in the Information Society: Problems and Solutions (page
2 of 2)
By Abdul Alkalimat,
University of Toledo
introduced the information society from a technical perspective
merely hinting at social implications. But there are two aspects
to our key concept, information - the technical part, and society
- the social part. It is essential that our discussion of the
technology be put in its proper historical social context. To
get at this lets us take four key aspects of society to track
the change from industrial society to the information society.
This historical process leads to the current moment in which
we have decisions to make which is the true meaning of this
for the basic production model of the industrial system is that
created by Henry Ford (whose company launched the first assembly
line production) and Frederick Taylor (a University of Pennsylvania
professor who launched the time motion study to make sure people
were appendages to machines). This became the dominant paradigm
for society, a model for our public schools, our government,
and our social life including even family life. This production
scheme was transformed into the Toyota system, a system that
used computers and robots to build a new paradigm - lean production,
based on just-in-time assembly using the team system. The Japanese
lessened the time, cost, and labor power necessary for production.
Lower cost led to higher rates of profit, with the most important
lower cost being the decline in the cost of labor.
kind of production meant that new plants based on lighter faster
newer technology replaced old plants, full of large old technology.
This changed the geo-politics of production in that capital
became more mobile and more and more delinked from the old nation
states. Thus begins the new era of globalization.
to sum this up is to contrast general Motors with Microsoft
as the paradigmatic corporations of the old industrial system
and the new information system. General Motors was based in
Michigan and maintained a workforce in life long skilled occupations,
building on skilled immigrant workers from Europe. They built
big buildings with hierarchal structures to fit the social organization
of the corporation. They located near their production facilities,
built near the natural resources they needed to function. On
the other hand, Microsoft is located in Seattle Washington,
not because it is the place where the largest number of engineers
and computer scientists could be found, but it is simply the
hometown of Bill Gates the founder. Their headquarters is more
like a college campus and its divisions and work groups function
like departments in a university, with one exception and that's
the fact that like all capitalist corporations it is a dictatorship
under the hand of its leader and board.
for this is that it is the intellectual content of the software
and hardware that drives production. But this is more production
with less human labor. In other words, there is a value crisis
- surplus value is a result of exploiting human labor, and less
human labor means less surplus value. This is a crisis as that
is the basis on which the capitalist system exists. The World
Trade Organization had at its founding a new international agreement
by the big powers on intellectual property rights because that
is the heart of their system. They must keep the intellectual
content for production in private hands as commodities, and
not shared by humanity. In fact, they are taking the lions shared
wealth of the world, like the bio-diversity of global agriculture
or the natural medicines developed by all of the world cultures
and placing them under private patents for private profit. This
is the age when the commons of the world are being closed in.
of this is the knowledge worker. This new worker is the new
proletariat, sometimes in English called the cognitariat. The
other side of this is that this new worker actively drives the
system that downsizes to new levels. This in turn leads to the
end of work thesis that argues that there is and will continue
to be a reduction of people to be employed in material production
and distribution, including service.
On a global
scale things are more raw and explosive. On the one hand assembly
line operations and other forms of production are being relocated
to regions in decline, like some of the former socialist countries
and key centers throughout the third world. On the other hand
regions with labor superfluous to capital are being plunged
into the terror of slavery, war, and genocide.
is that the key social motion of globalization is the polarization
of the world and most societies. The polarities we face define
the times in which we live.
industrial system reinvented bureaucracy and various forms
of parliamentary democracy as the dominant forms and principles
for the social organization of society. A bureaucracy is
a rule governed formal structure with a hierarchy of power
and privilege, and in this context the word democracy seems
neutral enough, it is always implemented in a social context,
hence each social layer of society has associated power
and that defines what kind of democracy we have - there
is one democracy for capital and another for labor. Justice
for poor people in such a society is hard to come by.
vertical form of the paper-based bureaucracy has been thrown
down on its side by the new information technologies of
computer based networks and interactive databases. The information
society seems to be more horizontal and free flowing, a
web rather than a pyramid. The General Motors of 20th century
industrialization is quite different in as a corporation
than the 21st century Microsoft.
live in networks and our economic life has become according
to Emanuel Castells a space of flows, tied into computer
networks and a global system of just in time production
schemes taking the Toyota system to its natural limits.
But is this a society that embodies freedom or slavery?
On the one hand there is the police system and on the other
the educational system. Clearly there is a polarity here
between the police and the schools, but in fact the polarity
is also within the schools as they have negated the full
liberating impact of the technology and limited it to class
specific functions - one function for the rich and another
for the poor.
rich own much of the cultural heritage of humanity, including
new wealth like the Gates family of Microsoft, while popular
culture has been high jacked by mass media. Corporations
define culture in much of the world. Massive digitization
is going on, but whose voices are missing. Herein is another
our consciousness is manipulated by all of this. So in this
era of information people are being nurtured back into the
ideologies of extremism - rigid belief systems with fundamentalist
interpretations. There is a polarity between ideology and
information (what do you believe versus what do you know)
each of the four aspects of society that we have just surveyed
we have demonstrated two fundamental features of the historical
process: One, there has been a change from industrialization
to the information society. Two, the class polarities of
industrial society have been reinvented as polarities of
the information society. This polarity is a global process.
We have to see things with the eagle's eye, grabbing the
whole picture. The AIDS crisis in the world can't be understood
unless it is put in this context, since the first stage
of the intervention has moved the crisis from the advanced
capitalist countries to the margins of Asia, Africa, and
Latin America. This is a genocidal pattern. The vicious
terror of ripping a society apart through imperialisms nefarious
economic dealings and the manipulation of decadent social
and political forces in each society leads to the fratricidal
wars such as in Central and Eastern Africa, the Balkans,
and the Middle East. And in this context there are crimes
that boggle the mind, from millions being killed in Africa,
to cold-blooded massacres being excused by major powers
such as the current view of the United States on plight
of the Palestinians.
global scale this is a new situation, almost everything
is changing, but where things will end up is not yet a settled
question. We have a choice in the matter. We have basic
our options it is useful to review a debate over how to
conceptualize the problem we face. Three basic views have
been advanced - we face a digital divide, a digital opportunity,
or digital inequality. An African American official in the
Clinton administration launched the term the digital divide
voicing the spontaneous realization that what was emerging
was a corporate/military technology and poor people and
minorities would be excluded. It was counterattacked as
a divisive almost Marxist concept that led to radical political
thinking and action. The right counter attacked by saying
things were much better than that, so instead of a digital
divide (emphasizing differences) we need to call it a digital
opportunity (emphasizing that options exist for everyone
to get wired.). More modestly, and more oriented to the
empirically oriented social sciences, there is the focus
on the "digital inequality" that needs to be studied
with regard to each new technology and its social realization
in the social life of various communities.
take each position and show how the way forward can be envisioned
and done no matter what set of questions we answer.
do we do about the digital divide? Our view is that this
is a theoretical question that must be guided by a values
and vision, by ideology and theory. We have developed three
key points to guide our work and we propose these for your
gets access and gets connected
intelligence--everybody gets to speak and have their voices
freedom--everybody can consumer the information ending
the commodification of the world’s intellectual
and cultural heritage.
response to the digital divide is to use these three points
to imagine a world we want to live in, what we want instead
of what we got. Our collective imagination can give shape
and form to our fundamental ideological consensus. Together
we can create intellectual wealth about society at its best.
do we do about the digital opportunity? Our argument here
is that our tasks are the same as at any time in history.
The fight is a fight for power, now in the name of cyberpower.
We need to harness the tools of information technology and
build power for the exploited and oppressed people of the
world, the majority of the societies we live in and hope
to transform. There are three kinds of power, individual,
social and ideological. My colleague Kate Williams will
present our concrete work on these forms of cyberpower this
afternoon, so stay tuned for that.
do we do about digital inequality? Here I would like to
introduce the key figure in the scenario we see unfolding--the
spider. The spider is an insect that spins webs, a little
spider, but as our tee shirts say, when spider unite, they
can tie up lions. We know who the beasts are who claim to
be the kings of the human jungle. We are the spiders. The
web is dominated by corporate interests and this must be
challenged by the poor and oppressed of the world, digitizing
their identity and social and cultural wealth to create
not only safe places for all of us in cyberspace, but a
staging area to regroup our forces and build new offensives
to liberated our selves - not only our minds but our entire
I have argues that in the transition from industrial society
to the information society we are facing great polarities,
in political economy, in the social organization of society,
in culture and in our very consciousness. We face the challenge
of three possible situations and we have to have a plan
for all three. For the digital divide we have to dream the
impossible revolutionary dream of information communism,
my term for our strategic values and vision of cyberdemocracy,
collective intelligence, and information freedom. We can
take advantage of whatever digital opportunity that exists
to build cyberpower in its three forms, individual cyberpower,
social cyberpower, and ideological cyberpower. And to fight
the positional war to step-by-step reverse digital inequality,
we need the tactics based on the key cadre of the information
revolution, the cyberorganizer, and the spider.
we dream a revolutionary dream that rescues information
technology from the corporations and the military? Can we
avoid becoming technocrats who marvel at the technology
toys and lust after what we don't have? Can we use the technology
to reclaim the high ground and bring the quest for freedom
and justice back into the center of our lives and work?
is the time.
of the world unite! Weave your webs! We have lions to tie
up and a world to win.