Information Age is a term that has been used to refer to the present era. The name alludes to the global economy's shift in focus away from the production of physical goods (as exemplified by the industrial age) and towards the manipulation of information.
Early electronic computers were big, costly, and available only to universities and big corporations. Before the 1990s, most discoveries in information technology were driven by full-time researchers having access to the high priced equipment.
In the 1980s, however, small computers started to become available. A personal computer, or PC, is generally a microcomputer intended to be used by one person at a time, and suitable for general purpose tasks such as word processing, programming, editing or playing a personal computer game, and is usually used to run software not generally written by its user.
Unlike minicomputers, a personal computer is usually owned by the person using it, indicating a low cost of purchase and simplicity of operation. The user of a modern personal computer may have significant knowledge of the operating environment and application programs, but is not necessarily interested in programming nor even able to write programs for the computer.
The term PC was popularized by Apple Computer and soon after many other companies began offering personal computers. International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) developed the first open standard personal computer (IBM PC launched in US markets in 1981; the first deliveries to European markets were in 1982 and 1983), which standardized software development. For the first time in history, the general public had personal computers. These computers used similar operating systems that allowed their users to communicate by using the same platform.
Soon after, the general public saw the start of what is now known as the current information technology era: personal computers in homes, using communication devices known as modems, to access information on remote servers. The first incarnation of those were BBS servers, setup by education facilities or even individual people, to store both information and allow discussion with chat and messages.
It was with the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 that the Internet really became a global network. Today the Internet has become the ultimate place to accelerate the flow of relevant information and the fastest growing form of media.
Of course, at that time relatively few jobs had much to do with computers and computer-related technology. What was occurring was a steady trend away from people holding Industrial Age manufacturing jobs. An increasing number of people held jobs as clerks in stores, office workers, teachers, nurses, and etc. The Western world was shifting into a service economy.
Eventually, Information and Communication Technology—computers, computerized machinery, fiber optics, communication satellites, Internet, and other ICT tools—became a significant part of the economy. Microcomputers were developed, and many business and industries were greatly changed by ICT.
Nicholas Negroponte captured the essence of these changes in his 1995 book, Being Digital. At the time, he was the head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. His book discusses similarities and differences between products made of atoms and products made of bits. In essence, one can very cheaply and quickly make a copy of a product made of bits, and ship it across the country or around the world both quickly and at very low cost.
Nowadays, many people tend to think of the Information Age in terms of cell phones, digital music, high definition television, digital cameras, email on the Internet, the Web, computer games, and other relatively new products and services that have come into widespread use. The pace of change brought on by such technology has been very rapid.
The Industrial Revolution in England led to a great expansion in the number of students being taught reading, writing, and arithmetic in schools. Such schools kept children out of the factories and they became the "factory model" of education that is still widely used throughout the world.