Civil society and ICTs

Recent information revolutions are based on the emergence of new information and communication technologies (ICTs), which encapsulate the converging set of technologies in microelectronics, computing telecommunications and optoelectronics.[1] Previous industrial revolutions were based on technologies that used cheap inputs of energy. According to Castells, new ICTs are based on cheap inputs of information. This shift led to the emergence of a new paradigm, on which a new society he names ‘informational society’ is born.[2] This new paradigm consists of various elements.

The first element is how technology acts on and transforms information. It is no longer solely new information that acts on technology such as with previous industrial revolutions. It is also how information is becoming a raw material that can be used and reused for multiple purposes and in multiple aspects of life. Indeed, for the first time in history, the human mind is a productive force, and not just the decisive element of the production process.[3] Information itself becomes a resource to produce knowledge and wealth. Second, ICTs are pervasive technologies. Indeed, information is an integral part of human life, where most processes of our individual and collective existence are influenced by new ICTs.[4]

Third, new ICTs favor networking in the shape of a dynamic net such as social media. They allow complex, global and extensive interactions among individuals, which increases creativity potential and leads to unpredictable patterns of development. This also leads to flexible processes and organizations that can change shape and form rapidly. Finally, the last element is the convergence of all technologies and media: microelectronics, telecommunications, optoelectronics, and computers are all integrated[5] and become a global cyberspace.

The information revolutions gave birth to the Net Generation: children, teenagers and young adults who were born since the generalization of new ICTs have integrated all aspects of the previously described new paradigm. And for the first time in history, these young generations know more about the dominant technology than their parents.[6] Indeed, they are used to looking up the information they need on the web: they are not just passively consuming, but active in customizing the knowledge they wish to receive through setting up their Twitter, news feeds, blogs, or Facebook profiles.

Born with the third screen[7] (the screen of mobile devices that came after television and computer’s screens), the Net generation is used to seeing electronically altered images or living in a virtual reality as contained in online video games. Uniform products or services are not appropriate for these users anymore, since they are used to tailor-made, real-time solutions that respond directly to their needs and desires. For example, they choose to stream a series online instead of waiting for a TV channel to showcase it; they can customize or design their own cloths and order items from all around the world; they can create communities of peers with the same interest and receive answers to their questions almost in real time.

This has led to a perceived need of being part of an online community to share feelings, values and ideas. Institutions have become aware of this need and used them to support their interest. Obama, for instance, created an online platform for his two presidential campaigns[8] where potential voters could discuss issues relevant to them and make their views available to the President. This openness and transparence was probably one of the factors that led to his popularity among younger voters.

Sometimes, the Net generation becomes more visible, like in some Arab countries: the Arab spring as it is often called shows a good example of how the use of new ICTs can support a change in society. New ICTs provides new possibilities for people to be politically active. The causes of the revolution are not new and stem from injustice, the lack of jobs, repression, violence, the non-respect of human rights, or economic disparity. The tools used to fight this revolution are however no longer weapons, but the new ICTs, which allow the Net generation to raise awareness, denounce or call for help.

The Internet and mobile phones are almost like military tools used by the youth in some Arab countries to spread the word, decide on a meeting point, join forces on an issue, locate snipers and send their location to friendly militant forces, and finally to change the society they are in. These newly created networks give a real sense of participation to the population. The clash is evident with authoritarian regimes such as in Iran where there is the biggest example of young generation with access to secular information.

Since a few years, the first wave of the Net generation is entering the workforce, the marketplace. This generation is bigger than the baby boomers: 80 million compared to 78 million in the USA alone.[9] In other parts of the world such as Asia or Africa, they represent an even bigger part of society. This generation with ownership of online tools becomes a powerful force to change societies: “thus, the industrial society, by educating citizens and by gradually organizing the economy around knowledge and information, prepared the ground for the empowering of the human mind when new information technologies became available.”[10]

New ICTs represent a continuous process of change[20] that involves users and developers, states and individuals, transnational corporations and civil society. New uses of Internet change its structure and its future developments. The influence is bi-directional: its structure and technical developments influence who uses the Internet, and the way the user behaves influences the Internet, mobile technologies, the Web and big data.

This process of change is not only technological. Demography is indeed another element to take into consideration: North America and Europe count for less than 35% of all Internet users. Asia counts for 45% with a lower rate of penetration, which means there is still a vast part of society still to be connected: “The Internet may have been born in the West but its future will almost certainly be decided elsewhere.”[21]

[1] Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. I. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell, p.30.

[2] Grinin, Leonid (2007) Periodization of History: A theoretic-mathematical analysis, In: History & Mathematics. Moscow, Russia: KomKniga, p.20.

[3] Castells, Manuel (1996) Op Cit, p.32.

[4] Ibid, p.30.

[5] Ibid, p.33.

[6] Tapscott, Don (2008) Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, New York, NY: Portfolio, Penguin Group, p.45.

[7] Ibid, p.78.

[8] Democratic National Platform (2012) Moving America Forward, Retrieved 5 August 2013 from

[9] Don Tapscott (2008) Op Cit, p.58.

[10] Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society, Vol. I. Op Cit, p.31.

[11] Don Tapscott (2008) Op Cit, p.63.

[12] Don Tapscott (2008) Op Cit, p.64.

[13] Mohr, Nikolaus (2013) Mobile Web Watch 2012. New York, NY: Accenture Publishing, p.16. Retrieved May 2013 from

[14] Don Tapscott (2008) Op Cit, p.75.

[15] For more detailed information on the organization’s activities, see Ushahidi website:

[16] Miard, Fabien (2012) Call for Power? Mobile phones as facilitators of political activism, In Costigan, Sean S., Perry, Jake (eds.) Cyberspaces and Global Affairs. London, UK: Ashgate, p.128.

[17] Ibid, p.128.

[18] Ibid, p.128.

[19] Ibid, p.131.

[20] Kaldor, Mary, Moore, Henrietta, Selchow, Sabine (2012), Op Cit, p.30.

[21] Deibert Ron (2012) The Growing Dark Side of Cyberspace ( . . . and What To Do About It), The Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs, V.1 (2), p. 263.