Society 5.0: Humans in the digital world

Welcome to Society 5.0, where cyberspace and physical space collide, and information overload, fake news and social media addiction are commonplace digital problems.
Alta van der Merwe
By Alta van der Merwe, Deputy dean, teaching and learning within the EBIT Faculty at the University of Pretoria.
Johannesburg, 05 Mar 2020

The concept of Society 5.0 was introduced in Japan in the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan. It follows the hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0), and information society (Society 4.0).

The Cabinet Office of Japan defines Society 5.0 as: “A human-centred society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space.”

ICT expert Bruno Salgues urges that we need more research to understand the situation of humans in the digital world. In his book, which focuses on the concept of Society 5.0, he argues that humans are defined by different needs and that digital technology allows us to respond to the need for knowledge if we know how to make use of the tools in the digital world.

In this article, the focus is on the situation of humans in the digital world, using and elaborating on Salgues’s SWOT analysis.


The first and foremost strength in the digital world is access to information. Humans now have access to information as needed, when needed, with the only limitation the applicability of the information as provided by search engines.

Researchers are constantly improving context-relevant searches using techniques such as frequency for relevance, where search engines provide information according to popularity.

The access to information also links to the opportunities for skills training, where humans can now not only have access to unlimited online courses, but institutions are constantly renewing curricula to be more relevant in a changing world.


One key weakness that we are currently experiencing in this digital world is information overload. We often find ourselves asking: What should I do next? At what should I look next? What is the most important? How do I distinguish what to spend time on and what not?

Information overload, also known as infobesity, is where we struggle to make decisions since we have too much information pertaining to an issue.

Information overload, also known as infobesity, is where we struggle to make decisions since we have too much information pertaining to an issue.

As a result of access to information across national boundaries, there is disappearance and reduction of the influence of nation-states.

Also of concern is the time spent by humans on media – new phenomena emerge, such as gamification and social media addiction.


The digital world has created many opportunities, both in the business world and in our personal world. In many sectors such as health, the digitisation and use of technology has given us access to a mass of information previously not available.

We are also now able to use all the information more effectively and educate in a more effective and efficient way.

Access to information is no longer a big obstacle; rather, making sense of the information and presenting it in such a way that it is accessible is the focus of new teaching models.


One of the biggest concerns we have currently in a changing world is the threat of manipulation of information for propaganda purposes. Fake news is a reality and we cannot believe what we read on many of the forums on the Internet.

A lot of attention is given to the fact that some of the larger platforms do not respect the use of personal information for personal use. Mail platforms use special software to protect our mail boxes from overflowing with offers based on searches done within our browsers.

There is a blur between the real world and the virtual world – often we find ourselves engaging in activities in the virtual world for hours. The gaming world, in particular, has made use of exploring this phenomenon to create software that engages the player in real world activities but focuses on participation through virtual world activities.

The overload of information may cause a threat that we are so focused on what is out there that we don’t distinguish between information and knowledge. Knowledge focuses on understanding, while information is just data. Obtaining information does not necessary mean there is a level of understanding of the meaning of the information.

Lastly, in the digital world it is easy to reproduce – this is a threat to existing businesses, such as the production of books, for instance – where new business models need to be considered to be still economically feasible.

Closing remarks

We are living in a fast-changing world – technologies are being used more innovatively and business models need to change and be agile to make provision for all the disruptors while still conducting business on a daily basis.

Humans need to adapt to the digital world, both at work and in our home environment – we need to understand how living in the digital age will impact us.

It is necessary, therefore, for humans to be aware of the change, look at the opportunities, and use these opportunities to educate ourselves and also be ready for the digital change.