Nua Internet surveys, this number jumped from 55 million at the end of December 1996 to 407 million in November 2000 in just 4 years (Nua internet surveys, 2001). The speed seems always faster and some predictions are expecting a number as high as 700 million for the end of 2001.

Besides their spread, there is also an other important characteristic of new ICT products, the ever-faster speed at which they can exchange always more information. The Moore ’s law predicts the doubling of computing power every 18 –24 months due to the rapid evolution of microprocessor technology. This is probably why nowadays much focus is on development of high-speed Internet access or the so-called third generation of Mobile phones for example, which have as their goal to enhance faster communication. There is also always more information available. If less than 200 websites existed in 1993, now the estimated number is more than 20 million (UNDP, 2001, p32). Last point worth mentioning is that the development of this network through ICT enables to transfer data cheaper as this example shows it "E-mailing a 40-page document from Chile to Kenya costs less than 10 cents, faxing it about $10,sending it by courier $50". (ibid, p30)