The Dawn of the Digital Era

In 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: By means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in breathless point of time.The round globe is vast- brain, instinct with intelligence.

Since then, humanity has not stopped to realize Hawthorne’s vision of a world where the human intelligence is networked. Into the 21st century, the global society lives in the frontiers of digital age. Mass production is taken over by mass- customization. The consumer of today applies their specific knowledge, tastes, expectations and demands on producers who have to able to meet these in order to succeed. We are in the era of knowledge based economy.

The internet has existed since 1969. British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 and fully implemented by 1991, thus the beginning of a global network. It is today’s ultimate platform for disseminating information globally, its growth is beyond exponential. Is the print media as we know today be a thing of yesteryears, pushed to obsolescence?

The I-WAY has created an information society. This has a significant impact on the economic, political, social, cultural, scientific, medical, educational and technological field. Networked technology introduced the world to digitalization. It opens up the creation, distribution, integration, diffusion, use and manipulation of information in many creative and productive ways. Knowledge economy creates wealth through the exploitation of knowledge and understanding. Beniger states that people who have the means to partake in this form of society are referred to as digital citizens one of the many labels that ushers in a new phase of society into the 21st century.

The growth of information in society

There is no definite or universally accepted meaning of what exactly is information society. Theories bounce around as to this transformation in society that started back in 1970’s. Internet is not the only information technology that is widely used. There are specific media and modes of production that influences the changing ways of society.

The growth of technologically mediated information has been quantified in different ways, including society’s technological capacity to store information, to communicate information, and to compute information.

Touraine wrote in 1988 referring to the programmed society- “ this phrase captures its capacity to create models of management, production, organization,distribution and consumption, such a society appears at all functional levels, as the product of an action exercised by society itself, not the outcome of natural laws or cultural specificities.”

In the dawn of networked technology, information of all sorts becomes digital, reduced to bits stored in computers, races at the speed of light across the global networks. It is a new world of possibilities. The digital whirlwind is sweeping society. This digital growth is quantified in different ways. It handles how society stores information, communicate and compute the data. The technical capacity to store information grew from (optimally compressed) 2.6 exabytes in 1986 to 295 exabytes in 2007.This shows a 60% growth per year over the past two decades.

Wisegeek explains:

1,024 gigabytes is one terabyte, and 1,024 terabytes is one petabyte.

To put this in perspective, a petabyte is about one million gigabytes (1,048,576).

In the late 1980s, a large hard disk was considered 80 megabytes. Today, that amount of space doesn’t even hold a current Windows operating system without butting up against storage limits. Robust programs, music files, digital versatile discs (DVDs), streaming video and high-resolution graphics have all become memory-hungry beasts devouring real estate bit by byte. It would have been unthinkable in the 1980s that the home computer would one day require tens and even hundreds of gigabytes to store data. Though the petabyte still lies beyond the territory of the terabyte, who can say where the home computer will be in another two decades?

With the influx of computers, CD-ROMS, hard drives, USB flash drives, and other discs, the byte can not hold larger values. With the larger volumes of information, more bytes are needed:

kilobyte -KB- is 1,024 bytes, but most relate it to 1000 bytes.

Megabyte-MB- is 1,024 kilobytes

Gigabyte -GB- is 1,024 megabytes

Terabyte -TB- is 1,024 gigabytes

Petabyte- PB- is 1,024 terabytes

Exabyte-EB- is 1,024 petabytes

Zettabyte-ZB- 1,024 exabytes

Yottabyte-YB- is 1,024 zettabytes

Note: many hardware and hard drive manufacturers think of a kilobyte as 1,000 bytes. from Wisegeek

Perils

The automobile changed the world in many ways, economically, physically and socially. Mechanized agriculture is the only way to farm. The discovery of the printing press was a real big deal- facilitated the printing of books, as against the laborius handwritten texts.

The interactive multimedia once again, is very rapidly changing the face of the world. At first, the internet’s most popular use was for e-mails and chat rooms. Then comes social networks, telecommuting, blogging and vlogging and more. Already, there is a dark side to the digital world. There is fear that technology will bring unemployment, numbing of minds and invasion of privacy.

In his book- Digital Economy, Don Tapscott writes :” the digital world, while it offers exciting promise, there is also a dark side. Social stratification, massive social dislocation and conflict are perils that man faces with this digitalization. Violence and suffering can be seen worldwide instantly, not just in poor countries. There are new social, ethical and government issues that will surface as time goes on.”

What lies ahead

Critical scholars say that major critiques of concepts like information society, knowledge society, network society, post modern society, post industrial society and other labels tend to create the impression that we are entering into a totally new type of society.

According to Wikipedia, Frank Webster argues that this kind of approach stress discontinuity, that contemporary society has nothing in common with society as it was 100 or 150 years ago. He argues that these assumptions mean, nothing can be done. Ideologically there is nothing society can do and just have to adapt to the existing reality. Webster insists on the continuities that characterize change. He stresses the different epoch of capitalism, that is, the laizzez-faire of the 19th century, corporate capitalism in the 20th century and informational capitalism for the 21st century.

You, society, be the judge.

Ref:

Digital Economy by Don Tapscott

Wisegeek.com

Wikipedia on Frank Webster

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