Yoneji Masuda on the Information Society

At the beginning of the widespread application of computers, Yoneji Masuda anticipated the emergence of an information society:

Masuda (1905–95) was one of the pioneers of computerisation in Japan. In the 1960s and 1970s, he wrote a number of important reports for the Japanese Government on the likely social impact of computers, including, in 1972, The Plan for Information Society: A National Goal toward the Year 2000. Following is an extract from one of his best-known books, The Information Society as Post-Industrial Society, published in English in 1980.

When we look back over the development of human society, we see that human history has embraced three types of society: hunting, agricultural, and industrial. It is important to note that rapid innovations in the system of societal technology have usually become axial forces that have brought about these societal transformations …

Man is now standing at the threshold of a period of innovation in a new societal technology based on the combination of computer and communications technology. This is a completely new type of societal technology, quite unlike any of the past. Its substance is information, which is invisible …

[T]he transformation of society is the result of innovations … which, in the past, have always been concerned with physical productivity … [T]he current innovation in societal technology, however, is not concerned with the productivity of material goods, but with information productivity, and for this reason can be expected to bring about fundamental changes in human values, in trends of thought, and in the political and economic structures of society …

In industrial society, the motive power revolution resulting from the invention of the steam engine rapidly increased material productive power, and made possible the mass production of goods and services and the rapid transportation of goods. In the information society, ‘an information revolution’ resulting from development of the computer will rapidly expand information productive power, and make possible the mass production of cognitive, systematised information, technology and knowledge …

The economic structure of industrial society is characterized by (1) a sales-oriented commodity economy, (2) specialization of production utilizing divisions of labor, (3) complete division of production and consumption between enterprise and household. In the information society (1) information, the axis of socio-economic development, will be produced by the information utility … a computer-based public infrastructure … (2) self-production of information by users will increase; information will accumulate, (3) this accumulated information will expand through synergetic production and shared utilization and (4) the economy will change structurally from an exchange economy to a synergetic economy …

In industrial society, the most important subject of social activity is the enterprise, the economic group. There are three areas: private enterprise, public enterprise, and a third sector of government ownership and private management. In the information society, the most important subject of social activity will be the voluntary community, a socio-economic group that can be broadly divided into local communities and informational communities …

[T]he spirit of industrial society has been the renaissance spirit of human liberation, which ethically means respect for fundamental human rights and emphasis on the dignity of the individual, and a spirit of brotherly love to rectify inequalities. The spirit of the information society will be the spirit of globalism, a symbiosis in which man and nature can live together in harmony, consisting of ethically strict self-discipline and social contribution.


Masuda, Yoneji. 1980. The Information Society and Post-Industrial Society. Washington: World Future Society. pp. vii–viii, 31–33. || Amazon || WorldCat


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