The Information Society and Tacit Knowledge as Assumptions

Recall the previous mention of Tremblay’s 1995 lecture in the context of the role of social media as a tool for knowledge sharing. That was a single element of a similar, broader theme to the lecture, which explored the state of then-current theory regarding, conceptualization of, and influences of the model of the information society.

The principal points which Tremblay (1995) raised were the tendency among communication and information professionals to view the hypothetical information society as a good thing, the issue of technological determinism-that is, the positioning of communications technology as a central focus of the information society and myriad other elements, and a general trend of optimism in the field.

Thus, relatively early in the formulation of the concept of the modern vision of the information society-indeed, before it had even truly begun to emerge in fact rather than projection, though several decades after the idea entered development-there was already questioning of several core assumptions of the model, namely that it was a positive change and that it was not only rooted in technological development, but that new information technology enjoyed one-way causality, effecting changes in society without being affected in turn.

More recent scholars discuss the rejections of the information society model, arguing that it received insufficiently critical and empirical evaluation, as well as suggesting that the notion of the information society dates back to the Enlightenment and has recurred since, rather than originating in the mid-20th century (Rule & Besen, 2008). Specifically, these authors cite Saint Simon’s suggestion that the creative and scientific disciplines were of markedly more value to society than individuals with substantial political or social status, and Comte’s notion of science as a “positivist religion” (Rule & Besen, 2008, pp. 318-19).

In other words, Rule & Besen reduce the notion of the information society down to the principle of rational thought and the role of information and knowledge as organized, relied upon, and authoritative elements of the social order, reducing arbitrariness and increasing benefits to those who use them well (pp. 220).

As Tremblay (1995) did, Rule & Besen (2008) note the utopian drift of the dialogue about the information society model in the late 20th century. They go through the critical work on the information society model, then proceed to offer their own criticism of five major theoretical points.

Ultimately, Rule & Besen (2008) conclude that in regard to the projections of the information society model there is little empirical evidence supporting it which is both meaningful and unambiguous. Like Tremblay (1995), they make mention of the natural, understandable impulse to make certain assumptions about the nature of the information society. Furthermore, they expand on that with the implication of their argument regarding the model’s roots, suggesting that even if it loses favor now it will inevitably arise again, for much the same reason that it has before (2008).

The ongoing debate over the information society model is, somewhat amusingly, a rather apt example of Polanyi’s (2009) conception of tacit knowledge in practice, which he coincidentally proposed at around the same time that this iteration of the information society model did so. What Tremblay and Rule & Besen discuss in terms of assumptions is, in fact, a form of tacit knowledge, one which demonstrates just how easily it can be overlooked.

The scholars which make these assumptions about the nature of the information society have, one would think, encountered the concept of tacit knowledge, and may even be intimately familiar with it. Yet when it exists in the form of their own emotional or intellectual attachments to a piece of external knowledge, its effects go overlooked. There is, as the authors of that paper and lecture suggested, underlying knowledge backing the information society model which requires some degree of contextual presence to possess and understand-as they note, the model is intrinsically appealing to information and communication scholars because it meshes well with their ideological predispositions.

This is why it is so vital that we consistently maintain awareness of our tacit knowledge in the context of things which are professionally or personally important to us, because such instances are both ripe for the development of such knowledge and most likely to push us towards overlooking it.

 

References

Polanyi, Michael. (2009). The Tacit Dimension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rule, J. B., & Besen, Yasemin. (2008). The once and future information society. Theory and Society, 37(4), 317-342.

Tremblay, G. (1995). The information society: From Fordism to Gatesism. Canadian Journal of Communication, 20(4), 461-482.

 

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The Information Society and Tacit Knowledge as Assumptions

7 thoughts on “The Information Society and Tacit Knowledge as Assumptions

  1. “The scholars which make these assumptions about the nature of the information society have, one would think, encountered the concept of tacit knowledge, and may even be intimately familiar with it. Yet when it exists in the form of their own emotional or intellectual attachments to a piece of external knowledge, its effects go overlooked.”

    Could this also be an example of bounded knowledge, as was discussed in relation to the challenger disaster? In a similar manner, these authors are aware of tacit knowledge and very likely have a very good understanding of it (probably better than my own). But when discussing another topic there are tacit filters in place telling them that knowledge isn’t relevant, so their eyes skim right over it without even realizing what they’ve done.

    I’m not sure this is exactly what you’re talking about, but the idea seems similar.

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  2. I feel like there is a bias toward tacit KM. In many of the articles I have read, the focus has been on tacit knowledge and how, according to them, it is the most important to an organization. Why do you think not much research has been done about explicit information? Is it because it is seen as “obvious”?

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    1. In response to both you and Rachel: I’d agree that there’s generally some degree bias towards tacit knowledge in the literature. I was curious about the reversal in this context. The “obviousness” of explicit knowledge is likely a large part of it, though I’d argue that it’s not so extreme as the research all but ignoring explicit knowledge. Many of the articles we’ve read deal with both, often discussing how explicit knowledge is perceived and applied through the lens of tacit knowledge. They’re closely interrelated, and I think that the literature recognizes that.

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  3. I liked the conclusions you drew from your discussion of the information society. Tacit knowledge is a tool and I agree that we should continue to develop and future it as much as we can.

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