I just started going through a book called The Information Society Reader, a collection of foundational readings on the study of the Information Society, and a few pages into the editor’s introduction I had a déjà vu moment with this oddly familiar statement:
It can seem that the [concept of “Information Society”] is used with abandon, yet as such it is capable of accommodating all manner of definitions. Readers should look carefully for the definitional terms used, often tacitly, by commentators in what follows. Are they, for instance, emphasizing the economic, educational or cultural dimensions when they discuss the Information Society, or is it technology which is given the greatest weight in their accounts? One might then ask, if the conceptions are so very varied and even promiscuous, then what validity remains [. . . ]? (p. 10)
Is this warning not incredibly similar to those we hear about the study of rhetoric? Varying definitions, an undefined scope of study, questions of validity? Lately I’ve felt lulled into a (likely) false state of security. How many times do we hear of academic programs stating with pride that they are interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity? Promiscuity is a characteristic more and more fields of study display with some pride. This crossing of borders has become something of an academic movement, but all movements have a beginning and usually an end, or even if it has lifecycles and never entirely dies out, the times when it tapers out can be painful – as the history of rhetoric can attest to.
What’s interesting to me about the study of the Information Society is that its inception has been some sort of uber-manifestation of interdisciplinarity. It’s flowed and found nodes of connection in the same manner as the Network Society itself. It’s almost like the global community’s entry into the Age of Information is what has made this move toward interdisciplinarity possible in the first place (both in terms of technology and of an emerging climate that condones and even celebrates such behavior), and it’s quite fitting – if not problematic – that the field purporting to study this new age should mirror it as well.
But I can’t help but think there’s bound to be a tide building against such breadth and promiscuity. And if so, I wonder when its time will come, what it will look like, and what the alternatives may be.