The Postinformational

Every time something new appears, people’s expectations tend to be a little overinflated. That is tradition. The transition to an Information-based society has been talked about since the early 70′s. There wasn’t unfounded: information technology had begun to really change the world. These changes, qualitative changes to every aspect of life, were clearly visible.

It was common to think that technological changes lead to social ones, that reaching a new technology height is a chance for society to reach a new height in its development as well. This (Marxist) premise implies that society must be changing for the better.

A knowledge-based economy was expected to create jobs with interesting and creative knowledge-producing work. New technology was expected to release people from tedium and allow them to work creatively. New organizational methods were expected to help people organize socially, which would spur the overall cultural growth of society. People were expecting a brave new world.

There certainly have been quantitative achievements, but something has definitely gone wrong. On one hand, the technical part of the information society has been completed. But on the other hand, it has not had any significant influence on the development of social and cultural life. Nobody expected such a discrepancy.

Industry of knowledge? When a corporation is too big to go bankrupt, it doesn’t need knowledge. The level of society’s culture has not risen. Some may even say it has fallen. Social participation has declined, while atomization is becoming stronger. Instead of knowledge and information development jobs, fast food jobs are on the rise. A vagrant with a cellphone is certainly better than a vagrant without a cellphone. Cyberpunk is, too, an achievement. However, in the end, the result wasn’t an information society. It was an information disappointment: there is a lot of information, but most of it is disappointing.

Some centuries ago, technology failed to save the Roman Empire. Technology exists inside society. Thus it’s only reasonable to posit that the problem lies in society, not in technology. If there is no society, people deprived of society cannot back up high technologies, including information technology. Having a phone but having no one to call is worse than having someone to call but no phone. That is because man is first and foremost a social being.

The society that existed some time ago was called Industrial. Most people were employed in industry. Then, production efficiency increased and the number of people employed in industry dropped. Industrial society was followed by Postindustrial society, in which the majority was employed in the service sector.

The concept of modern was born as a retrospective. Humanity noticed that numerous life-altering changes have taken place around it. Modern is an awareness of the present as different from the past. Modern and postmodern are definitions of the essence of time.

Nation states blur together, nations are erased, social classes lose their class awareness, ideologies vanish, mass production is replaced with mass service – that’s what postmodern is. A supplementary idea of postmodern is that while the world changes, most people still think within the framework of old modern notions, their awareness of reality exists in a world that isn’t there anymore.

Modern produced mass society, and when there is nothing but mass society left, modern ceases. Much has been written about mass society, and almost all researches have noted its rejection of any sort of hierarchy, which is peculiar because man is hierarchical by his very nature. Mass society is made up of mass people; it can be argued that a mass person has less willpower and energy, things that drive people to create hierarchies when there is no more room for them. Mass society is often referred to as the consumer society. It can also be referred to as the post-nation.

“Information” is often used as an adjective: information society, information age, information technology. Now add the “post-” suffix. Postinformational united all of the above and produces the world in which we live. Society is the foundation, information is the structure built on top of it. The Postinformational begins when information society crosses over with mass society.

A long time ago information used to have a practical, vital importance. It was used to ensure the survival of man and his group. Such information exists nowadays as well, but only for a select few. For people whose survival and safety is ensured by numerous government institutions, information has no bearing on survival and safety.

It turns out that no matter if the information is true or false, it changes nothing in a person’s life. And if the accuracy of information is irrelevant, that information can be anything. A person’s consciousness can exist in modern just as well as it can in the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Incidentally, protest movements use modern technologies, which are ineffective.

A situation which allows people to disregard information tends to strengthen people’s ability to disregard any sort of hierarchy in anything. Eventually, such a person loses the ability to formulate a hierarchy of information. He or she will still react to clear danger such as gunshots or sirens, but cannot discern the more subtle signs of danger. Which, by the way, is what allows that person to gather enormous amounts of loans.

Information has a global hierarchy: meanings — concepts — technology. In the past there were numerous methods of application for it. For example: the meaning to live better — the concept of Marxism — the technology of class struggle. Mass society can no longer implement such methods.

One of the brain’s subconscious functions, which it is always performing, is to align information into a hierarchy. The very structure of the brain makes it so that information is attractive when it’s hierarchical. Non-hierarchical information is as boring as a “1000 anecdotes” book. Mass society rejects hierarchical information, but non-hierarchical information is uninteresting to people due to their nature. This results in an overall lowering of interest towards information.

One could get the impression that media owners force a certain information hierarchy upon society by deciding what appears on the front page but that is only that – an impression, because people choose media and not vice versa. The media is forced to provide the mass person with what that person wants and make the information comfortable. Media owners are free to play a certain field, producing certain profits for themselves and their patrons, but such profits are always strictly private. To be consumed, the media must tailor to the mass person’s expectations. Expectations of how that person views the world, the way that person desires to see the matrix projected.

In mass society, demands do not appear – they are created. This concept was pioneered by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Information demands go through the same fate as material ones.

The life of a mass person is consumption. The mass person strives to consume something new, to consume something prestigious. Some consume new cars, others consume images of new cars. To keep the interest towards consumption alive, the mass person needs to always consume something new: films, music, countries, people, sensations. And, of course, information.

The global mass of information is staggeringly big. Man is physically incapable of viewing it all. For the common person, information is selected by the media. Those working in the media and who select information are perfectly aware that man as a consumer of information seeks comfort. A member of the society hates bad news. Medieval monarchs did not actually execute messengers who brought them bad news, whereas the modern reader can easily “execute” unwanted media for the crime of violating comfort. This creates a rigid system of feedback between the media and the consumers of information. The process of delivering and consuming information becomes driven by the momentum of previously started processes.

Hierarchy is a prerequisite of complexity. When hierarchy is rejected, the mind naturally gravitates to a simple perception. The simplest thing there is repetition. Mass society and the mass person become exposed to repetition. That is what creates the effectiveness of repetitive advertisement. And since the mass person is unable to formulate a hierarchy of information, politics are perceived on the same level as advertisement. Naturally, the technology of repetition pioneered by advertisement finds use in politics. However, control through repetition is archaic. It is a feature of clan-based and tribal structures and methods – something that became apparent in some of the Arabic revolutions. Thus, the Postinfromational begins to gravitate towards archaism and the circle of development is sealed. Archaism – modern – postmodern – archaism.

Along with the growing influence of repetition, there is also an increase in the significance of the subconscious, which is poorly or not at all analyzed, as opposed to the conscious. Without awareness of a hierarchy, a critical approach becomes impossible. Emphasis is made on emotions, which is another appeal to archaism – this time, the biological archaism of the brain.

When social networks began to appear, there were high hopes associated with them. New friends, new communication, opportunities for creativity and social development, a challenge to traditional media… Yet, the blogosphere ended up selecting the same information from the field as the old media did. The lack of hierarchy and the effectiveness of repetition revealed the essence of the members of mass society. These people find themselves uninteresting. Social networks are an even more precise reflection of the average person than the media. Because that person is uninterested in himself, his own reflection in the form of social networks also fails to attract him.

Price is a function of scarcity. The Postinformational world is boring. When everything around you is a little original, the feeling of originality fades away and is replaced by a chaotic parade of colors, eventually blurring into gray. People quickly tire of information and begin to perceive it as noise. This is only helped by the fact that most of the information stream is indeed useless noise, and no filters of hierarchy are available. Dogs, too, react to TVs, but they figure it out after three or four views.

Because man’s ability to perceive information is limited, he chooses his informational world himself. There isn’t just one matrix – there is a multitude. As such matrices develop and, through that, distance from each other, first groups and then individuals lose the ability to understand each other. Complex concepts are simultaneously simplified, differently in each matrix, which leads to a blurring of concepts and eventually leads to language divergence.

A person of mass society tends to look for the details while losing sight of the hierarchical whole. A nuclear power plant is a combination of numerous complex details. The idea that placing it at a certain location will expose it to damage from a tsunami, an idea so simple a child could grasp it, was simply disregarded.

When no hierarchy of information exists, all opinions become equal. This isn’t the equality that people of the past strove for. There aren’t enough reputable people who could draw society’s attention to information, thus structuring it hierarchically. There are no hierarchs to direct the development of social knowledge, including its information aspects. A lack of hierarchs makes it impossible to rebel against them, making development through revolt impossible. The seats of experts are taken by movie stars and administrators. That is how the phenomenon of the dictator, a leader of ideas, is born.

New societies are always post-something because when abilities are limited, starting something new requires rejecting something old.

All other factors held equal, the leader of progress will also be the leader of regress. The USSR succeeded in building a new society. However, a certain natural element of development was disrupted and it began at the postmodern stage with a declaration rejecting the institutions modern at the time. Eventually, the Postinformational stage was forcefully enacted – part of it was a “matrix” of information, existing by its own laws, not always consistent with reality. Finally, the collapse of the USSR coincided with a catastrophical transition to postindustrial society, when industry essentially fell apart. Currently in Russia, archaism is combined with the Postinformational. The stage Russia has found itself on is everybody’s future.

At the ultimate stages of the Postinformational, the picture starts to become clinical. It would only seem logical that those without a job would struggle to create jobs, while those without housing would support policies to build more housing. This logic is lost in Russia. In Russia, people participating in so-called politics struggle for goals completely alien to their lives. Protest members are unable to clearly explain their demands – something authoritarian regimes tend to use, because they can.

The postindustrial, the postmodern, the post-nation – these are forms of life and forms of environment. So, who wins in a post-world? It turns out that the winners in the postindustrial, the postmodern, the post-nation, are those who hold old technologies, the ones that aren’t “-post”. If no one holds such technologies, archaic structures will be the winners.

Since the decline of old societies cannot be stopped, the only solution is to launch new ones on a foundation of new hierarchical information and social knowledge.

The essence of the Postinfromational is as follows: information loses its essence and ceases to be information. It no longer conforms to the existing definitions of information and turns into un-information. The meaning of “post-” is not just chronological, it is also semantic. Society loses its awareness first of complex hierarchical information and then any information at all.

Everybody is talking, but nobody is listening because listening to the speaker is hierarchy. One could try to predict how this will develop in the future. Some time later we will arrive at the stage of Everybody is making demands, but nobody is carrying them out. And the final stage will be Everybody is talking, but nobody can understand.

Welcome to the Postinformational!

Sergei Morozov is a Russian social philosopher, evolutionary psychologist, and author of Sex and Rank: Modern Man's Ancient Programs. Read other articles by Sergei, or visit Sergei's website.