The Dawn of the Information Age

‘It’s the beginning of the new age, it’s the beginning of the new age, it’s … , etc’. So goes the refrain of the Velvet Underground anthem that used to so intoxicate me as a teenager. Now, I would substitute ‘It’s the beginning of the information age, it’s …, etc’. This, the information age, or, in Manuel Castells’s language, the global network society, is the context for the contributions I have collated in the Research Handbook on Information Policy. (The photo on the dust jacket is meant to represent the dawn of a new age: hopefully it succeeds, or that it is at any rate a pretty cover for the library shelf or coffee table.)

This is the first book I have edited, having concentrated my research mainly in refereed journals, but I have had two monographs published. The first, Information Society Studies (Routledge, 2000) sold over 600 copies in hardback, over double the normal rate for Routledge research monographs (I was told). I mention this not to prove that it is exceptional, but to show how topical the subject-matter was—and still is. In it I established, at least to my own satisfaction, the ‘existence’ of the information society, citing scholars such as Fritz Machlup, Ian Miles and the author of the classic The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, the great Daniel Bell, with whom I had the privilege of corresponding and ultimately met in person.

My second effort, A Normative Theory of the Information Society (Routledge, 2012), opens with the declaration, accordingly, that ‘The existential crisis of the information society is over’. What then was the later book about? It was about not whether the information society is this or that, but what the information society ought to be. It was normative, not positive, in the argot of social science; or, one might say, it was ethical in intent. It basically tried to work out a theory of social justice for the information age. That book was the best and most difficult thing I had done, my gift to humankind (!), especially the Rawls-Tawney Theorem it propounded; so I had hoped that it would be debated by students in classrooms, taken forward by other scholars, perhaps even wend its way into policy deliberations. Sadly, despite its having been positively reviewed in eleven journals across several disciplines, it has not had half the impact I was expecting.

This latest volume takes my ‘intellectual project’ (to speak pompously) forward again, that is to say, seeks to assist in the general project of establishing information society research. I was very honoured to be approached ‘out of the blue’ by Alex, editorial director at Elgar, to edit a new research handbook on information policy. This entailed feverish work structuring a notoriously fuzzy field and then finding (many rejected or ignored my advances) an international and interdisciplinary band of scholars willing and able to contribute chapters to the various sections. I believe I have succeeded in logically dividing the book into general (philosophical, historical and future-oriented) and specific aspects of information policy, the specifics being the commonly-discussed issues, namely, privacy, freedom of information, freedom of expression, copyright and information inequality. There is also a section at the end on especially important types of information, namely, genetic information, statistical information and news information. For symmetry, each section has three authors, a ‘rule of three’ which should add to the elegance of the volume.

The topics covered are clearly some of the most urgent public-policy issues of the day. I am pleased that these have been brought together in a coherent way in this, arguably the first proper research handbook on information policy. I am also humbled that so many leading thinkers have seen fit to contribute, including such illustrious names as Steve Fuller, Priscilla Regan and Sue Curry Jansen, to name just three. It is to be hoped that this multi-authored volume will have that elusive major impact: that it will not only interest scholars in a wide range of disciplines, but will be read and discussed by students, and acted upon by policy-makers. In any case, if the global network society is to approximate the good society, this can only come about through properly thought-out information policy.

Alistair S. Duff, PhD, is an academic visitor in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, where he is working on a book on the philosophy of privacy. Immediately prior to that, he was a visiting professor at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Open University of Catalonia. He is emeritus professor of information policy at Edinburgh Napier University.

Research Handbook on Information Policy

Edited by Alistair S. Duff, Edinburgh Napier University, UK

, , , , , ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: