March 10, 2012
What do I mean by "Information Age?"
The more I think about this, the more I realize that I lack a clear short statement of what I mean by the term "Information Age". It's in my head, but not down on electronic paper.
And I'm also realizing that other people are using the words in a different way. Here's Wikipedia...
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 information 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.
Well, that's good stuff, worth reading. But I don't think it quite hits the target. The change in the world was deeper than just the coming of computers and the Internet. I suspect things were changing, in quiet, little-noticed ways, for many decades before computers. And that the 1960's was the decade when many rumbles and tremors deep underground turned into earthquakes and volcanos— well before computers had much impact on the lives ordinary people.
I'm groping a bit here, so feel free to criticize or give me suggestions. But I'm thinking that the "Information Age" began when people's view of life began to change as information began to move horizontally in quantity. In the Industrial Age, the technology to move and digest information was under-developed. Mostly it was words on pieces of paper. So information had to be moved in pre-set channels, or "brokered" by agencies that gathered it and distributed it. And this meant that information moved vertically. For instance, from retail store to regional office to headquarters to the bosses. And back down.
It was the same with the "brokers." Newspapers for instance. Information moved up from reporter to re-write man to copy editor to editor... then down to printers and distributors (newsboys and news-stands) and then down to consumers. When I was young it was almost unheard of for the newspaper reader to contact the reporter of a story--that is, to move information horizontally.
Many 20th century developments tended to make it easier to go horizontal. Telephones increasingly made it easy to cut right into some big organization, if you just had the right phone number. Automobiles and better roads had a similar effect—they let you just personally GO somewhere, and get to the heart of something. Radio was a very direct and immediate form of entertainment—you were listening to Jack Benny live, in real time. All these things were working on people's minds, suggesting new possibilities, well before they resulted in the overt changes that marked a new age.
By the way, a common cliché is that getting information from the Internet is like "drinking from a fire hydrant." But this misses the real point of interest, which is that we DO drink from the hydrant, and we do so pretty well. I bet I take in 40 times as much information as I did when I was young, and don't even think it's a big deal. I browse scores of blogs and web-sites a day. Imagine that amount of information arriving as mail! Or imagine burrowing through newspapers and magazines to pick out the bits you want.
A minor frustration is that I don't have an image to accompany my scribbles. (I like this one, by photographer Graeme Nicol, on Flickr. It kinda captures my idea, but it's perhaps a bit bewildering to the eye for many people.) I need something like my little climate icons, but I can't imagine what might work...
For lack of something better, here's a piece by Jules Guerin, done (I think) for Metropolitan Magazine, 1905. It sort of expresses my mental picture, of industrial progress mounting higher and higher, until finally reaching some critical mass that initiates a new age of the world...
Posted by John Weidner at March 10, 2012 2:55 PM
I've yammered in your comments section about what I call Political Taylorism enough times already, so I won't get into much detail here.
I do want to say that the "rot" goes back to the turn of the century or so.
Recently, I finished reading David McCollough's book on the building of the Panama Canal. In the course of reading it, I gained a great deal of respect for the French, at least the French of the 19th Century-- it's very easy to dismiss them as "cheese-eating surrender-monkeys" given their history since 1940. But their ancestors in the last half of the 19th Century didn't lack courage or energy-- they failed to build the Canal in the 1880s only because they 1) tried to build it at sea level and 2) didn't understand the nature of the diseases that slew so many of their workers and engineers.
Anyway, to try to keep this comment "on point"....
When the Americans took over the Canal in 1904-05, the effort was organized on quasi-military lines, with "experts" (most of whom truly were experts) in charge of all the facets of life in the Canal Zone-- water, sewer, housing, food, transportation, what-have-you. These experts did manage to create something of a paradise in what had been a "green Hell" of a pestilence-laden jungle.
Our grandparents and great-grandparents (folks born from, say, the Civil War to the turn of the century) saw the material paradise the experts had constructed in the Canal Zone-- neat houses, plentiful food, outstanding medical care, trains running on time, wonderful recreational facilities, high-wage jobs (workers typically had wages several times those of their counterparts back home), etc., etc.-- and imagined (I'm willing to bet) that such a material paradise could be had here at home in the good ol' USA, if only the experts could be turned loose to knock our society into a shape similar to that of the Canal Zone.
(I can hear my high-school English teacher demanding that I diagram that last sentence. Ouch.)
And so we've been cursed from that day to this one with the notion that only the "experts" should be allowed to "run society".
The problem with that notion is that it leads to a certain moral and mental flabbiness. If we're told that we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads with the various social (and human) problems besetting society, that we should let the "experts" handle them, then it becomes too easy to just vegetate in the suburbs, to not get involved, to not put our religious faith into practice by binding up our brothers' (and sisters') wounds of the mind and heart.
That's why the lives of our ancestors a century ago didn't look "like something that is the opposite of Christianity" (to quote you from your previous post). They enjoyed the prosperity of their day (circa 1900) without the spirtiual poison of the Progressivism that was to come.
Now, with the advent of the Internet and its tools which facilitate horizontal communication, the vertical world of the Progressives is finally coming to an end. It remains to be seen whether we still have the moral fiber to live up to the demands that our ancestors seemed to be able to meet.
Yeah, I have bad days sometimes.
My two cents' worth.
"Hale, not only do you need an editor, you also need a proofreader."
Yes, Mr. Opsasnik.
"spirtiual". Gah. Try "spiritual".
"X Age" is an age where X is the most important / critical thing. So the "Iron Age" was when iron was the big thing (if you had iron, you could have iron swords and those without could not stand against you). So the Industrial Age was when industry (manufacturing) was dominant. So the Information Age is when information (having data and being able to process it) is the key to dominance.
Thank you, Hale,
I think the reference to the Canal is ascot on. I'll remember.
It's been kind of like the theory of the "Benevolent Despot." You take some chap who is undoubtably good, and make him dictator so he can do good unhindered. What could go wrong?
Ignore the fact that that expertness and virtue arose under a regime of limited government.
AOG, you're right. But the problem I'm gnawing at is that when you transition to a new age, half of what you know is suddenly wrong.... but you don't know which half!
We lack a lot of crucial data about what happened around 1150 B.C., but it certainly was a time of wide-spread change. Maybe iron was just a side-effect of a much deeper revolution in thought and spirit. At any rate, things that had worked for centuries, such as chariot armies, suddenly didn't work. And empires came crashing down.
Here's a bit of world-turned-upside-down back then that I blogged about.
"They enjoyed the prosperity of their day (circa 1900) without the spiritual poison of the Progressivism that was to come." Those of us who love the art and architecture of the period call it "After plumbing and before taxes." I'm thinking now that's more apposite than I had realized.
"It remains to be seen whether we still have the moral fiber to live up to the demands that our ancestors seemed to be able to meet." That's an even bigger question, one that I can just nibble around the edges of...
One thing to note in these shifts is it is not that the previous Big Thing gets small, but that the New Thing gets big. So as we transition from Industrial to Information, we'll still be doing as much (or more) industrial stuff (although likely with fewer people). We didn't stop growing food as we moved from Agriculture to Industry.