The Knowledge Society: A Sustainability Paradigm


This paper defines the knowledge society as a human structured organisation based on contemporary developed knowledge and representing new quality of life support systems. It implies the need for a full understanding of distribution of knowledge, access to information and the capability to transfer information into a knowledge. The understanding of knowledge is the central challenge when defining a knowledge society.
From our present perception of knowledge society, it is of interest to emphasize the role of the knowledge society in future development of human society. The life support systems are essential pillars of human society development. In this respect knowledge society represents a new paradigm for future development and it is strongly correlated to sustainable development. For this reason the sustainability paradigm of knowledge society is a potential frame for human society development leading to social cohesion, economic competitiveness and stability, use of resources and economic development, safeguarding biodiversity and the ecosystem.
In order to verify the mutual relation between knowledge society and sustainability, we have to introduce the difference between these two terms. The knowledge society is based on the agglomeration of eco-knowledge, env-knowledge and soc-knowledge, it may be evaluated as the complex knowledge of quality of life support systems. We have to introduce metrics which will allow us to present knowledge as the paradigm of the number of indicators for verifying progress made.
Sustainability metrics are designed to consolidate measures of economic, environmental and social performance of any system. It can be understood as a pattern for evaluation of the available knowledge about systems and their performance. In particular the decision-making process for the selection of the system under consideration must be based on the available knowledge. The link between knowledge and sustainability makes it possible for us to visualise that the sustainability paradigm is the essential frame for the knowledge society.

1. Introduction

In the Wikipedia encyclopaedia knowledge is defined as “physiological result of perception and learning and reasoning”.1 In contrast to information, knowledge requires organisational structure of facts with respective attributes reflecting specific properties and processing.
The agglomeration of knowledge is immanent to science and technology development. It represents quality and quantity description and understanding of our perception of material, social and cultural life. The link between different quality of life support systems is essential. Throughout human history the knowledge structure has been formed leading to the formation of its division into the specific branches devoted to individual entities.
With the development of information technology in hardware and software form, a new opportunity was opened for the further systematization and organisation of available knowledge. The knowledge base becomes a powerful tool for knowledge organisation and for making its potential for economic, cultural, and technological development available.
The essential source of knowledge is science. Science from its early days has been focused on the gathering of available knowledge in nature and, through systematic reasoning, on promoting a formation in different areas of science of human interest. Agglomeration of scientific knowledge has introduced the need for its organisation, which in turn has led to the formation of different disciplines and their interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary correlation.
The second phase in knowledge development has been motivated by economic, technological and social need for industrial development. The energy consumption in the world as shown on Figure 1 is a good example of how innovations have contributed to the new quality of life and economic development. 2

Figure 1: Energy Consumption

It can be seen that since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1850 the increase in energy consumption has been the result of the invention of the Watt machine. The second phase found at the beginning of the First World War involves machines resulting from the need for new technologies for war. A similar period occurred at the beginning of the Second World War, which introduced a breakthrough in many scientific disciplines leading to a new quality of life. It should be mentioned here how fission and other nuclear process changed the outcome of the Second World War.
The industrial revolution opened a new era in the promotion of the need for new scientific and technological inventions in order to promote economic, social and cultural development. This period is characterised by an enormous quantity and quality of knowledge which introduced the need for the organisation of the knowledge society to accommodate the further development of human society.
In order to have a deeper insight into knowledge agglomeration we can look at the number of scientific publications as shown by Figure 2.3

Figure 2

A sustainable knowledge society has to meet a number of diverse criteria. Among these are: sustainability discourse, economic models, characteristics of the emerging knowledge society. In order to have metrics for these criteria the different indicators are designed capable of identifying the goals of the research agenda. To clarify our understanding of the sustainability of knowledge society it is of interest to define sustainability as the dynamic state of a complex system characterised by the criteria comprising the social, institutional, and environmental contribution to global long term human welfare based on their specific and unique set of inherent goals and functions. 4 The system approach emphasises the interacting characteristics of different facets of human development and how the failure or omission of one function can negatively affect the whole system. Moreover, the system approach comprises a potential possibility of defining the quality of the system.

2. Information Society

Within this context, the concept of “information society” as a political and ideological construct has developed under the direction of neo-liberal globalization, whose main goal has been to accelerate the establishment of an open and “self-regulated” world market. This policy has counted on the close collaboration of multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, in order for the weak countries to abandon national regulations or protectionist measures that “would discourage” the inversion; all with the known result of a scandalous widening of the gaps between the rich and the poor in the World.
In fact, at the end of the century, when the majority of the developed countries had already adopted ICT infrastructure development policies, there is a spectacular peak in the share market of the communications industry. It is within this context that the WSIS is convoked; a panorama that changes, however, when the stock bubble burst as of the year 2000. Regardless of this reality and the key role that communication technologies have played in the acceleration of economic globalization, information society’s public image is more associated with the “friendlier” aspects of globalization, such as the World Wide Web, mobile and international phoning, TV via satellite, etc. Thus, the information society has assumed the role of “good will ambassador” for globalization, “benefits” from which could be within the reach of all, if only the “digital divide” could be bridged.5

Naim Hamdija Afgan and Maria G. Carvalho: Instituto Superior Tecnico, Lisboa, Portugal
1 Knowledge Society – Wikipedia, free encyclopaedia.
2 N.H. Afgan, M.G. Carvalho, Quality, Sustainability and Indicators of Energy Systems, Begell House Publisher, 2009.
3 Chapter of Civil Right for a Sustainable Knowledge Society, Document of the Heinrich-Böll- Foundation, May 2003.
4 Paul A. David and Domenique Foray, Economic Fundamentals of Knowledge Society, The International Social Science Journal, No, 171, 2002.
5 Vision in Progress, World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva, 2003

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