Information Age

Information Age
A visualization of the various routes through a portion of the Internet.

The Information Age, also commonly known as the Computer Age or Digital Age, is an idea that the current age will be characterized by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously. The idea is linked to the concept of a digital age or digital revolution, and carries the ramifications of a shift from traditional industry that the industrial revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on the manipulation of information, i.e., an information society.

The Information Age formed by capitalizing on the computer microminiaturization advances, with a transition spanning from the advent of the personal computer in the late 1970s to the internet's reaching a critical mass in the early 1990s, and the adoption of such technology by the public in the two decades after 1990. Bringing about a fast evolution of technology in daily life, as well as of educational life style, the Information Age has allowed rapid global communications and networking to shape modern society.[1]


The Internet

The Internet was conceived as a fail-proof network that could connect computers together and be resistant to any one point of failure; the Internet cannot be totally destroyed in one event, and if large areas are disabled, the information is easily rerouted. It was created mainly by DARPA; its initial software applications were e-mail and computer file transfer.

Though the Internet itself has existed since 1969, it was with the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee and its implementation in 1991 that the Internet truly became a global network. Today the Internet has become the ultimate platform for accelerating the flow of information and is, today, the fastest-growing form of media, and is pushing many, if not most, other forms of media into obsolescence.

What's more is that the very notion of our actions, our endeavors and especially our mistakes, being perfectly archived is somewhat terrifying to say the least, no matter what level of accepted virtue or morality we may possess. There is a stronger sense of urgency to obtain success and well-being in these modern . People are more intellectually engaged than ever before, because of the Internet.

Lallana, Emmanuel C. and Margaret N. Uy, The Information Age


The proliferation of the smaller and less expensive personal computers and improvements in computing power by the early 1980s resulted in a sudden access to and ability to share and store information for more and more workers. Connectivity between computers within companies led to the ability of workers at different levels to access greater amounts of information.

  • Information storage – The world's technological capacity to store information grew from 2.6 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 1986 to 15.8 in 1993, over 54.5 in 2000, and to 295 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2007. This is the informational equivalent to less than one 730-MB CD-ROM per person in 1986 (539 MB per person), roughly 4 CD-ROM per person of 1993, 12 CD-ROM per person in the year 2000, and almost 61 CD-ROM per person in 2007. Piling up the imagined 404 billion CD-ROM from 2007 would create a stack from the earth to the moon and a quarter of this distance beyond (with 1.2 mm thickness per CD).[2]
  • Information transmission – The world’s technological capacity to receive information through one-way broadcast networks was 432 exabytes of (optimally compressed) information in 1986, 715 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 1993, 1.2 (optimally compressed) zettabytes in 2000, and 1.9 zettabytes in 2007 (this is the information equivalent of 174 newspapers per person per day).[2] The world's effective capacity to exchange information through two-way telecommunication networks was 281 petabytes of (optimally compressed) information in 1986, 471 petabytes in 1993, 2.2 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2000, and 65 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2007 (this is the information equivalent of 6 newspapers per person per day).[2] In the 1990s, the spread of the Internet caused a sudden leap in access to and ability to share information in businesses, at home and around the globe. Technology was developing so quickly that a computer costing $3,000.00 in 1997 would cost $2,000.00 two years later and only $1000.00 the following year.
  • Computation – The world's technological capacity to compute information with humanly guided general-purpose computers grew from 3.0 × 10^8 MIPS in 1986, to 4.4 × 10^9 MIPS in 1993, 2.9 10^11 MIPS in 2000 to 6.4 × 10^12 MIPS in 2007.[2]

Relation to economics

Eventually, Information and Communication Technology—computers, computerized machinery, fiber optics, communication satellites, Internet, and other ICT tools—became a significant part of the economy. Microcomputers were developed and many business and industries were greatly changed by ICT.[citation needed]

Nicholas Negroponte captured the essence of these changes in his 1995 book, Being Digital.[3] His book discusses similarities and differences between products made of atoms and products made of bits. In essence, one can very cheaply and quickly make a copy of a product made of bits, and ship it across the country or around the world both quickly and at very low cost.

The impact on workforce

Concurrently during the 1980s and 1990s in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Western Europe, there was a steady trend away from people holding Industrial Age manufacturing jobs. An increasing number of people held jobs as clerks in stores, office workers, teachers, nurses, etc. The industrial world was shifting into a service economy.[citation needed]

The impact on jobs and income distribution

The Information Age has impacted the workforce in several ways. First, it has created a situation in which workers who perform tasks which are easily automated are being forced to find work which involves tasks that are not easily automated. Second, workers are being forced to compete in a global job market. Lastly workers are being replaced by computers that can do the job more effectively and faster. This creates problems for workers in industrial societies.

Jobs traditionally associated with the middle class (assembly line workers, data processors, foremen, and supervisors) are beginning to disappear, either through outsourcing or automation. Individuals who lose their jobs must either move up, joining a group of “mind workers” (engineers, attorneys, scientists, professors, executives, journalists, consultants), or settle for low-skill, low-wage service jobs.

The “mind workers” form about 20% of the workforce. They are able to compete successfully in the world market and command high wages. Conversely, production workers and service workers in industrialized nations are unable to compete with workers in developing countries and either lose their jobs through outsourcing or are forced to accept wage cuts.[4] In addition, the internet makes it possible for workers in developing countries to provide in-person services and compete directly with their counterparts in other nations.

This has had several major consequences:

Growing income inequality in industrial countries

The polarization of jobs into relatively high-skill, high wage jobs and low-skill, low-wage jobs has led to a growing disparity between incomes of the rich and poor. The United States seems to have been more impacted than most countries; income inequality started to rise in the late 1970,’s, however the rate of increase rose sharply in the 21st century. Income inequality in the United States has now reached a level comparable to that found in South America.[5]

Increased opportunity in developing countries

Workers in developing countries have a competitive advantage which translates into increased opportunities and higher wages.[6] The full impact on the workforce in developing countries is complex; there are downsides. (see discussion in section on globalization).

The globalization of the workforce

In the past, the economic fate of workers was tied to the fate of national economies. For example, workers in the United States were once well paid in comparison to the workers in other countries. With the advent of the Information Age and improvements in communication, this is no longer the case. Because workers are forced to compete in a global job market, wages are less dependent on the success or failure of individual economies.[4]

Automation, productivity, and job loss

There is another way in which the Information Age has impacted the workforce: automation and computerization have resulted in higher productivity coupled with net job loss. In the United States for example, from Jan 1972 to August 2010, the number of people employed in manufacturing jobs fell from 17,500,000 to 11,500,000 while manufacturing value rose 270%.[7] It initially appeared that job loss in the industrial sector might be partially offset by the rapid growth of jobs in the IT sector. However after the recession of March 2001, the number of jobs in the IT sector dropped sharply and continued to drop until 2003.[8] Even the IT sector is not immune to this problem.

The rise of information-intensive industry and "the new entrepreneurialism"

Industry is becoming more information-intensive and less labor and capital-intensive (see Information industry). This trend has important implications for the workforce; workers are becoming increasingly productive as the value of their labor decreases. However, there are also important implications for capitalism itself; not only is the value of labor decreased, the value of capital is also diminished. In the classical model, investments in human capital and financial capital are important predictors of the performance of a new venture.[9] However, as demonstrated by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, it now seems possible for a group of relatively inexperienced people with limited capital to succeed on a large scale.[10]

The impact on language and culture

Interpreting technology: "the medium is the message"

The Information Age has changed human life profoundly. It has changed culture, language, and it has even changed the thought process. However, before investigating these ideas further, it is necessary to consider the question of interpretation; how are we to understand the implications of technology?

The relationship between mind and technology

There are many theories which suggest how to interpret technology. Most of these theories involve the relationship between technology and society; prompting questions about agency and determinism. The school of thought that Thorstein Veblen called “technological determinism” interprets technology as a force largely beyond our control that shapes our history and culture.[11] The implication that our tools somehow control us led to a reaction; in the instrumentalist view, technology is interpreted as a means to an end. James Carey, in Communication as Culture writes: “Technology is technology, it is a means for communication and transportation over space, and nothing more.”[12]

A recent book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, suggests a problem with the both the determinist and instrumentalist positions; they all view technology as something apart from mind. Carr points out that technology can actually affect the way the brain is wired. For example, experiments have shown that the brains of literate and illiterate individuals differ in many ways. Literacy not only affects how we understand language, it also affects how we process visual signals, how we reason, and how we form memories.[13]

The changes in our brain brought about by technology are, in a sense, irreversible. The brain is plastic; when we develop new patterns of thought, the brain forms new structures of neural connections. The old neural loops do not stick around; they are reused by the brain in different ways. This does not mean that we can’t relearn old habits; it simply means that the longer we use new patterns of thought, the harder is to go back. In Carr’s words, “plastic does not mean elastic.”(p. 34)

Cognitive science has shown us we can no longer view technology as something separate from mind. The relationship of mind and technology is dynamic: through use of our minds, we change technology, and in return, technology changes our minds. It might be useful to reconsider the work of Marshal McLuhan in this light.

Marshal McLuhan and his theory of extensions

Marshal McLuhan, in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,[14] suggested that technological innovations should be understood, not in terms of their content, but in terms of how they change society. His famous one-liner “the medium is the message” should be understood this way. He explored this idea metaphorically by suggesting that media act as extensions of the human body. For example, the automobile could be viewed as an extension of the feet; it allows man to travel places in the same manner as the feet, only faster and with less effort.

According to McLuhan, most people understand this intuitively, however they tend not to realize that every extension implies an amputation. The development of the automobile reduces the need for a walking culture, which in turn influences the development of society as a whole. McLuhan also warns us of the dangers of over-extending technology. When a medium like the automobile becomes over-extended, the resulting amputations (carbon emissions, obesity) may outweigh the benefits of getting places faster.

According to McLuhan, when we create a new technology, we are changing ourselves; something has been amputated. When a technology becomes over extended, it is not possible to simply go back. For example, when the automobile becomes over-extended, we cannot go back to a walking culture because we have forgotten how to walk. McLuhan states that "every process pushed far enough tends to reverse or flip suddenly",[15] but this flip is never a literal return to the past, instead it involves a qualitative change, something radically new that seeks to recover something that has been lost. In McLuhan’s words, “we use the new to do the old.”[16]

The Personalisation Era

In his book The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser argues that we have entered the era of personalisation[17][18] whilst Simon Dalley argues that The Personalisation Era[19] is a distinct phase within the Information Age. Both argue that individual's world views are being distorted by the change in the way media is being consumed by internet users.


  • Analytical Engine – draft – 1837
  • Stereoscope – 1849
  • Z3 – first general-purpose digital computer – 1941
  • Atanasoff–Berry Computer – electronic digital computer – 1942
  • Colossus computer – first programmable, digital, electronic computer – 1943
  • ENIAC general purpose electronic digital computer – 1946
  • The mathematical framework of the theory of information – 1948
  • Transistor – mark in the electronic development – 1947
  • The formulation of the Hamming code – 1950
  • Earliest form of the Internet – 1969
  • Email – 1971
  • Personal computer – 1974
  • Laptop – 1980s
  • World Wide Web – 1989
  • PDA – 1990s
  • Online gaming communities – 1990s, widespread public application early 2000s
  • Cellular phones – 1984, widespread public application late 1990s and early 2000s
  • Digital Camera and Webcams 1980s mainstreamed 2000s
  • Digital Television 1990s, widespread public application 2000s
  • Broadband mainstreamed 2000s
  • Wireless networking late 1990s
  • GPS mainstreamed mid-2000s
  • Satellite radio – circa 2001
  • Smartphones widespread public application late 2000s early 2010s
  • Tablet PC's such as the iPad 1990s mainstream by 2010s

See also


  1. ^ Kluver, Randy. "Globalization, Informatization, and Intercultural Communication". Oklahoma City University. Retrieved 18 August 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information", Martin Hilbert and Priscila López (2011), Science (journal), 332(6025), 60–65; see also "free access to the study" and "video animation".
  3. ^ Negroponte's articles
  4. ^ a b Reich, Robert. The Work of the Nations, Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992
  5. ^ Noah, Timothy. “The United States of Inequality, Introducing the great Divergence”, Slate, Sept 3, 2010.
  6. ^ Bhagwati, Jagdish N. In defense of Globalization. 2005 New York: Oxford University Press
  7. ^ ”U.S. Manufacturing : Output vs. Jobs, January 1972 to August 2010 “ . BLS and Fed Reserve graphic, reproduced in Smith, Fran. “Job Losses and Productivity Gains”,, Oct 05, 2010. //
  8. ^ Cooke, Sandra D. “Information Technology Workers in the Digital Economy”, in Digital Economy 2003. 2003: Economics and Statistics Administration, Department of Commerce. http: //
  9. ^ Cooper, Arnold; Gimeno-Gascon, Javier; Woo, Carolyn: "Initial human and financial capital as predictors of new venture performance". Journal of Business Venturing, Volume 9, Issue 5, September 1994, Pages 371–395
  10. ^ Lev Grossman. “Mark Zukerberg, Person of the Year 2010”, Wednesday, December 12, 2010: Time Magazine.
  11. ^ Carr, Nicholas. 2010. The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. W. W. Norton & Company, p. 46.
  12. ^ Carey, J. 1989. Communication as Culture, Routledge, New York and London, p. 203. Quoted by Carr.
  13. ^ Carr, Nicholas. 2010. The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. W. W. Norton & Company, p. 51.
  14. ^ McLuhan, Marshal. 1964 Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY,; reissued MIT Press, 1994, with introduction by Lewis H. Lapham; reissued by Gingko Press, 2003 ISBN 1-58423-073-8)
  15. ^ McLuhan, Marshal and Nevitt, Barrington. 1972. "Take Today: The Executive as Dropout"(Don Mills: Longman, 1972), p. 3-4
  16. ^ McLuhan, Marshal. 2006. “At the Flip Point of Time – The Point of More Return?” Journal of Communication. Volume 25, Issue 4, Article first published online: 7 FEB 2006.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^

External links

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