When you hear “Information Society”, what do you think of? Without any background, your mind might go to a club or an organization. You might think of something similar to the American Cancer Society or the Humane Society. That’s where my mind goes at least: to a group of people working with a common purpose. I knew that wasn’t exactly an information society, but that’s what it sounds like.
And from reading this week’s articles I realized that the term “information society” is a bit like the term “knowledge”: everyone has their own flavor of what it means, and they are rarely exactly the same. Tremblay, for example, thinks the term is too vague and general, claiming that all societies are information societies. Stock gives more detail to the idea, but also admits that the term is not well established and that not all authors use the term in the same way he does. Not to be outdone, Rule and Besen state that using “Information Society” to describe modern, advanced societies is “axiomatic”. It’s the answer that’s so simple it feels wrong.
These three articles, all relating to information societies, provoked one jarring thought: where does tacit knowledge fit into all of this? Tacit knowledge gets barely a mention in these articles, and a higher premium is placed on explicit knowledge.
So we live in an information society – whatever your definition of “information society” is – and that society has come to rely heavily on technology. Networks are a key component as we move forward and share information. Explicit knowledge is more easily transmitted, and thus more important to these information societies and deserving of greater focus. The authors don’t really say this, but their treatment of tacit knowledge implies it. They push it under the rug.
Is it really better to email someone than to talk to them? To shop online rather than try on the clothes? To document everything so that the important information gets lost?
Perhaps my view is simply a result of how I work. I’ve had to dig through a string of emails just to find the one piece of information which was relevant to what I needed to do. I’ve had to flip back and forth between two or three emails to get the different pieces of information I needed. And sometimes I’ve decided not to even try to explain in an email and just picked up the phone to call because, yeah, it’s definitely easier to explain this one (somewhat) face-to-face. The articles this week seemed so focused on communication but they forgot these are people. Societies are made of people. Only Tremblay mentioned the importance of someone listening. You can share all the explicit knowledge you have, shout it from the rooftops if you want, but if there’s no one to listen, to take it in, to use that knowledge then you haven’t benefited anyone at all.
I don’t want take the pessimist view. I think we do live in an information society and that it is a benefit. I just think that without acknowledging and accounting for tacit information, without including that in our theories on information societies, we are ignoring a large piece of what we do. How we do that is still a mystery to me.
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Rule, J. B., & Besen, Yasemin. (2008). The once and future information society. Theory and Society, 37(4), 317342. doi:10.1007/s1118600790496
Stock, W. G. (2011). Informational cities: Analysis and construction of cities in the knowledge society. Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 62(5), 963986. doi:10.1002/asi.21506