Information Society

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Hofkirchner, Wolfgang
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Sustainable information society

Julia Hömberger (07.06.2019)





We live in a world, where we benefit from the technology humans invented over the last 30 years. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) makes a big part in our communication system, like the name implies. We are able to send and spread messages with mobile devices all over the world. This devices could be called the physical carriers of information. The internet became a common place for a large part of our society,but it actually is just an data center located arund the world. We are connected through this huge networks we created. We have universal access at all times to those high quality interaction systems. A future sustainable information society is profiting from this invention and we are able to use them for privat and public reasons. But we are still humans so we can´t do magic and therefore, the sustainablity isn´t fail-proof, so we are not able to be a hundred percent sustainable in any kind of sector. This means right now a sustainable information society or a global sustainable information society isn´t given and it is still a desire we are trying to reach. The conditions, which are existing are nearly ideal but still not completely developed.


1 Introduction

The possibility of a sustainable information society has drawn a big interest.

Given by the World Comission on Enviroment and Development (WCED) a basic definition of sustainability could be: “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. (Thomsen, 2013)

There are just a few contributions towards a sustainable information society, due to the fact that it is a fast moving issue. The world and within the society is rapidly changing under the crossfire of influences. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has a huge impact on this change. It includes any device, which can store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit, or receive information electronically in a digital form.

In this entry I would like to give an idea what a sustainable information society could mean and what it is build on.

1.1 Information

First of all we need to get an interpretation of information. Information is raw or processed data, which can be interpreted by different people with different economic and ideological interests, in different cultures and at different times. However, what remains open is the question of what the information does, in fact, mean. (Joachim H. Spangenberg, 2005)

So the unprocessed information itself is meaningless. Therefore, the information must be transferred into knowledge. To give an information meaning the information needs to be put in any kind of social or cultural context. And through this process the information becomes knowledge.

The influence of ICT and globalization transforms our industrial society into an information society, in which it substitutes information and knowledge for technology to some extent.

The cognitions about information and knowledge open up a new topic: the message.

1.2 Message

If we take a closer look at the Shannon model of communication, we could see the message takes a long way from the emitter to the receiver. The emitter uses information to produce a message. Thus the emitter makes the message. The emitter also chooses to send the message. The transmitter is a machine used by the emitter, which transforms a message into signals or binary data, or specifically decodes the message. The receiver translates the signals or binary data back into a message, or in other words encodes the message. Thus the receiver is the person who gets the message. The noise source is the physical disturbances for example the environment or people, which let a disturbed message get to the receiver instead of the original message.

Messages give our society the possability to communicate. And since the invention of networks sience gave us the opportunity to make this communication process much easyier. We are now able to communicate all over the world. This brings us to the next topic: networks.

2. Networks

A network in its naked flesh is nothing more than a set of nodes and links among them. In a mathematically perspective it is comparable with a graph G={V,E} which contains vertices V or nodes together with edges E or arcs. An edge is a twoelement subset of V it is related to two vertices, being such relation represented as a pair which is usually ordered. Nodes and links have some arbitrary attributes but the most relevant component for the node is the degree k, which represents the number of links that connect it with the rest of the network. For the complete network the most relevant attribute is the degree distribution density P(k). These few elements of networks offer a sufficient flexibility to build a broad variety of models to map many real complex phenomena. (Díaz-Nafría, 2017)

Now lets take this a step further and see how these nodes interacte with each other through the links. But when our network is mapping something in reality, the nodes stand for  a so called agency. The agents can interact with each other in an either active or passive way. Active means, if the agent acts by itself and passive, if the active agent is used to fulfill an action. Links represent the communication path between the agents. Therefore, what is represented through a network are agents who work on other agents, which means they interact with each other.


2.1 Complex systems

Our society demands an interaction between billions of individuums and our communication infrastructure includes billions of cell phones with computers and satellites. All those complex systems became an important role in our society and of the 21st century. Behind each complex system is an elaborated network that encodes the interplay of the system´s components. The communication device we use to spread messages are the center of our communication system. So we can only understand these complex sytems, if we develop a greater understanding of the network behind them.

A breakthrough of network science is the awareness that the architecture of networks appear in different  domains of science, nature, and technology are similar to each other, because it is guided by the same organizing principles. (Barabási, 2016)

2.2 Global networking

The technology of the most uprising companies in the world are based on networks. For example Google performs the biggest network mapping that humanity has ever had. Its generating a comprehensive and constantly updating map of the world wide web and its search technology is deeply linked with the network characteristics of the web.

Networks give us the opportunity to spread our messages and informations wolrd wide. They help us to stay connected with each other and make it possible to interact on a techonological level. The Information and Communication Technologies, which I explained earlier, and the developed networks make this happen, especially social networks. To be more concrete social networks have a big influence on our communication behavior. They bring us further in our society and we can benifit from this growth of networks. Since the invention of the world wide web we there are approximately 1 billion websites and 3,3 trillion internet users in the world.

The Information Society Technologies (IST) represents all technologies that lead us towards an information society, for example mobile communications and the internet.

Considering the sustainability the valuable point of IST is how to dematerialize economic processes. The Alliance for a Sustainable Information Society (ASIS) defines dematerialization as the achievement of a maintained or improved product or service, whilst also achieving reduced use of material and energy. (Hilty und Ruddy, 2000)

We cleared all the important terms and now we are ready to take a deeper look at the Sustainable Information Society.

3. Sustainable Information Society

Hofkirchers definition of a good society is it must be capacitated, by using ICTs, to create knowledge and data to be informative. Given the global challanges he says it has exist on planetary scale this means it must be globale. It also has to be sustainable, this means it has to be capale to act upon dangers of anthropogenic breakdown, by establishing its organisational relations. Such a society is called a Global Sustainable Information Society (GSIS). (Hofkirchner, 2014)

But now we want to know what is a sustainable information society in fact.
For one an information society is a society driven by the ICTs into a post-industrial society. We get influenced by all the technology and we use them for our advantage, and sometimes it turns out to be a drawback but this is another topic for its own.If we contemplate the Quadruple Helix model, first suggested by Elias G. Carayannis and David F.J. Campbell, we can devide the Global Information Society in those four dimensions: freedom, equality,control and sustainability.The Quadruple Helix model or short the OI 2.0 provides a new approach for tackling the complex challenges we face in our societies. It breaks down the traditional silos between government, industry, academia, and civil participants, bringing these multidisciplinary viewpoints together in an environment that promotes team working, collaboration and the sharing of ideas. By working together, this quadruple helix approach can create new shared value that benefits all participants in what becomes an innovation ecosystem. Technology plays a key role in creating networks and connectivity. Value is characterised by a long-term view, focusing on improved social conditions as well as company performance. And success is measured for the ecosystem as a whole, rather than individual units. (Jo Edwards, 2018)

Because of the globalization our social and political orders became intercultural, multilingual and multinational and our life turned more and more international with in the years. Computing and information technologies brought us more forward, which makes the global aspect for an information society possible.

If we want to provide democratic sustainability and turn from the local into a global scale, we need to take a look at the terms mentioned in the Quadruple Helix model. Democracy is linked to equality and liberty, already since the Greeks. (Díaz-Nafría, 2017)

Aristotle once said equality is above all things their aim, and therefore they ostracize and banish from the city for a time those who seem to predominate too much through their wealth, or the number of their friends, or through any other political influence.Platos point of view abou democracy was, that there could be a good form of all constitutions and democracy was the worst of these, but the best of all the bad forms, is rejected, on the ground that there cannot be good forms of bad constitutions. Liberty is not merely the enjoyment of a sphere of non-interference but the enjoyment of certain conditions in which such non-interference is guaranteed, as Skinner defined. These conditions may include the presence of a democratic constitution and a series of safeguards against a government wielding power arbitrarily, including the separation of powers and the exercise of civic virtues on the part of citizens. (Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, 2003)
So, we can say democracy admits degree of inequality, but only to a certain extent in conjunction with the need to ensure autonomy. Democracy is possible even under inequal circumstances, but it has no long-term potential. In our century the inequality is visible in different sectors like national income or the internet population.
In information societies, operations, decisions and choices previously left to humans are increasingly delegated to algorithms, which may advise, if not decide, about how data should be interpreted and what actions should be taken as a result. (Mittelstadt et al. 2016)
The internet and within the society make us belive we have a choice but in fact they just give us a selection of option from which we can choose, based on an algorithm. How we perceive and how we communicate with each other is progressively abitrated by algorithms. As we can see algorithms are ethically challenging, for one because of analyzing the complexity of our decision-making, but most important for the uncertainty and opacity of the work being done by algorithms. Its impact is of course highly problematic. This means freedom and control, mentioned as  parts of the Quadruple Helix model, isn´t existing as we think it is. We are influenced and controled in our decision-making by algorithms, which means we are not as free as we should be in a global sustainable information society.
Computer-based systems make a big part of our society in the 21st century. We use them for public and privat reasons. Our society is turning into an information society in which we are using technology and on this bases networks to communicate and also to get more information about different sectors.
But the main problem about a GSIS could be the part of the sustainablity. We are not able to control everything and technology isn´t magic. Technological devices and the internet are based on a lot of algorithms created by humans. This means they are not a hundret percent fail-proof and they also have big ethical implications, which can include consequences affecting individuals, groups and whole segments of a society.

Our society can build that and we can move foward into the direction of a sustainable, fail-proof, information society but we have to deal with all the difficulties we will encounter on our way. Until we haven´t found a solution to make ICTs sustainable we are not able to call our society a GSIS, but it is a prospect we should pursue for much longer and maybe one day this impossbile idea can be possible.




Barabási, Albert-László (2016): Network science. Unter Mitarbeit von Márton Pósfai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Online verfügbar unter

Díaz-Nafría, José María (2017): Cyber-Subsidiarity: Toward a Global Sustainable Information Society. In: Elias G. Carayannis, David F. J. Campbell und Marios Panagiotis Efthymiopoulos (Hg.): Handbook of Cyber-Development, Cyber-Democracy, and Cyber-Defense, Bd. 14. [S.l.]: Springer International Publishing, S. 1–30.

Hilty, Lorenz M.; Ruddy, Thomas F. (2000): Towards a Sustainable Information Society. In: Zeitschrift der schweizer Informationsorganisation.

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang (2014): "Global Sustainable Information Society" - Vision for the Future.

Joachim H. Spangenberg (2005): Will the information society be sustainable?Towards criteria and indicators for a sustainable knowledge society. In: Int. J. Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 1, Nos. 1/2.

Mittelstadt, Brent Daniel; Allo, Patrick; Taddeo, Mariarosaria; Wachter, Sandra; Floridi, Luciano (2016): The ethics of algorithms: Mapping the debate. In: Big Data & Society 3 (2), 205395171667967. DOI: 10.1177/2053951716679679.

Thomsen, Christa (2013): Sustainability (World Commission on Environment and Development Definition). In: Samuel O. Idowu, Nicholas Capaldi, Liangrong Zu und Ananda Das Gupta (Hg.): Encyclopedia of corporate social responsibility. Heidelberg, New York: Springer (Springer reference), S. 2358–2363.



Entries under work

Cumplido, Adrià (19 Dec. 2018, within the course "Odyssey of Philosophy and Information", facilitated by J.M. Díaz at HM)

(1) The comments of the facilitator will be edited using this style, brackets, 8 pt, color change. These will be introduced in between your own text to discuss and further co-elaborate the content. Whenever the authors consider to have addressed the issue, they can simply remove the comment
(2) Simple corrections, corresponding to quite obvious missteps or disalignment with editorial style guidelines, are directly corrected, marking the involved characters in red in order to let the author know what was changed. The authors can turn it into black if they agree upon] 

NOTE of the AUTHOR (in interaction with the facilitator and colleagues): these are edited using this style, no-brackets, 8 pt, this color.

[Dear Adrià, 
I see several issues in your contribution. 
1) First of all, you introduce concepts without any justification (for instance, social network, small-world, subsidiarity, cyber-subsidiarity...) and this is critical since the very purpose of the glossariumBITri is clarifying concepts, theories and problems. 
2) In the same line, you go through different topics without any justification of why you do it (for instance when you start talking about networks, when you jump to talk about language, when you then move to considering Information Management in the human body, etc). This shows that there's a lack of structure in the entry as a whole and rather a collection of topics with weak relation to one another (I know what is the connection because I explain it in my paper, but I also know a normal reader wouldn't find it). 
Furthermore, according to the guidelines, 
3) at the beginning you should start with an abstract, then provide an introduction to the topic referring the sources you will be relying on (by the way, if you can talk about the "network society" and then refer a Catalan author who is also professor in Berkeley, Ramon Castells. He is an important reference. Another author important to refer is Mattelart. He has a very well know introductory book about the information society, translated into many languages -please check the private folder in the seminar's website). Subsequently, you should break down the text into paragraphs with proper titles.
4) Your contribution has a large amount of published content coincidence (according to Turnitin it is over 35%, most of it comes from my own article). This needs being improved (never exceed 20%). 
5) YOur entry doesn't satisfy the length requirement] 


As the years pass, the information society is responsible for the disappearance of physical borders, the appearance of new businesses or unlimited access to information. At present we are dealing with an economic model of companies that goes hand in hand with a goal of sustainable development. There is an existing concept called business sustainability and it is based on finding the balance between the economic part, the social part and the environmental part within a company. Therefore, this close relationship with scarce resources, one of the main tools is ICT for the development of our goal. To give an example, green ICTs are a concept in which work is being done to promote conferences instead of in-person meetings to improve energy efficiency.

The world is interconnected and social networks have a lot of influence in that aspect. At the end of what is in this entry, is that the Internet is a global network, and has a series of links and interconnections between all nodes. But not all the planet Earth receives the same type of information. The sustainable information society looks for global interconnectivity, and in that aspect, as we will comment here, there is a big difference between the developed countries and those that are in the process of development. The latter has more connections with developed countries than with each other, and this is something that must be changed in order to achieve a global information society.

According to Gustavo Cardoso (Professor of Communication Sciences at ISCTE), in order to analyse the different models of the information society, one has to begin to distinguish the four dimensions (technology, economy, social welfare and values), and in this way can understand the position in which each society is in the relationship with globalization, and what can be done to improve. Therefore, an information society can be considered if it has a solid information technology: infrastructure and production. Something vital to be able to achieve what we are looking for, a sustainable information society. According to Mr. Cardoso, countries such as Finland or the United States are advanced information societies. It also explains what the European Union consists of. It is possible to find the formula for social and economic development, the use of technological tools and the introduction into society. so that countries prosper.

Sustainable Information Society

Thinking of a utopia about a perfectly structured society, you can come to think of many of the systems that surround us and that day after day society tries to improve in order to reach a better world. Therefore, in this entry, I will try to develop the idea of a sustainable information society and on what it can be based.

At this time, society is governed by a series of stigmas and rules in which social networks have a lot of influence. In this aspect, Big data has a great relevance since we live in a completely computerized society where the databases are something very important to take into account to develop a sustainable information society. The main question is whether this is the most appropriate structure for the World Information Society (GIS). It is believed that it is not the most effective or democratic way to confront the great world problems.

When you talk about social networks, this concept is understood as the set of communication media and people that can interact with each other. It is important to realize that in the end it is a means of communication, within the communication landscape we are more aware of it, than for example of others. In the end it is a network (concept that we will talk about later), a series of interactions between people, in which endless possibilities and possible interactions enter. In the end we only visualize the network as the possible interactions.

Within the abstract networks, it can be said that a network is a set of nodes and links between them. The most relevant feature of a node is its degree, that is, the number of links that connect with the rest of the network, while for the link is its directivity. This has helped to map many real phenomena. When something is being mapped in reality, the nodes represent some kind of agency. We can distinguish between two: the active (the agent acts by itself) and the passive (if you use an active agent to perform such action). The links mean the interactions between these agents.

The interaction represented by the links can be considered internal for active agents and external for passive agents (they require external intervention by some passive agent). The greatest interaction in small worlds takes place at the group level, while global connectivity occurs with other clusters. In the information flow (the interactions), the stability implies that the combined information in all the loops directed within the cluster is convergent under issue management. In addition, the flow of information outside the cluster may correspond to the complexity excess where they are handled within the cluster but transported outside

The groupings in the small stable worlds networks represent some kind of effective cooperation. In contrast, small global networks are governed by the principle of subsidiarity, issues are dealt with immediately.

The Internet is also a network formed by a series of nodes and links between them, apart from being the great structure of information. This infrastructure is formed by a network of routers that navigate the data packages from one terminal to another. Both the Web and the Internet infrastructure are very far from the distributed topology, but still, provide robustness under some failure of a random node (although if it were a critical node they could severely affect the overall performance). The topology of the Internet offers both the potential to link any node of the Internet in a short time and the robustness of maintaining overall performance in the face of failures.

The idea of the global information society assumes that everyone has the possibility to interact globally through the information infrastructure. Nothing is further from reality. The majority of the population is offline since in the developing countries they have much more difficulty connecting. There is an inequality of global access that is consistent with the income inequality of the different continents. If the global society has to be inclusive, the first condition must be to have a global coverage online. Although we are not in that position, according to the trend of the evolution of ICT services with respect to other basic services, we are on the right track and there is a horizon that can be reached.

Beyond connectivity, other points must be borne in mind, such as, for example, the quality of said connectivity (the probability that a link between two arbitrary nodes meets a series of requirements to perform an appropriate interaction), and the probability of finding the appropriate pair or resource.

It is clear that there is a very large gap between the developed countries and those in the process of development. There is a big difference in the lines of communication since the countries with high income are the ones that have the most nodes and pipes. The supply and demand of ICT resources are driven exclusively by the monetary value, so the approach used to keep pace with the clients of the demand may not be enough to satisfy the peoples of the demand unless there is minimum equality between the purchasing power of the people. A convincing proof of this is that there is more communication between poor countries and the rich than between themselves. If subsidiarity is to be a regulatory principle of the global information society, then we should enact a positive sense to call for action at the highest level to allow minimum equality is a guarantee because at the lower level the problem cannot be solved.

Finding appropriate resources or partners is one of the highest concerns in the development of ICTs before the increase of human capacity to store and communicate information. Data processing and healing have been put in the hands of data centres. We see how most of the information services are not within the user's devices, but assigned in large high-security structures placed geographically. The importance of these structures is key within the world economy and in the administration and resolution of social and scientific problems.

On the other hand, another characteristic of the Internet-oriented by big-data technologies with respect to its potential to convert a sustainable global information society is that services of this type, such as Google's translator, only offers 0.25% of the existing languages. Therefore, at first glance you could come to suppose that the relationship between language and the Internet is close, you should dig deeper into this type of issues in order to take globalization a step further and obtain a better information society sustainable global

To give an example, language has been an important point in how cultures have developed and have been used as a good argument to understand the Internet as a semantics that can make us an indication of the Internet's infrastructure has to become the main pillar of Our information society. The language can also be mapped in terms of a passive semantic network. A speaker is needed, and this concept puts them in interaction forming sentences.

Unlike the people linked through the Internet infrastructure, the community of speakers has a space of possibilities, a passive network, which is distributed equally among all people and where communicative acts can be developed. On the other hand, the Internet infrastructure offers a completely unequal space for social interaction, as we have already mentioned.

We can see that the language is a semantic network because it has a central core of most words used and that is shared by virtually all speakers, while we find groups of words that are more connected to each other, more specific vocabulary on a subject specific.

We draw several conclusions regarding the semantic network of natural languages such as that all languages offer a passive network that is distributed equally among users of the same language. Also that the language presents an evolutionary pattern adjusted to the principle of subsidiarity that provides both the adaptation of the flexible domain and global connectivity. The semantic network of natural languages has fundamental properties for the promulgation of subsidiarity, and the unlimited productivity of natural language depends on its recursive nature.

We can also talk about the management of information and the complexity of the human body to link it to sustainable global information. We have already commented on the capacity of the human being to store and exchange information, and how much it has increased in recent times, but compared to the information that can be obtained from a person's DNA, it is nothing.

According to the analysis of the human organism of Beer, the body is divided into three parts: the muscles and organs, the nervous system and the external environment. For the articulation of the nervous system of the human being, Beer distinguishes us four connected systems that form System 1 are:

  • System 2: sympathetic nervous system (stabilizes and coordinates the activity of the muscles and organs through the resolution of conflicts.
  • System 3: brain base (allows internal regulation and optimization.
  • System 4: diencephalon and ganglia (external senses).
  • System 5: cortex (superior brain functions that realize the own identity, the final decision-making and the axiological orientation. 

All these systems are interconnected and to a lesser or greater extent affect the flow of information that passes through the human being. The biological management of information shows us that it is possible an intense relief of the flow of information and make the maximum complexity an adequate hierarchical architecture composed at each level by a network of autonomous agents, who act cooperatively to solve problems, and the coordination of actions. This architecture is based on the principle of subsidiarity. It should also be noted that information is only filtered if it is relevant for global operation, so it guarantees a certain value for the benefit of adequate decision-making.

To speak about the global information society, we can use Cyber-Subsidiarity as a backbone. The principle of subsidiarity was proposed for the first time in the principles of Calvinism, it was the great increase in inequality in industrialized societies that brought it to light after the appearance of great socio-political concern. In a democratic society is contemplated, it was then when this idea was developed to end inequality and the terrible difference between work and capital. Then the principle of subsidiarity became a fundamental principle of democratic liberalism and a pillar of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

For Beer, it would develop a new way of making sense of information technology and the capacity of telecommunications as a means to overcome the bureaucratic paradigm in favour of both the implementation of freedom and the ability to cope with complexity. Beer's model is based on the functionality of systems 1 to 5, closely related to those mentioned above:

  • System 1: autonomous and mutually adaptive operating units.
  • System 2: coordination and conflict management.
  • System 3: strategic planning and optimization.
  • System 3 *: an audit of system performance 1.
  • System 4: long-term planning.
  • System 5: ethics and regulatory management. 

The model is based on two fundamental principles of Beer: the law of the required variety and the Ashby principle of recursion. In relation to the first principle, the capacity of system 1 must be balanced with the framework of operations that it assumes, taking into account sufficient room for manoeuvre.

In conclusion, we can glimpse a cybernetic model of subsidiarity that provides a solid means for the development of qualitative democracy in the global information society. The cybernetic model of subsidiarity serves to promote this global information society. A series of structural requirements of the links that connect the parts of the cybernetic model of subsidiarity must be met. Two points must be taken into account. The first is the positive account of subsidiarity, which has to be strongly affirmed so that adequate universal coverage is achieved. On the other hand, information must be filtered in a relevant way, as the human body acts. It is also important to have foresight, and it must be present at different scales. 

In my opinion, sustainable global information society is something that is viable for society and that can bring many advantages. It is a difficult model to implement since everything must be connected, the fact that we have seen previously, it is not easy, since the world is very divided. That is why we must develop the qualitative democracy mentioned above in its four dimensions that are, freedom, equality, control and sustainability.


  • Díaz, J.M. (2017). Cyber-Subsidiarity: Towards a Global Sustainable Information Society.
  • Zimmermann, R. and Díaz, J.M. (2012). Una perspectiva integral de la acción y las redes sociales: imaginar, valorar, elegir. Le Monde Diplomatique en español, 206.
  • Castells, M. and Cardoso, G. (2005). The Network Society, From Knowledge to Policy.