Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Invitation to Information Sociology

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Invitation to Information Sociology

Article excerpt


The concept of 'information' is probably too vague and informal for philosophical pondering. But sociologists are not essentialists, and it is the diverse use of the word in multiple contexts that allows us to glimpse into its pervasiveness in the moving-on (Wittgenstein 1953) of everyday life and academic discussions. In this paper I thus present this diversity through an investigation of the characteristic forms of informational interactions at four different analytical levels, starting from the societal and ending at the interpersonal. Information is indeed a broad concept. It occupies the fuzzy region between data and knowledge in terms of meaningfulness (Ackoff1989). Information theory extends it down to data (Shannon 1948), while Lyotard (1979) stretches it up to occupy at least a problematic slice of knowledge. The optimistic renaming of information society to knowledge society, however, does not readily create knowledge, and the legitimate I tolerated use of information is defined historically - by ideologies before information society has come into existence. It is therefore natural for our journey of the sociological understanding of information to start at the societal level.

1. Information Society: Information Inequality and Ideologies Long Circulated

With power dynamics moving into and residing in the global network, Castells' (1996, 1997, 1998, 2009) original and recent analyses appear functional and optimistic - while they depicted how the managerial elite develop and thrive while the static, unwired powerless cannot, there was a disproportionately slim discussion of how the masses can be wired but still power-less. This reductionist worldview hence recognizes the network in the network society so that the power to connect is the power to communicate, but the next step to understand the information society requires more: the investigation of the power over content, which requires connectedness but does not necessarily depend on how nodes connect. Our understanding of the information society thus has to be socio-historical, because power is distributed long before intranets start to connect. This marks a departure from network analysis (Latour 2005) as a metaphor for society (Baldamus 1982; Erickson 2012) in particular, and the sociology of communication in general, and instead moves into the realm of a sociology of information, whose centrality is reflective of its surroundings: the sociology of knowledge, science, technology, the internet, philosophy, and sociology itself.

Information, popularly conceptualized as whatever enters the sensory system (transmission) and is processed in the brain, has undergone massive codification in storage devices in the information age (Dizard 1982; Melucci 1996). The rapid rise in the exchange and creation of information and knowledge, resulting from and leading to the accumulation of several centuries of technological development, creates the technological condition for the control of accuracy (Beniger 1986). What accompanies this developmental worldview is the other side of the story: human society develops but can also un-develop. The fear of going backwards becomes increasingly urgent and suffocating. Societies do fall: power overcomes rationality, cultures clash, and falling can be made in the name of rising (either by design (ideological) or with historical residues lurking in the collective subjectivity (cultural)). A higher starting point evokes the fear of greater falling, and how the industrial society develops into the efficiency of information society leads to both the fear of increasing inequality and ubiquitous risks (Beck 1992; Renn 2008).

We can trace the tendency of increasing inequality with the history of three ideologies, which I shall refer to as devotional I loyal ideology, economic paradigm, and permission ideology. Our story starts with primitive societies (tribes), which fought with nature and religions I ideologies resided in collective subjectivity and sustained the tribal social stmcture. …

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