Information Technologies, a New Global Division of Labor, and the Concept of Information Society

AUTHOR
Andrzej Kocikowski

ABSTRACT

Due to almost 30 years of research conducted by many scholars, including numerous participants in the ETHICOMP conferences, the thesis that the tele-information revolution changed – and it is still changing – all (broadly understood) life processes on earth is well documented.

Nevertheless, there is one fundamental question regarding the impact of the tele-information revolution that still remains open. It is the question of the general theoretic analysis of the capitalist system at its present stage of development (e.g., global economy, the world market). Most importantly, this system needs to be analyzed in light of profound changes that occurred in the area of the productiveness of labor. As is well known, these changes result directly from the technological development and indirectly from the development of scientific research. They are also an indirect result of the tele-information revolution and this revolution, in turn, determines the effectiveness of the process of the production of knowledge.

One may ask, what could change in the capitalist system as a result of the revolutionary change in the collective productiveness of labor?

Before attempting to answer this question, I would like to bring up some rather obvious reminders. A very important component in nearly all production processes is knowledge. It is well known that today knowledge can be generated in basically the same way as the majority of other technically and technologically advanced products. One uses capital to finance the construction and equipment of laboratories; one hires scientists and after some time – as in any other business – one receives the product. This product can be a technical or technological solution to an existing problem; a new technology; new materials to be used for the production of goods; or it can be a plant or chemical or anything else; sometimes, this product is ‘pure theory.’ This product is then sold to order; or it is offered on the market like any other merchandise.

The production of knowledge can be more profitable a business than, for instance, the production of steel or coal mining. In this case, not surprisingly, the capital will move away from the production of raw materials towards the more profitable production of knowledge. Governments can guide this process using rational financial policies, immigration laws, and the like. The actions of the government of the United States can serve as a good case in point here.

The knowledge needed for the production of what people need or want is diverse. These diversity results in part from a variety of ways in which the products created with the use of knowledge can be applied. Another very important factor leading to the diversification of the status and value of knowledge is the significance of a particular knowledge (or technology) for the economy and for broadly understood interests of the country on which territory and with whose money this knowledge has been created. Herein, among others, lies the source of the importance of patent regulations and legal rules, which those who have power use for maintaining the exclusive use of a selected technology, and who even are willing to violate the rights of individuals, nations, and international conventions to obtain this goal.

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Hardly anyone challenges the view anymore that some to the most obvious characteristics of today’s stage in the world’s economic development are the globalization of business ventures undertaken by corporations and super-corporations, as well as an unheard-of concentration of capital. These two phenomena are the result of decades-long, complex actions in the areas of economy, science, and politics.

The progressing concentration of capital is an immanent feature of the entire capitalist economy; this includes the production of knowledge. Several features immanent to the capitalist system may overlap. For instance (to name but a few):

  • The above mentioned tremendous concentration of capital;
  • The migration of capital to the knowledge producing branches (mentioned earlier);
  • The desire to control the fundamental (strategic) branches of production.

As a result of such an overlap, the global process of the production of knowledge is dominated by individuals and organizations (state-owned as well as private) who control immense capital and who are clustered together in particular geographic areas (e.g., United States, Russia, parts of Europe).

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We return now to the question asked earlier: What could change in the capitalist system as a result of the revolutionary changes in the collective productiveness of labor? The answer to this question is that the result of changes in the collective productiveness of labor is a new global division of labor, which is qualitatively different from the old one. (Interestingly enough, this answer doesn’t differ much from some of the predictions about the future of capitalism made in the 19th century, for instance, by Karl Marx in his Das Kapital.) Obviously, this is not the only change; but it is one of the most important ones. The gist of this new global division of labor is that a certain, relatively very small, segment of the global population has control (often total) over the production of scientific knowledge and over the production of most advanced technologies. Moreover, this production is physically located in areas controlled and protected by the same segment of the global population. This means further that this segment of the global population is in control of the most crucial instruments of changes in the global collective productiveness of labor; i.e., it has a key advantage over the rest of humankind. This advantage resulted from the tele-information revolution; thanks to this revolution, the knowledge and technologies used for setting in motion processes – economic, political, and recently also biological – which have the most profound impact on the entire global population are now produced on the territories controlled and protected by a very small segment of the global population. Acknowledging this fact permits for a new interpretation of the concept of Information Society. It frees this concept from its hereto existing muddiness and lack of substantial content. To present such a new interpretation of the concept of Information Society is one of the main objectives of this paper.

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