Monday, February 25, 2008

The Habitat of Information: Social and Organizational Consequences of Information Growth

Information growth is a distinctive phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st century. Large varieties of information are currently produced and circulated, in a rapidly increasing scale, across the various institutional domains of contemporary societies. Technical and administrative innovations have been expanding the interoperable platforms that make possible the development and diffusion of information within and across systems and organizations. At the same time, a range of devices from desktop computing to cell phones and digital cameras have been spreading across the population, making individuals and social groups important producers and consumers of information. A pivotal development has been the emergence, expansion and deepening involvement of the internet in social and economic life.
Taken together, these developments establish a new socio-economic environment in which information-based operations and services acquire crucial importance. This is clearly shown in the rapid ascent to economic dominance of internet-based companies that demonstrate superior data editing and information management strategies. New commercial possibilities steadily develop around the production, ordering and distribution of information, as data become interoperable across sources and older forms of information (e.g. image, text and sound) are brought to bear upon one another. But information growth has wider social implications as well. The involvement of information in every walk of life redefines the relationship between information and reality, and reshapes the social practices through which information is stored, retrieved, understood, disseminated and remembered. Increasingly, information mediates between humans and reality. In this context, the activities of ordering, making sense, evaluating, navigating and acting upon information step onto the centre-stage of contemporary life, impinging upon skill profiles and personal choices. They often do so under conditions in which the established boundaries between individuals and institutions are rendered shifting and negotiable.
There is a growing awareness of the current information growth dynamics and the emerging information habitat. However, the recent character of the phenomenon makes the social and economic implications of these dynamics not well understood. The 8th Social Study of ICT workshop brings together a number of prominent scholars and practitioners whose work and experience help illuminate the relevant developments.

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