It is a common conceit to imagine that one's own times are of unprecedented historical importance. Indeed, this century it sometimes seems that just about every decade has made some claim or other for its singular contribution. Reflect for a moment here on our tendency to think in terms of decades-the 'depressed' thirties, the 'radical' sixties, the 'selfish' eighties-and one will readily understand the point. When one adds to this disposition the fact that we are approaching the end of the second millennium, with all the attendant temptation to 'take stock' of whence we have come and where we may be going, then it is easy enough to appreciate why we should have such an enormous amount of commentary to the effect that we live in a period of especially profound and exhilarating (if disconcerting) transformation. Heaven knows, towards the close of the nineteenth century there was an extraordinary outpouring of fin de siècle angst, so we ought not to be surprised that the close of a thousand years provokes a tumult of anxiety, soul-searching and pronouncements on the 'new'. So much of this has appeared recently that there is now almost a consensus that we inhabit a post-something or other type of society.
In all of the more recent speculation about what constitutes the new epoch and what precipitates its arrival, information has been granted a pivotal position. In the late 1970s, and especially during the opening years of the 1980s, the special focus was on information technologies (IT), on how developments in computing particularly were set to bring about a 'microelectronics revolution' which portended a 'silicon civilisation'. A decade or so on, we have been passing through a heightened phase of concern for the transformative potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) which, through the 'information superhighway' especially, announces the coming of an 'information age'. More recently still, the emphasis on technology has been relegated, though many commentators still insist that we are on the edge of a new dawn, but this time one heralded by an 'information revolution', which expresses an appreciation for the key role of information/knowledge in social affairs. In this chapter we want to examine and comment on aspects of this concern for identifying information