Theories of the Information Society

By Frank Webster | Go to book overview
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Information, postmodernism andpostmodernity

The subject of this chapter is simultaneously attractively bold and off-puttingly vague. It is bold in that the prefix 'post' evokes the idea of a decisive break with the past and the arrival of a new age. This notion is both appealing and interesting, not least because announcements of postmodernism and postmodernity accord with the views of others who argue we are entering a novel information society. However, the subject is also disconcertingly vague, postmodernity/ism being vexingly hard to define with clarity. The terms can appear to be less definitions than a series of descriptions (with recurrent pronouncements on 'difference', 'discourses', 'irony' and the like). Furthermore, postmodernism/ity seems at once to be everywhere (in architecture, in academic disciplines, in attitudes to the self) and, because the words are so imprecisely used, impossible to pin down.

In a book such as this we need to explore this audacious yet vexing idea of the postmodern, if only because it highlights the role of information in the 'post' world in two notable ways. First, postmodern thinkers place emphasis on information (and communication) in characterising the new epoch. Second, leading 'post' writers such as Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes focus on information in ways which are intriguingly different from other information society authors. They centre information neither in economic terms, nor from the point of view of occupational shifts, nor from a concern with the flows of information across time and space. Rather they stress information's significance in terms of the spread of symbols and signs. This concern is for the explosive growth and pervasive presence of all forms of media, from video to cable, from advertising to fashion, to interest in body shapes, tattoos and graffiti. As such it draws attention to palpable features and particular qualities of life today, where we are surrounded by, even submerged in, a sea of signs and symbols. The 'post' concern for such matters is consonant with a great deal of information society thinking and, as such, merits further examination.

Accordingly, what I want to discuss in this chapter are the relations between information and postmodernism. To this end I shall focus on a number of key figures - the likes of Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Francçois Lyotard and Mark Poster - who pay particular attention to the informational aspects of postmodernism. Preliminary to this, however, I shall attempt to define postmodernism in


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