Civil Society in the Information Age

Prasanta Kumar Sahu | sahu.pkjnu2010@gmail.com

The author is a Ph.D. Research Fellow, in the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


This article explores the place of civil society in the digital age and the role of technology in civil society. It explains that research and commentary on the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in generating or reflecting on social, cultural, economic and political change has a very long history and analyzes the rigidity that prevents Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have a truly transformative impact. Society has society or even society as a whole. It highlights the extent to which civil society deliberations and actions are found in the twenty-first century. Finally, the article argues that civil society and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are interrelated because politics and communication go hand in hand.

The new century promises to be a roller-coaster ride fueled by rapidly changing Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). With the capacity for the almost instant transfer of digital information across the planet, commonly held notions of distance and speed, as well as our understanding of the nature and meaning of interpersonal contact, are being challenged and possibly redefined. With redefinition, some believe that the very structural underpinnings of society will be transformed. Good or bad, it is hard to predict just what will be the eventual political, social and cultural impact of the global interconnectedness made possible by new.

There has been a shift in the understanding of information and its position in civil society in the last forty years. Earlier scholars were sought to find a quantitative measure to demonstrate that the developed world has become an information society which can be found in the writings of Daniel Bell, Machlup, and so, while twenty-first-century writers like the manual castle, Loytard aimed to gain a qualitative understanding of how emergent Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have transformed the political, social, and economic landscape of the civil society. Basically, the objectives of this paper are based on this shifted qualitative understanding of this information and its position in civil society.

There is no hesitation in accepting that we are living in an informative society where oceans of communication surround us. Their contemporary electronic online form enables millions of people worldwide to produce, distribute, exhibit, and exchange information, images, music video, texts, talk, and data. At least since the 1950s with the initiation of computing, scholarly, journalistic, business, and other forms have detailed the many ways in which technology affect the workplace, personal interaction, and government process. In the article “Civil Society in the Digital Age” by Roberta g. lentz, two schools of thought are advanced to understand these discursive flows in terms of civil society and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The first is the utopian sensibility, which argues that the evolution of computers, information, knowledge, networks, and more recently, powerful mobile communication technology have changed just about everything for the better. The second one is sceptics who counter utopian and argues that it has not changed society in a fundamental way. According to them, power relations remain embedded in historically dominant patterns, institutions and inequalities persist despite increased opportunities for access to new electronic consumers and products and services. To sceptics, this rigidity prevents Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) from having any truly transformative role on civil society or society at large.

In brief, utopia holds this above view by arguing the enticing concept. For example, include the notion of “cyberspace”, the space which depicts a vast landscape of potential for social transformation. This sphere is very similar to Habermas notions of the public sphere. Clay Shirky is also one of the most recent prophets of the utopian focus on the internet’s transformative power. He argues how important things like open-source software, wave economic, and social computing are transforming social relationships and, therefore, the nature of institutions and society. His enthusiasm about social media is that it has civic and political effects, especially in reducing the transactions cost and increasing speed and reach of information exchange that is extremely useful to civil society groups in their fundraising and campaigns. For example, technology certainly facilitates convenience voting during the 2008 presidential election in the US. Another example of just item electronic communication permits practically every aspect of contemporary culture at least many higher-income societies: Entertainment, Healthcare, Banking, Transport etc. as it has the participatory potential, it is celebrated through works of online seminars, symposia. Another compelling contemporary example comes from Benkler. He analyses the production network system like Wikipedia, creative commons and the blogosphere, and other freely available or low-cost tools that provide the largest-scale economic and social benefit. Then he does a close system of copyrights and other forms of intellectual property.

On the other hand, sceptics hold their views by arguing the major weakness of the enthusiast. First is technological determinism: though the technology is an instrument of the building order for betterment in the world, the technology itself does not matter but the social or economic system in which it is embedded, which continues inequality? The second weakness is that they ignore the authoritarian tendencies and other problems of what Mumford calls the information revolution’s dark side. The third one is its imposing character on the rest of society. Finally, they overestimate the power of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to dislocate and democratize states and markets. The decline of the state rhetoric renders the government as merely an untrustworthy actor that is out of touch and out of technological developments. Yet, it will be the government—intervention in many cases that will address concerns about the digital divide. 

In conclusion, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have transformed the civil society’s political, social, and economic landscape that empowers its member.


References

Agre, P. and M. Rotenberg (1998). ‘Introduction’, in P. Agre and M. Rotenberg (eds) Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape, pp. 1-29. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Babe, R.E. (1995). Communication and the Transformation of Economics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Castells, M. (1996). The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Garcia, D.L. (1997). ‘Networked Commerce: Public Policy Issues in a Deregulated Communication Environment’, Information Society 13(1): 17-32.

Hanjnal, I. Peter (2002), Civil Society in the Information Age, Burlington VT: Ashgate.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (1998a). General Trends in Telecommunication Reform, 1998-World, Vol(1). Geneva: ITU.

Jorgenson, D.W. and K.J. Stiroh (1999). ‘Information Technology and Growth’, American Economic Review 89(2): 109-115.

Lentz, G. Robert (2012). ‘Civil Society in the Digital Age’ in Edwards, Michael  (eds) The Handbook of Civil Society. Oxford University Press.

Webester, F. (1995). Theories of the Information Society. London: Routledge.

Winseck, Dwayne (2002).  Illusions of Perfect Information and Fantasies of Control in the Information Society.


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