1 General Introduction to the Course on Knowledge Society

K S Raghavan

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Structure of the Module

1.     Introduction

2.     Factors of Digital Divide

3.     Role of Librarian and information Centre

4.     The Outline and Plan

5.     A note for the students

1.     Introduction

The world is in the process of structural transformation for nearly three decades. This process is multidimensional and is closely associated with the emergence of a new technological paradigm, based in Information and communication technologies that took shape in the last quarter of the 20th Century. However the diffusion of the technology has not been even around the world. Throughout history societies and communities have shaped technologies depending on needs, values, and interests of people who use the technology. ICTs are particularly sensitive to the culture values and social uses on technology itself. The term knowledge society certainly does not necessarily convey the same idea to all. This should be evident from the history of the Internet; the first thousands of users were mainly those who developed the technology. However in this 2nd decade of the 21st Century network society is already a reality, at least for many segments of our societies – academic, business, government, etc. It is certainly not as if the transformations are in the future. What characterizes the network society is that it constitutes a system of socialized communication beyond the mass media system that characterized the industrial society. The network society is not the future that we must reach by embracing the new technological paradigm. It is our society, in different degrees, and under different forms depending on countries and cultures. Our understanding of the notion of the knowledge society must start from this basic fact. It is not any particular destination but is largely a point of departure. People, institutions, governments, etc do not have to do anything to develop the network society because it is already here. Policy makers, however, should realize that not every individual is included in the network and the building of a true knowledge society requires that everyone should be included in the network. In societies that present unbalanced income distribution patterns, societies that have not yet transited to democratic form of governance, in societies with large proportion of population still functionally illiterate there is the danger that mere technological modernization may further widen this divide. The statistical data on access to the ICTs and opening to the global networks clearly suggest that in many developing countries including the newly emerging economies of Asia such as China and India considerable deficits and gaps exist. As such the perspective of any discussion on knowledge society has to be necessarily cross cultural. Technological innovations by themselves cannot bring about the needed transformation. It necessarily has to be based in organizational changes and institutional models that will lead to the utilization of the potential of ICTs in all development-related activities.


2. Factors of Digital DivideA UNESCO document identified the following factors as contributing to the digital divide.

  • Economic resources: The cost for individuals, in the developing and poorer countries, of acquiring access to network
  • Geography: asymmetries between the town and countryside. In India, for example, 80 per cent of internet connections have occurred in the country’s twelve argest cities.
  • Age: young people are often at the forefront of the uptake of technological innovation; but they are also the most vulnerable and most affected by difficult social and economic conditions.
  • Gender: gender inequalities with regard to the new technologies are another aspect of the digital divide. Almost two-thirds of illiterates in the world are women
  • Language: It is a major obstacle to the participation of all. The emergence of Englis has the lingua franca of globalization leaves little room for other languages within cyberspace.
  • Education: social and cultural background
  • Employment: In many countries, internet access is limited to the world of work. The exclusion resulting from loss of employment also means de facto exclusion from cyberspace. Some of the significant recommendations and suggestions to overcome these barriers include:


  • Invest more in quality education for all to ensure equal opportunity
  • Increase   places   of    community   access    to    information   and communication technologies
  • Widen the contents available for universal access to knowledge
  • Making    linguistic    diversity   a    priority:   the    challenges    of multilingualism; support the creation of multilingual digital content
  • Increase women’s contribution to knowledge societies


3.  Role of Librarian and information Centre


Libraries and information Centre’s evidently have a crucial role to play, especially as places of community access to ICTs in establishing inclusive knowledge societies (KS). A number of forces are currently driving the development of information society. These include globalization, economic liberalization, extensive use of ICTS, digital knowledge resources, etc. Obviously these have resulted in many parts of the world in uneven growth. Knowledge society requires that we ensure equitable access to knowledge resources and supporting technologies. A primary evaluation criterion for a KS should be the extent of participation and contribution of all its citizens, irrespective of their economic status, race, religion, educational level, and other differentiating parameters, to the socio-economic development process and being a part of the network society and benefit from it. It is difficult to imagine any institution other than the library – especially the public library – which can effectively serve as portal of entry to the digital information world for every individual. The advent of Web 2.0 brings in a new digital life style affecting every aspect of functioning of individuals and organizations.


The units in this course are aimed at addressing some of the major issues that need to be examined. The issues are broad-based as they should be in any academic programme, but where necessary, illustrations are particularly relevant to developing countries such as India.


4.     The Outline and PlanKnowledge Society is indeed a very vast area and there are cultural, sociological, legal, political, economic and technological dimensions. What has been attempted in the units in this course is to give an overview of all the different dimensions of knowledge society.


We begin by trying to understand the notions of Data, Information and Knowledge. There is a unit on Theories and Models of Communication intended to provide the broader context for all information transfer related activities including what happens in conventional libraries and information centres. This is followed by two units outlining the scope of Information Studies and Knowledge Management. It is important for thes tudents of LIS to understand the changing and widening scope of the domain of Information Studies. Knowledge Management which has emerged as a major activity especially in the corporate world represents a new dimension of Information Studies. The area is increasingly being seen as a specialization within the i-school curricula. We then proceed to understand the various notions associated with and related to knowledge society. The purpose of the unit is to make the students obtain an idea of ‘What a knowledge Society is’.


There are several closely related concepts and terms some of which are used interchangeably and it is important for students to have an idea of all these related concepts. The notion of Digital Divide and factors contributing to digital divide are examined and explained in the subsequent unit. The legal aspects of information are a major area, more so in a knowledge society and, particularly after the establishment of the (WTO) World Trade Organization regime and (WIPO) World Intellectual Property Organization. These have implications for library and information services. There are three units that exclusively and elaborately examine these aspects. The units explain intellectual property rights related issues, viz., Copyright, Patents and related aspects, and Right to Information and Censorship. The effort has been to provide an understanding of all the associated issues and highlight the implications for libraries and information centres. An Information Society seeks to look at information and knowledge as major economic factors. One unit exclusively examines Economics of Information.


Two important characteristics of an information society are the extensive use of ICTs in governance and commerce. One unit examines the scope and meaning of E-Governance and E-Commerce. Social Media and Social Networking is an important characteristic of knowledge & information societies. Two units examine these. Again there is emphasis on how libraries and information centres could utilize social media to enhance their reach. In a network society the importance of Information Security cannot be over emphasized. The various security issues are examined in a unit. Finally, as information is widely seen as an economic factor, Information Industry has come to be the focus of large industries from databases to e-commerce to search engines. The last unit in this course examines the nature and contours of the information industry in India.


5.     A note for the studentsA large amount of valuable information in the form of reports is available on the Internet on the subject of Knowledge Society. Students are advised to read the UNESCO report; reports of other major international bodies including the World Summits on Information Society (WSIS) are particularly important. Students are also advised to visit the website of the United Nations Group on Information Society (http://www.ungis.org)

Sources for further reading may be added here.


you can view video on General Introduction to the Course on Knowledge Society

Learn More

  • The difference between Information Society and Knowledge Society
  • The emphasis / focus in the WSIS
  • Read about interesting experiments in India about transforming the society
    • Read the Report of the NKC
    • Read about the ‘Hole in the wall’ experiment
    • Read about experiments carried out by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in the coastal fishing villages of Pondicherry; there are many other similar experiments too

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