The Information Age

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 00:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Information Age, also commonly known as the Digital Age, is an idea that the current age will be characterised by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely and to have instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously (Wikipedia). This is the age we live in.

Most certainly, the way we access information and create it has changed our lives the world over. The Information Age has impacted the world’s workforce alone, in various ways.

One, it has created a situation where workers who perform easily automated tasks, are being forced to find work which involves tasks that are not easily automated. Two, workers have no choice but to compete in a global job market. And lastly, workers are being replaced by computers that perform the task faster and more effectively, thus creating problems amongst industrial societies.

In the West, jobs traditionally associated with the middle class (assembly line workers, data processors, foremen, and supervisors) are beginning to disappear, either through automation or outsourcing to the East.

Individuals who lose their jobs in these industrialised nations such as the US, UK and Europe, must either move up, joining a group of “mind workers” (engineers, attorneys, scientists, professors, executives, journalists, consultants), or settle for low-skill, low-wage service jobs.

On the other hand, “mind workers” who form about 20% of a Western country workforce, are able to compete successfully in the world market and command high wages. The same cannot be said for production and service workers in industrialised nations who are unable to compete with workers in developing countries.

Another growing aspect is the internet, which makes it possible for workers in developing countries to provide in-person services and compete directly with their counterparts in other nations.

All of this has resulted in a rapidly growing income inequality in industrial countries. The polarisation of jobs into the relatively high-skill, high wage and low-skill, low-wage categories has only helped in widening the disparity between the incomes of the rich and poor.

The United States appears to have been more impacted than most countries; with their income inequality reaching a level comparable to South America (research done in Wikipedia).

Therefore, as much as the information age appears to have flattened the world, giving equal opportunity to those who did not have it in the past, it may also become the reason for creating huge social imbalance in the future.

In Sri Lanka, on our road to development and success, we need to understand analyse how this information age could help us along the way. Not understanding this properly and going as far as to not create national policy on this may not be wise.

There is a grave lack or an imbalance in information creation in Sri Lanka, for example information related to stock market information. A lot of this information is very main stream i.e. information created by large stock broking firms or rating companies and disseminated through the mainstream media.

I believe that much of the present woes of the stock market, its highly volatile nature are due to the lack of credible, independent information in the market which investors could rely on make decisions on what shares to buy. There is not enough stock market information in the Sinhala and Tamil media, whether mainstream or otherwise.

Finally what needs to be understood is that we need to learn from the lessons of the West and we need to create our own Sri Lankan/Asian formula. Trying to develop any sector without taking into consideration the developments in the information age will be counterproductive to our objectives.

In this Digital Age, the world has opened a new frontier with the help of technology. However, if we are to go forward and use it to our benefit, we need to have a plan to develop content that is relevant for us.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

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