6. The Information Age - The Third Wave has Arrived
According to Wikipedia, "Information Age" is a term that has been used to refer to the present era. The name alludes to the global economy's shift in focus away from the production of physical goods (exemplified by the industrial age) and toward the manipulation of information.
The Information Age represents the third wave of civilization described by futurist Alvin Toffler in his classic 1980 book, The Third Wave. Toffler defined three "waves" of development as coinciding with hunter/gatherer/agriculture-based civilization; the industrial age; and the post-industrial (modern) era. Key characteristics of Toffler's Third Wave included the following:
- The rolling back of the Industrial-Era creed of "standardization", as exemplified in the one-size-fits-all approach typical of institutions of this era, such as the education system, factories, governments, mass media, high volume mass production and distribution, etc. - replaced by customization and personalization.
- The gradual loss of consensus, such as characterized the politics of the USA, as well as political turmoil in China (largely split amongst urban-rural lines), Israel (orthodox vs. secular), Germany (the deadlock following the 2005 elections), the Islamic world (fundamentalist or traditional vs. secular) and elsewhere. It would include the rise of regional interests and the progressive devolution of the nation-state; e.g. more autonomy in Wales and Scotland in Britain; frequent separatist movements; the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, and Ethiopia; and the emergence of microstates, such as East Timor.
- The rise of powerful non-national entities: NGO's, multinational corporations, religions with global reach, and even terrorist organizations or cartels. It would include the progressive hemming-in of national economies and of nation-state under a growing network of super-national organizations and affiliations; e.g. the European Union, the African Union, and organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or International Criminal Court.
- The eclipsing of monetary wealth by knowledge and information as the primary determinant of power and its distribution.
- The eclipsing of manufacturing and manufacturing goods by knowledge-production and information processing as the primary economic activity.
- The emergence of various high technologies, such as cloning, global communications networks, nanotechnology, etc.
- A transformation of the very character of democracy, itself, from rule-by-periodic polling at the election booth, toward a more direct interaction between the government and its populace, for example as exemplified by the rise of the Internet.
We can clearly see these characteristics in today's world. Toffler mentioned some of these concepts in his first major book Future Shock published in 1970, then further refined them in his third book on the subject, Powershift, published in 1990.
The fundamental transition of societies and economies to the information age, through the widespread dissemination and usage of IT, has been underway for the last three decades and continues to gain momentum. While there may be much debate about the name, range and impact of these changes, few can argue that the world is now information oriented. IT affects everyone in the developed world, and more and more people and organizations in developing economies. The US economy, and the economies of Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan and Western European nations are now dominated by services based on IT. The same transition is now underway in Brazil, China, India and other rapidly developing countries.