Information revolution  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The term information revolution (sometimes called also the "informational revolution") describes current economic, social and technological trends.

Many competing terms have been proposed that focus on different aspects of this societal trend.

The British polymath crystallographer J. D. Bernal (1932), writing in the late 1930s, introduced the term "scientific and technical revolution" in his book The Social Function of Science in order to describe the new role that science and technology are coming to play within society. He asserted that science is becoming a "productive force", using the Marxist Theory of Productive Forces. After some controversy, the term was taken up by authors and institutions of the then-Soviet Bloc. Their aim was to show that socialism was a safe home for the scientific and technical ("technological" for some authors) revolution, referred to by the acronym STR. The book Civilization at the Crossroads, edited by the Czech philosopher Radovan Richta (1969), became a standard reference for this topic.

Daniel Bell (1980) soon challenged this approach with his Post Industrial Society, which took the view that the current trend is towards a service economy rather than socialism. Many other authors presented their views, including Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski (1976) with his "Technetronic Society".

The main feature of the information revolution is information. Information is the central theme of several new sciences, which emerged in the 1940s, including Shannon's (1949) Information Theory and Wiener's (1948) Cybernetics. Wiener (1948, p. 155) stated also "information is information not matter or energy". This aphorism suggests that information should be considered along with matter and energy as the third constituent part of the Universe; information is carried by matter or energy.

We can distinguish between information, data and knowledge. Data comes through research and collection. Information is organized data. Knowledge is built upon information. Data and information are easily transferrable; knowledge built by a person is not certain that it can be transferred to another. Following this, the notion of a "knowledge society" cannot be defined cogently.

Information is then further considered as an economic activity, since firms and institutions are involved in its production, collection, exchange, distribution, circulation, processing, transmission, and control. Labor is also divided into physical labour(use of muscle power) and informational labour (use of intellectual power). A new economic sector is thereby identified, the Information Sector, which amalgamates information-related labour activities. Porat (1976) measured the Information Sector in the US using the input-output analysis; OECD has included statistics on the Information Sector in the economic reports of its member countries.

Veneris (1984, 1990) explored the theoretical, economic and regional aspects of the Informational Revolution and developed a systems dynamics simulation computer model.

These works can be seen as following the path originated with the work of Fritz Machlup who in his (1962) book "The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States", claimed that the "knowledge industry represented 29% of the US gross national product", which he saw as evidence that the Information age has begun. He defines knowledge as a commodity and attempts to measure the magnitude of the production and distribution of this commodity within a modern economy. Machlup divided information use into three classes: instrumental, intellectual, and pastime knowledge. He identified also five types of knowledge: practical knowledge; intellectual knowledge, that is, general culture and the satisfying of intellectual curiosity; pastime knowledge, that is, knowledge satisfying non-intellectual curiosity or the desire for light entertainment and emotional stimulation; spiritual or religious knowledge; unwanted knowledge, accidentally acquired and aimlessly retained

The term Information Revolution may be preferred to terms such as "Information economy/society", in order to relate to the widely used terms Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution.

The activities which constitute the Information Sector did not come up with the Information Revolution. They existed, in one form or the other, in all human societies, and eventually developed into institutions, such as the Platonic Academy, Aristotle's Peripatetic school in the Lyceum, the Museum and the Library of Alexandria, or the schools of Babylonian astronomy. The Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution came up when new informational inputs were produced by individual innovators, or by scientific and technical institutions. During the Information Revolution all these activities are experiencing continuous growth, while other informatio-oriented activities are emerging.

Fiang Irving (1997) identified six 'Information Revolutions': writing, printing, mass media, entertainment, the 'toolshed' (which we call 'home' now), and the Information Highway. In this work the term 'information revolution' is used in a narrow sense, to describe trends in communication media.

The following fundamental aspects of the theory of the informational revolution can be given (Veneris 1984, 1990):
1. The object of economic activities can be conceptualised according to the fundamental distinction between matter, energy, and information. These apply both to the object of each economic activity, as well as within each economic activity or enterprise. For instance, an industry may process matter (e.g. iron) using energy and information (production and process technologies, management, etc).
2. Information is a factor of production (along with capital, labour, land (economics)), as well as a product sold in the market, that is, a commodity. As such, it acquires use value and exchange value, and therefore a price.
3. All products have use value, exchange value, and informational value. The latter can be measured by the information content of the product, in terms of innovation, design, etc.
4. Industries develop information-generating activities, the so-called Research and Development (R&D) functions.
5. Enterprises, and society at large, develop the information control and processing functions, in the form of management structures; these are also called "white-collar workers", "bureaucracy", "managerial functions", etc.
6. Labour can be classified according to the object of labour, into information labour and non-information labour.

7. Information activities constitute a large, new economic sector, the information sector along with the traditional primary sector, secondary sector, and tertiary sector, according to the three-sector hypothesis. These should be restated because they are based on the ambiguous definitions made by Colin Clark (1940), who included in the tertiary sector what was not included in the primary (agriculture, forestry, etc.) and secondary (manufacturing) sectors. The quaternary sector and the quinary sector of the economy attempt to classify these activities, but they are not based on a clear conceptual scheme, although the latter is considered by some as equivalent with the information sector [1].
8. From a strategic point of view, sectors can be defined as information sector, means of production, means of consumption, thus extending the classical Ricardo-Marx model of the Capitalist mode of production (see Influences on Karl Marx). Marx stressed in many occasions the role of the "intellectual element" in production, but failed to find a place for it into his model.
9. Innovations are the result of the production of new information, as new products, new methods of production, patents, etc. Their diffusion manifests saturation effects (related term: market saturation), following certain cyclical patterns and creating "economic waves", also referred to as "business cycles". There are various types of waves, such as Kondratiev( 54 years), Kuznets (18 years), Juglar (9 years) and Kitchin (about 4 years)(see also Joseph Schumpeter) distinguished by their nature, duration, and, thus, economic impact.
10. Innovations cause structural-sectoral shifts in the economy, which can be smooth or can create crisis and renewal, a process which Joseph Schumpeter called vividly "creative destruction".

The information revolution is not a stage of capitalist development per se, since it can occur under non-capitalist conditions. In a similar manner, the industrial revolution took place in countries with various social and political systems.

See also

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