I've been doing some research on the WSIS ( World Summit for the Information Society) process as part of the "civil society" input for New Zealand.
I've become aware that the "Information Society" is a non-starter because governments and businesses and far too many individuals have a vested interest in making sure that you are so distracted by dis-information that you have no time and energy to do anything really useful or important.
For instance: the pretending and posturing and deliberate misdirection of attention associated with the war in Iraq is a disgrace to the USA and the UK and doesn’t give much credit to the United Nations or most other countries in the world. The so called "free press" has managed to disgrace itself, and is still pretending that this eager willingness to spread propaganda and lies didn’t happen. Propaganda and "political truth" won the day, and information which was readily available, the truth as it turns out, was purposefully ignored. Shame on them all.
I’ve become aware that the number of internet connections or the amount of broadband access people may have is not a good measure of how much a society is part of the "Information Society". The real question is how do we deal with data (commonly called information). Can we recognise good data and turn it into knowledge? Can we discover bad data that has confused or subverted our thinking? Can we use what we know to do useful things? Those are our standards and the test we face.
Information is the presentation of data in a form that explains what the situation is and allows decision making or action. We do have the potential to create an "information society" but we seem to be stuck with an anti-information society at the moment. It’s not that the issues are unknown. It’s usually not the case that we don’t know what we need to do. There is a lack of commitment to change as quickly as modern communication demands. When more people are information aware, the barriers to doing essential things will tend to fall. Meanwhile we are trapped by past propaganda with ideas that tend to get in the way rather than help develop the future.
Membership of the information society is claimed by those who not only access data from a wide variety of sources, but who also collect their own data and can think about data or process data so that new ideas are integrated into our understanding in a useful way.
Because our education system has poorly prepared people for ICT use, a good deal of public education is desirable to teach people "information literacy". People need to develop their information awareness. Information literacy includes these things together: the confidence to build your own knowledge, to maintain private records of interesting data, to collect important ideas, to discuss your interests with others in an effort to build your own understanding, and to put on public record, if required, your present understanding or knowledge. These things, together form a set of information literacy skills that everyone has a right to learn and to use.
A significant problem is the word Information itself. The term is badly misused. You only have information when you learn or are given some new data that fits into your existing thinking or into something you are trying to do. The data must inform you in a new way so your understanding is improved or your ability to act effectively is enhanced. Then it might justly be called information. If the new data misleads you, makes you believe something that isn’t true, or interferes with your ability to act effectively it’s certainly not "information".
Magazines and newspapers reflect public opinion, they quote statements from political and community leaders, and they conduct a charade that pretends that all such opinions are worthy of the title "information". "In the interests of free speech" we allow all sorts of garbage to fill our newspapers and our television screens. You become what you choose to be interested in. Much of what is published for the public to read or watch or listen too is pollution of our mind-space. It might turn a dollar, but it destroys potential, and we all pay the price of that. What sort of world is it when monks and shepherds who never watch the news, are often much better informed about the real world than those of us who consume our daily dose of media propaganda.
You have to decide if the data you are getting is or is not "information" and you do that by seeing if the data fits the pattern of what you already know, and if it extends that pattern in some way. Your defence against the barrage of garbage data is what you already know. Our education, or miseducation, commonly teaches us to ignore what we know and seek information from other people, from "expert sources". We have been taught to be information vegetables, actively absorbing other peoples manure (their dodgy data) that's poured over us and around us every day. We need to take control over what we are exposed too. We need to be active in choosing the sources of data we allow into our mind-space. This is the beauty of the internet for me. Television is almost completely gone from my life, and life is so much richer for that.