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The lie of the land

Susan Halfpenny provides a general overview of the digital society, considering technological developments and the amount of time we spend online.
Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire
© University of York (author: Susan Halfpenny)

Digital technologies have permeated our everyday tasks and interactions in the 21st century. They have changed the way we learn, work and socialise. In recent years this reliance on the use of technology in the modern world has led to considerations of potential consequences on our environment, society and wellbeing – how we behave, communicate and interact in both the physical and virtual world.

You may have come across the term ‘information society’ which is used to describe a society where the creation, distribution, use, integration and manipulation of information is significant to economic, political and cultural endeavours. This description is applicable to modern society where digital technologies and the internet are ubiquitous with education, work and entertainment. In a society where there is a reliance on information, it is important that we reflect on how we interact with technology and make use of information in our everyday tasks, and consider the potential impact this can have on our behaviours, beliefs and values.

Fake news, defined as “false often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news” (Collins Dictionary), is an interesting example of how important it is that we have an understanding of information creation and dissemination processes in the modern world. If we fall for manipulated and biased information this can have a detrimental effect on our decision-making and understanding of the world. If we are not evaluating information and checking our facts, and the information we are basing our opinions and actions on is fundamentally false, there are potentially major consequences for our democracy, global environment and health.

The Association of College and Research Libraries frames of information literacy provide us with useful explanations of information processes to develop our understanding of the ‘uncertain information ecosystem’. The three frames that we might find the most useful when dealing with the manipulation of information are:

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual: information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used;

  • Information Creation as a Process: information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences;

  • Information Has Value: information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination.

These concepts illustrate the importance of information in our society, and present the need for us to develop adequate skills to successfully navigate that information. We need to consider not only the information we consume but also the information we produce – the information we share about ourselves – to gain a better understanding of this complex area and the impact it has on our personal beliefs, values, and society more broadly.

Over the next steps and activity we will examine in detail the complexities of operating in the information society. We will consider the information behind the headlines as well as the information we share about ourselves. In so doing we’ll look to gain an insight into how the information landscape and communications technologies can change our behaviours, filter and censor, and ultimately impact on our world view and our sense of wellbeing.

© University of York (author: Susan Halfpenny)
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