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Case Study #4: FrankenTheory

Boundaries in My Analysis of Google Analytics

I am limiting my analysis of Google Analytics as an object of study by focusing on its activities and its data model as reported in terms of dimensions and metrics.

  • Google defines Analytics activity as collection, collation, processing, and reporting.
  • Google describes its data model as consisting of user, session, and interaction.
  • Google collects and reports data in terms of dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

These limits and terms are described in detail in my earlier Re/Proposed Object of Study: Google Analytics blog post.

I chose GA as my object of study because it’s a tool with which I work on a daily basis. I proposed GA as my object of study to my boss, the director of our school’s marketing and communications team, before formally proposing it in class because I wanted approval to use our school’s GA account in my study. I also expected my study to contribute to my understanding and use of GA in web development and management. A deeper understanding of GA as a network has provided both a tool for theoretical exploration and practical application.

Here’s an example of how applied this theoretical study has become. On April 16, with little fanfare, Google announced that it was replacing the term “visit” with the term “session” in its reports. I missed the announcement entirely, so I was surprised while measuring the result of online advertising efforts in our campus newspapers to discover that the “unique visits” metric that I had been using was no longer available; instead, it had been replaced by the “sessions” metric, without the “unique” modifier. I was also surprised to discover that the “unique visits” metric I had been using did not match the “sessions” metric when I re-ran prior reports to test data accuracy reports; “sessions” reported higher numbers than “unique visits” had reported. As we reached the first of May, when I normally complete April reports, I realized the full extent of the terminology change: “unique visits” were no longer being measured. Two plus years of reporting data were potentially compromised as inaccurate, since we report data for month on month and year on year comparisons (e.g. does April 2014 look better than April 2013 in terms of overall unique web visits, and does the calendar year-to-date period of January-April 2014 look better than the previous January-April 2013 period?).

As a result of my study of the structure and function of Google Analytics, I had learned how GA counts session data. Critical inquiries had questioned whether GA’s reporting of unique visits could be accurate given the browsing patterns of today’s web visitors. Visits (now sessions) are defined as individual browsing sessions on a given website on a given browser and platform. A visitor (now user) who visits the same website using two different browsers (Chrome and Firefox, for instance) would be calculated as two unique visits (when unique visits were provided) because the session is browser specific. Furthermore, a visitor who visits the same website on a desktop platform browser, then revisits the same website on a mobile device, would be calculated as two unique visits, because the session is platform specific. In short, “unique visit” is really a calculation of “individual session” without a distinction of uniqueness of the visitor. Using the term “unique visit” suggested (and my marketing team and I took it to mean) visits by unique users, a measurement we considered superior because it suggested the actual number of visitors. What we should have been measuring, however, was visits, regardless of their “uniqueness,” because there was no unique quality to the visit in terms of the visitor. The end result is that I will need to re-record our historical data in terms of sessions rather than unique visits, potentially revealing visit patterns we had not before seen or understood.

Without this study of GA as a network, I would not have understood why reporting data did not match, and I would have struggled to find documentation of the issue. There remains little documentation from Google itself about the disappearance of unique visit as a reported metric as of this date. In short, the application of my theoretical exploration directly benefited my and my team, and ultimately our school and our understanding of our data within the framework of industry benchmarks.

Theories of Networks and Google Analytics

I’m using two theories — Castells’ network society and Deleuze & Guattari’s rhizome — to flesh out my understanding of Google Analytics and sketch out my Frankentheory of a network.

First, here’s a review of some familiar territory: My application of Castells’ network society to GA from Case Study #2. I’ve brought this in as a piece rather than linking to it because I’d like to make departures from specific aspects of this application in discussing Deleuze & Guattari and in sketching out a Frankentheory.

Defining Google Analytics

Castells (2010) considers technology to be society (p. 5). As a result, GA can be considered social. As an information technology, GA creates active connections between websites (data collection), Google data centers (data configuring and processing) including aggregated tables (processing), and GA administrator accounts (configuring and reporting). These active connections collect, mediate (configure and process), and report on the three aspects of the GA data model consisting of users, sessions, and interactions. These connections represent social actions. So Castells (2010) might define GA as a global informational network (p. 77) that collects data from and reports data to local nodes (websites). Google servers where data are configured and processed might be considered mega-nodes (xxxviii) that, through the iterative process of increasing user visits and interaction by improving website design and content based on GA reported results, impose global logic on the local (xxxix).

Nodes in Google Analytics

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Google Data Center Locations: Image from Google Data Centers.

Individual websites, GA account administrators, and website visitors are local nodes in the global informational network. Google data center servers are mega-nodes in the network. Google employees who program GA and maintain Google servers and centers are localized nodes in the global network. Google’s data centers are located in a variety of locations that include North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Several are found in Castells’ (2010) “milieux of innovation” (p. 419) including Taiwan, Singapore, and Chile. Others are found in what appear to be unlikely global spaces, including Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Mayes County, Oklahoma. These locations reiterate Castells’ insistence that local and global are not mutually exclusive polar opposites; rather, the new industrial system is neither global or local, but a new way of constructing local and global dynamics (p. 423). Websites, administrators, visitors, servers, and employees are simultaneously localized nodes (even the the mega-nodes are situated in space and time) in the global informational network.

Agency among Google Analytics Nodes

GA account administrators and website visitors have the greatest level of agency in the network, while Google employees exert limited agency within the confines of their labor relationships and conditions. Account administrators would likely be considered among Castells’ (2010) “managerial elites” (p. 445), while Google employees who maintain and program the servers might be part of Castells’ disposable labor force (p. 295). Account administrators have the authority to configure GA data, including the ability to filter out results, narrow data collection according to metrics and dimensions, and even integrate external digital metrics in GA. This authority is not, of course, the authority of Google’s corporate structure and hierarchy, but within the boundaries of GA data model and activities, account administrators exude authority. Website visitors may choose to visit, or not visit, any given website, once or more than once (meaning a single session or multiple sessions). This agency includes the power to intentionally separate themselves from the network, meaning that, for users, they only enter into the network as a node when they visit the tracked website. Interestingly, only the GA administrator has authority to eliminate users from the network; account configurations may filter out visitors along several dimensions.

Nodal Situation and Relation

Nodes are locally situated. While simultaneously part of the global informational economy, all of the nodes in the GA network are situated in a space and time. This simultaneous here/there compression of space and time is the origin of Castells’ (2010) “space of flows” (p. 408) and “timeless time” (p. 460). Websites are simultaneously hosted on physical servers around the world and locally viewed on specific platforms and media. Users are simultaneously accessing global data in territorial space on hardware. GA administrators are situated while configuring accounts and loading reports from the cloud. Google data centers are situated in specific locations, but they collect and process global data from local spaces and times. Google employees are culturally and territorially situated in the global Google labor pool.

Data rarely travels along parallel paths in the GA data model or GA activities. Website visit data are collected in the data modeluser, session, and interaction data — and sent to Google data centers for processing and configuration. Other than writing unique user identification data onto cookies on users’ browsers or apps, little data travels from GA to users. Website content is indirectly affected by GA reports configured and read by GA administrators, but within the GA activity network, websites are unaffected by GA activity on the data model. Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.

Movement in the Network

Framework for Movement: Wires in The Dalles, Oregon, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Data moves in GA. More specifically, data in the GA data model moves in GA. Data are initiated by users visiting tracked websites. Specific frameworks must be in place for connections to occur and data in the data model to be collected. Namely, websites must contain GA tracking code, embedded in the website code through the agency of the GA administrator. The embedded GA tracking code enables, and the web browser and hardware afford (Norman, n.d.), the user to initiate a tracking pixel (gif) and generate data to be collected in the GA data model. Once collected, the data are configured (by the account administrator and by the GA algorithms), processed (in a largely opaque manner) and collated in aggregated data tables, and reported in visual and tabular representations. In Castells’ (2010) terms, data represent flow in the GA network (p. 442). That data is both spatial and temporal (it comes from and is attached to a specific territory and represents a specific, chronological activity), but it is also entirely global and digital.

Content in the Network

Data are collected and packaged — literally, in a gif image pixel — in parameters relating to user, session, and interaction. The GA tracking code encodes data and sends it to Google data centers where the data are decoded, configured based on administrator preferences, processed and repackaged in aggregated data tables, and made available to the account administrators. The reporting function remediates the data in visual and tabular formats for ease of reading and use. While the data reported are considered authoritative and authentic, the actual processing function remains largely proprietary, with only end results available to extrapolate what processing actually occurs. This black boxed processing function seems unlikely to represent Latour’s (2005) intermediary; as Fomitchev (2010) claims, there are probably processing functions that result in highly mediated, possibly even inaccurate, results. Castells (2010) would likely measure GA performance based on “its connectedness, that is, its structural ability to facilitate noise-free communication between its components” (p. 187). I hope we will see increased academic scrutiny focused on this perceived intermediary function in GA, even as we scholars rely on its results.

Birth and Death of a Network

Killing the Network: Failed Google data hard drives to be destroyed at the St. Ghislain, Belgium, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Castells (2010) indicates that global informational networks emerge within milieux of innovation. These main centers of innovation are generally the largest metropolitan areas of the industrial age (p. 66), able to “generate synergy on the basis of knowledge and information, directly related to industrial production and commercial applications” (p. 67), and combine the efforts of the state and entrepreneurs (p. 69). Nodes on the network get ignored (and therefore cease to be part of the network) when they are perceived, by either the network or by its managerial elites, to have little value to the network itself (p. 134). The GA network grows as more nodes are added, either as users or as web pages with tracking code. GA administrators have agency to kill network nodes by removing tracking code from pages, or by directing IT managers to remove poorly performing web pages. Users have agency to quit visiting a website, thereby removing its value to the person. While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.

And Now, the Rhizome

First a note about using Deleuze & Guattari. I did not enjoy or particularly “get” this reading the first time around. I grasped the broad strokes of the argument, but this is a chapter that requires close, multiple readings. What I discovered as I re-read the chapter in light of this analysis was that it addresses a significant aspect of networks that Castells does not — namely, a rhizomatic approach to networks problematizes the very definition of GA I established during my Re/Proposal. In short, applying Castells profited from the boundaries I placed on the OoS; applying Deleuze & Guattari requires eliminating the boundaries, preferring instead a situated, chronological cross-section as a set of boundaries enabling analysis.

Second, a note about this cross-sectional approach. In my scaffolding outline, I referred to a “flattened, rhizomatic” approach to composing and networks. Placing these two concepts together elicited useful feedback and discussion during the following class, as a result of which I realized that rhizomes are not naturally flattened. While Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) refer to flattened multiplicities, they do so in the context of many dimensions: “All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions” (p. 9). In fact, rhizomes are unpredictably dimensional; connections can and must occur along all dimensions: “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (p. 7). Since the boundaries of such a “network” can’t really be established, one way to analyze the rhizome is to take a cross-sectional slice, situated in space and time, of the rhizome and examine the relationships among points in the rhizome in this “flattened” slice. The rhizome is a multidimensional assemblage, not a flattened network.

These two notes represent realizations that complicate and problematize the restrictive perspective I offered of GA as a network. Limiting the network to GA activities and data model resulted in limits to what I could discuss in my application of Castells. For example, in discussing the birth and death of the network, I cut short my analysis with this limiter: “While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.” Similarly, when addressing nodal situation and relations, I wrote this limiting statement: “Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.” These limits were real — the boundaries I established for describing GA as a network did, in fact, prevent addressing aspects of the network — but they do not reflect an accurate mapping of GA network activity. Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) point out that “the rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing” (p. 12, emphasis original). Tracing is the role of centralized control, of perspectives limited by binaries and “tree logic”: “What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (p. 12). A mapped understanding of GA must address its real complexity, its nodes and connections in terms of real experiences, not centrally-defined boundaries.

A mapped, cross-sectional perspective on GA as a network was, to my surprise, the goal of my first case study. In fact, the first visualization of the network I provided was a portion of a Popplet titled “Visualizing a Partial Google Analytics Data Set.”

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Figure 1: Visualizing a sample Google Analytics data set from Case Study #1Popplet

My original attempt to visualize and define GA as a network was more chaotically rhizomatic than any other depiction I’ve attempted since. In fact, for much of the rest of the semester, I’ve been struggling to trace my understanding of GA as a network, when in fact Deleuze & Guattari would have me do precisely the opposite: map the multiplicity of GA as assemblage, depicted as a cross-sectional portion of the network situated in time and space.

Mapping GA as rhizome means accepting that users, servers, computers, mobile devices, browsers, operating systems, marketers, developers, programmers, designers, GA account administrators, Google data centers, Google programmers and server maintenance personnel, homes, home offices, office buildings, network cables, routers, switches, weather conditions, satellites, trans-Atlantic communications cables, seawater, signal degradation, electrons, light energy, insulators, and theorists must be included as nodes in the GA rhizome. GA collects data on some of these dimensions; other dimensions, however, are embedded as affordances and constraints to the web technologies that enable GA to measure dimensions at all, so these affordances and constraints must also be depicted in a cross-section of GA as rhizome.

There’s a reason Deleuze & Guattari did not include a visualization of the rhizome on their chapter. It’s too complex, too multi-dimensional, to capture in a 2-dimension drawing. But I’m going to give it a shot.

Popplet mind map

Figure 2: Visualizing Google Analytics as a Rhizome—Popplet

Figure 2 depicts a rhizome cross-section of a single node, User, and the connections that exist among dimensions of the GA data model, website affordances and constraints, website creators, and Google personnel. What this depicts is that a User connects from and to most of the nodes, that the nodes connected to the User are connected to one another, and that relationships proliferate exponentially if extrapolated to the entire list of dimensions. And these dimensions are themselves necessarily limited (perhaps even cross-sectioned) by the visualization technology and my own time and patience. Were I to connect all of the non-technological aspects to the User—like location and weather conditions — the rhizome could go on forever. The point is that mapping the actual rhizome, rather than tracing the limits of the network, generates the rhizome itself. Or, as Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) propose, “The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a place of consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome” (p. 12).

Closing Gaps

Castells offers a remarkably cogent and highly matched means of analyzing GA as a network as defined by Google itself: in terms of GA activities and the GA data model. Castells addresses issues of localization and globalization in ways that make sense for GA defined as Google defines it. Here’s my conclusion from Case Study #2.

While Castells addresses the local, he tends to discuss localization in terms of groups rather than individuals. In this way, Castells more closely resembles ecological theories that apply to organism categories rather than to individual organisms. He regularly refers to groups of people and nodes: the managerial elites (rather than individual leaders), the technological revolution (rather than revolutionary technology pioneers), and the global and local economy (rather than the economic wellbeing of the individual small business owner). The result is that I can’t really address the individual user as a single agent in GA. Then again, this is hardly a hardship, in that GA aggregates data and anonymizes identities. GA, too, resembles an ecological theory rather than a rhetorical theory; it focuses on profiles of territorially localized users rather than individual users in a specific city. As a result, Castells and GA match rather nicely in defining the boundaries of the discussion. In fact, I’d argue that GA (and Google more broadly) represent precisely the network society Castells defined in his text. It’s interesting that he didn’t predict or recognize the rise of Google as I would have expected him to do in his 2010 preface. And Castells’ (2010) discussion of communication media clearly did not predict the popularity or ubiquity of Google’s YouTube on the network as a differentiated medium whose content is driven by user tastes and users-as-producers (p. 399).

Once we admit the possibility that GA is not just what Google says it is, but that GA represents a much wider and broader rhizome of connections, Castells no longer adequately describes the network. GA as rhizome requires additional theoretical application for understanding and visualizing.

Frankentheory

After a semester of theorizing, what’s my own theory of networks?

Rhizome illustration

What I think a rhizome looks like. “The Opte Project” by Barrett Lyon. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA. From The Accidental Technologist‘s post The Way of the Rhizome #h817open

Networks are local. They are also global. This is not dualism, but convergence. Local and global converge in time and space, and we must be prepared to engage in both simultaneously. The global remains rooted in the local; local conditions and environments affect and influence connections to the global. In our efforts to understand global network activity, we should not lose sight of the affordances and constraints of local conditions, including available access to the internet, proximity to other nodes, and the politics of nodal connectivity.

Networks enable nodes. A collection of nodes does not a network make. Networks enable nodal activity; this means that network frameworks must be in place for networks to exist and start collecting nods. This also means that the activity of collecting nodes in networked. The network can grow well beyond its framework in unexpected and unpredictable ways, and this should be expected, anticipated, and planned to the extent possible.

Networks are rhizomes. Or at least rhizomatic. They are unlikely to require or have inherent hierarchical structures; these will have to be applied to the network. Rhizomatic structure and growth suggest unpredictability of nodal connections. As I understand rhizomes, the importance of any node being able to connect to any other node — or to anything, for that matter — cannot be overstated. It is this aspect of rhizomatic connectivity that I would consider “flat.” There are neither more nor less important nodes; there are no inherent political relationships between and among nodes. Any political power attributed to the node will either be self-contained or bestowed from outside the rhizome; within the ecology of the rhizome, all nodes are equally capable of connecting to all other nodes and to anything outside the rhizome. In this sense, I would suggest that rhizomes are politically flat.

Networks can be analyzed in cross-section; they are very difficult to analyze in real time as they exist. They are both too large to examine as a whole and too complex to analyze as active connections are “firing.” Cross-sections can be taken of specific aspects of the network or of the network as a whole. Cross-sections are frozen in time and show little activity, merely traces that can be followed and explored. Networks contains a multiplicity of simultaneous connective activity; our abilities to analyze simultaneity is limited. Instead, we must follow specific threads of connectivity through time and space to analyze them. Such analysis is made possible through cross section.

Google Analytics’ Contributions to English Studies

First, GA can and should be critically examined as a rhetorical technology. GA activity includes reporting. These reports are discursive and rely on visual and written rhetoric to communicate meaning. The “meaning” of a GA report can be manipulated like any other statistical data. Its meanings depend on local environment and conditions, comfort with standard and local meanings of GA terminology (like “session” or “user,” for example), and familiarity with the GA data collection model. Its visualizations can be analyzed for clarity and transparency, for cultural or sociological bias (related to colors used, default views, and other determined factors), and for its connectedness to other discursive elements (like websites whose visitor traffic it measures). Critical rhetorical analysis of GA reports could easily be an object of study by itself.

Second, GA can and should be critically approached as a black-boxed network whose data manipulation and configuration are largely hidden, lacking transparency. Google’s business model depends on its proprietary search results algorithms. It protects that algorithm carefully; while GA reporting is not directly dependent on the search algorithm, website visit data contribute to search results. Full disclosure of its data configuration and processing activities would likely reveal much about Google’s search algorithm; as a result, these processes are only partially disclosed. Google’s own Analytics help files and tutorials explain the order, purpose, and general procedures of data configuration and processing, but these files and tutorials do not reveal in-depth specifics on how collected data are processed into aggregate tables, nor how those tables are then indexed for rapid, near-instant on-the-fly reporting. Google’s market share in web search and advertising result in the formation of what Althusser (1971) called a repressive state apparatus; I suggest that GA is an ideological expression of that apparatus, or an ideological state apparatus. While neither Google nor GA is a state in a political sense, its size and clout suggest an industrial state-like entity with resources and influence strong enough to manipulate or evoke responses from other political entities, as it has done recently in relations with the government of Russia (Khrennikov & Ustinova, 2014).

Third, GA results themselves can and should be critically examined. Far too many otherwise critically-written journal articles use GA results as instrumental rather than mediated. That is, GA report data are accepted as unqualified and accurate reflections of website traffic rather than mediated reports of visitor activity. Little care is given to providing GA-specific definitions of terminology like “session” and “user.” This acceptance can result in significant reporting issues — I’m experiencing a particular situation as I type in which Google has revised a reporting criterion from “visits” to “sessions.” While these two terms are being used synonymously, one implication is that GA has removed the dimension of “unique visit” from its reporting matrix. GA’s definition of session doesn’t differentiate between unique or repeat visits among sessions, as each session is considered a unique event regardless of the identity (which may not be accurately known) of the visitor. Several reports I provide my dean and marketing director were based on unique visit numbers; as a result, I’m forced to rework all of my reports to reflect sessions rather than unique visits. This has implications for perceptions of “progress” and “improvement” among senior leadership, a particularly uncomfortable reality brought to bear this week. (Google changed its reporting structure without fanfare on April 16, announced in a Google+ post.)

Finally, GA’s data collection method can and should be understood as discursive. Individual GIF calls that report data back to Google servers do so in text tags attached to tracking pixels generated through data collection. For example, every GA tag begins with “utm,” a prefix whose meaning is unclear. Many data points are collected in abbreviations whose symbolic meanings would be interesting to explore. Again, GA offers few clues for more obscure abbreviations, although Google does provide a list of many (but not all) dimensions collected via tracking pixel calls. Some of these symbols are explained in the Google Developers (2014) Tracking Code Overview. While parameter abbreviations are obscure, the values themselves are even less clear. Consider the parameter/value pair “utmul=pt-br”: the utmul parameter represents “browser language” while the pt-br value represents “Brazilian Portuguese.” This symbolic communication system is itself fodder for rhetorical analysis and interpretation.

References

Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation). In B. Brewster (transl.) & A. Blunden (trans.), Louis Althusser archive. Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm (Original work published in Lenin philosophy and other essays)

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

Google. (n.d.). Algorithms. Inside Search. Retrieved from 1 May 2014 from https://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/algorithms.html

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033861?hl=en

Google Analytics. (2014, April 16). Understanding user behavior in a multi-device world (Web post). Google+. Retrieved 1 May 2014 from https://plus.google.com/+GoogleAnalytics/posts/LCLgkyCn4Zi

Google Developers. (2014, April 16). Tracking code overview. Google Developers. Retrieved from https://developers.google.com/analytics/resources/concepts/gaConceptsTrackingOverview#gifParameters

Krennikov, I., & Ustinova, A. (2014, May 1). Putin’s next invasion? The Russian web. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-01/russia-moves-toward-china-style-internet-censorship

[ Feature image: Today's latte, Google Analytics. CC licensed image from Flickr user Yuko Honda ]

Mindmap Doused with Network Societies

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap updated_April 13

Mindmap updated_April 13

So it begins. Rise of the Network Society Theory by Manuel Castells, and it all wraps up into the mindmap. How to connect a theory that is so vast, encompassing economics, technology, culture, societal growth, metropolitan regions, global relations, historical pathways? Castells’ theory, at least what I read in volume 1 (the other two volumes were not assigned), had a lot of traces of Actor-Network Theory, Ecology Theory, Hardware/Software Theory, and Genre Tracing Theory. There were probably others, especially since Foucault is that which is always found to be underlying theoretical works we have read since our introduction to him, but these four theories made the most sense for me to connect to Network Societies for the frame of my mindmap.

Now that we have the overarching (though consciously limited) connections out of the way between Castells’ mega-theory and previously dealt with theories, let’s see what nodes I’ve made.

First node: “The most important characteristic of this accelerated process of global urbanization is that we are seeing the emergence of a new spatial form that I call the metropolitan region, to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space and highly dense residential areas: there are multiple cities in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs…Sometimes, as in the European metropolitan regions, but also in California or New York/New Jersey, these centers are pre-existing cities incorporated in the metropolitan region by fast railway and motorway transportation networks, supplemented with advanced telecommunication networks and computer networks. Sometimes the central city is still the urban core, as in London, Paris, or Barcelona. But often there are no clearly dominant urban centers” (Castells xxxiii). I linked this quote with one from Latour regarding “the question of the social,” with social actors defining and redefining the movements. Networks of people, businesses, cultures, and social groups, along with the objects and technologies they employ to function, are the actors in ANT, but the groups within which they move and act and trace are part of a lager network that is part of an even larger network, with the layers extending out into the global society.

Second node: “the network enterprise makes the material the culture of the informational, global economy: it transforms signals into commodities by processing knowledge” (Castells 188). I chose this quote because it reminds me of the ways that Cloud Computer, hardware/software, Foucault’s archives, Latour’s conversations about technology and objects are helping to transform what are the material goods of our globally interlaced, informational economy. Goods are still being sold, but information tends to have a higher price.

Final node: “the shift from industrialism to informationalism is not the historical equivalent of the transition from agricultural to industrial economics, and cannot be equated to the emergence of the service economy. There are informational agriculture, informational manufacturing, and informational service activities that produce and distribute on the basis of information and knowledge embodied in the work process by the increasing power of information technologies. What has changed is not the kind of activities humankind is engaged in, but its technological ability to use as a direct productive force what distinguishes our species as a biological oddity: its superior capacity to process symbols…The informational economy is global. A global economy is an historically new reality, distinct from a world economy…A global economy is something different: it is an economy with the capacity to work as a unit in real time, or chosen time, on a planetary scale” (Castells 101). I linked this quote with Foucault’s concepts of “History of Ideas” and the dangers to the historian being too complacent by that which has been written in history books. I made the strongest connection here and chose this quote specifically because it was a new way of seeing how different societal economies do not just end. Instead, they continue folding back into the newer movements going on. Agriculture never ends because people always need food. Industry never ends because people want (and, usually, need) things. History is not linear, even within movements towards societal restructurings. It also showed that the network of society is founded on many things, and different types of economies create the foundation upon which people work and live, even when certain types are maginalized, pushed out of view except to be viewed with nostalgia (reminds me of the truck commercials with farmers).

It’s Another Day, Another Week


Case Study 3: LLLI in the Network Society

Image of packaged, labeled breast milk from Mediaglobal.org.

Packaged donated breast milk. According to Boyer, donated breast milk is sold to hospitals for $35 an ounce by Prolacta.


In previous case studies, I looked at the enunciative formation of LLLI, rhetorical situation surrounding the development of LLLI, the genres that are employed by the organization, but in the previous case studies, I have not explored how the organization itself is a node within a larger societal network. Therefore, I began looking for articles that address the way in which the work and focus of LLLI is shaped and is a reaction to the context of the larger network of which it is a part. This network includes those with an interest in infant feeding, including medicine, science, and manufacturing industries. While “Medicalizing to Demedicalize: Lactation Consultants and the (De) Medicalization of Breastfeeding,” by Jennifer M.C. Torres, does not specifically examine LLLI, it does shed some light on work that LLLI does. Torres explains in the article that lactation consultants “provide a unique lens for the complexity of medicalization because they are positioned at the crossroads of medicalization and demedicalization. The IBCLC certification originated from a combination of breastfeeding advocacy groups that resisted medicalization of breastfeeding and the contemporary medicalization of breastfeeding that emphasizes the nutritional properties and health benefits of breast milk” (165). Some lactation consultants create or lead breastfeeding peer-to-peer support groups (such as LLLI groups) in which medical control is challenged “by providing a setting that values breastfeeding women’s experiential knowledge” (163). Lactation consultants, in order to demedicalize breastfeeding, must also medicalize it since they operate within the realm of medicine, often working at hospitals. Much of LLLI’s work seems to be focused on developing mothers’ autonomy and challenging the medicalization of breastfeeding, which has resulted in views of breast milk as a product (163), the technological management of breastfeeding (164), and frequent dissemination of misinformation of breastfeeding by medical professionals (164). The concept of breast milk as a product is so pervasive in medicine and science that Kate Boyer was able to use it to “propose a new framework for how geographers might conceptualize mobile biosubstances” in the article “Of Care and Commodities: Breast Milk and the New Politics of Mobile Bisosubstances Unlike lactation consultants, LLLI does not have to walk a fine line between demedicalizing and medicalizing breastfeeding. In “Rhetorical Agency, Resistance, and the Disciplinary Rhetorics of Breastfeeding,” Amy Koerber explains that, “In the words of one La Leche League leader, to breastfeed a baby in U.S. society a woman has to ‘buck the system’”(93). According to Koerber, “By consulting La Leche League, which resists mainstream medical discourse as well as broadly accepted social and cultural norms, a woman is empowered to resist the cultural norm that forbids public breastfeeding” (97). So, it is clear that what LLLI offers to breastfeeding mothers is the ability to resist the way in which medical discourse and the focus on breast milk as product has framed the nursing mother and the breastfeeding relationship.

Manuel Castell’s The Rise of the Network Society allows us to view LLLI as a network within a network. While most of the theories that I have examined so far have looked at the inner workings of LLLI and the way in which nodes within the network of the organization affect the organization and are affected by the organization, Castells’ concept of the network society allows us to critically examine the work that LLLI does within society more broadly. While interpersonal relationships within the organization are not as easy to explore through the lens of the network society (except that it does allow us to explore the simultaneous vertical and horizontal structure of the organization), it is very useful in examining how the rhetoric of LLLI resists the concept of breast milk as a product, resists attempts to technologize breastfeeding to facilitate the timeless time of the networked society, and explore the relationship of breastfeeding to concepts of space.

According to Castells’ exploration of the network society, there is an endless possibility to incorporate nodes within the network of which LLLI is a part. Castells says that “Networks are open structures, able to expand without limits, integrating new nodes as long as they are able to communicate within the network, namely as long as they share the same communication codes” (501). What constitutes a node, he says, “depends on the kind of concrete networks of which we speak” (501). When we consider the system that impacts or is impacted by La Leche League, we must include the scientific field of immunology, the medical field of pediatrics, institutions such as the Association of American Pediatricians, industries that capitalize on the concept of breast milk as a product (such as the manufacturing of breast pumps and related products as well of the sale of donated breast milk), alternative medical practitioners, parenting practices and philosophies such as attachment parenting, lactation consultants, LLLI itself, LLLI leaders, nursing mothers, babies, and members of the public. However, according to Castells, these subjects and organizations make up “the basic unit of economic organization.” Possible types of nodes in a network include: commanders, who make decisions; researchers, who are the innovators; designers, who adapt, package, or target audience for the innovation; integrators, who manage relationships; operators who execute tasks under their own initiative; and the operated, who execute preprogrammed tasks and do not make decisions.

While each node in the network has agency, the perception of the nodes’ agency seems to depend upon the situation of the nodes within the network and their relationship to one another. Castells says that the network is “made of many cultures, many values, many projects, which cross through minds and inform the strategies of various participants in the networks, changing at the same pace as the networks’ members, and following the organizational and cultural transformation of the units of the network” (214). Two modes or organization of a network that significantly impact the agency held by the nodes, and thus the strategies that they employ, are horizontal and vertical networks as well as the role that they play in networks. In the labor force, there are networkers, who create the network (they seem to correspond to deciders); the networked, who are on-line but do not decide when, where, how, why (involved in decision-making, but not the ultimate deciders); and the switched-off workers, who merely follow instructions (executants).

In a vertical organization of the network surrounding breastfeeding, the roles that each member of the network plays impacts the way that the meaning of information and values surrounding breastfeeding, the primary concepts that move between nodes in the network, are interpreted and presented. In a vertical, top down network, the deciders have the authority to make decisions. In the network within LLLI operates, commanders might include prominent voices and institutions in medicine and science as well as the LLLI leadership. Researchers working in breastfeeding science and medicine, or perhaps even social research, who contribute to the body of knowledge from which commanders draw to make decisions. Designers, who adapt and present materials to pass on research about breastfeeding to those lower in the network (individual doctors, LLLI leaders/authors). Operators may be doctors, lactation consultants, LLLI leaders, and breastfeeding mothers (if they feel confident enough about their breastfeeding knowledge to make their own decisions). Finally, mothers who follow strict feeding schedules/practices and do not question advice provided to authoritative figures, may be the operated.

Castells claims that the information technology revolution has led to an increasing interaction between horizontal and vertical networks (xxx). Mainstream media, which is a top-down organization, has historically intended simply to pass on information without receiving feedback, while interactive technologies such as blogs and Twitter make it possible for the audience or consumer to provide feedback, which in turn may affect what the media outlet reports. According to Castells, horizontal networks often are focused on “communication built around people’s initiatives, interests, and desires” and they may involve cooperative projects (xxviii). In contrast to the top-down organization that I explored in the previous paragraph, this simultaneous vertical and horizontal organization the way in which LLLI is organized. The organization prefers to promote the horizontal aspect of the organization offered by the mother-to-mother support groups, which require a shared interest in breastfeeding and cooperation of mothers who are core to the organization. According to Nancy Mohrbacher and Sharon Knorr, mother-to-mother support groups provide informal support through vicarious experience, which increases a mother’s self-efficacy, while formal authoritative organizations make mothers lose self-confidence. Because LLLI leaders provide advice based on the organization’s core philosophy, and because LLLI manuals not only provide breastfeeding support but also strongly recommend an attachment parenting lifestyle that some mothers simply cannot live because they must work to provide for their families, some mothers may lose self-confidence as a parent because they are not capable of leading the lifestyle that the organization dictates. While mother-to-mother support groups operate on cooperative knowledge making, there is still a top-down element to the organization, as commanders (such as the organization leaders), pass down information to local leaders and mothers, the horizontal organization of the peer top peer group is meant to underscore mother’s autonomy and make them at least operators instead of operated, if not playing the roles of researcher, designer, and integrators. By giving mothers more autonomy, emphasizing the physical relationship of breastfeeding and the emotional connection between mothers and babies, LLLI contributes to the demedicalization of breastfeeding for which the strict vertical organization of the network does not allow.

Other important element of the situatedness of nodes in the LLLI network is space and time. Castells says that, “Spatial forms and processes are formed by the dynamics of the overall social structure. This includes contradictory trends derived from conflicts and strategies between social actors playing out their opposing interests and values” (441).The medicalization of breastfeeding and the demedicalization of breastfeeding seem to be functions of varying values for space and time. According to Castells, there is “an increasing dissociation between spatial proximity and the performance of everyday life functions” (424). He also says that, “The space of flows is the material organization of time-sharing practices that work through flows” (442). Medical associations, researchers, scientists, organizations, lactation consultants, and breastfeeding product manufacturers all operate within the space of flows to disseminate knowledge and information about breastfeeding, including the concept as breast milk as a product. Technologies of breastfeeding, such as the breast pump, and the concept as breast milk as a product, serve to help women operate in a society that values timeless time. According to Castells, “Capital’s freedom from time and culture’s escape from the clock are decisively facilitated by new forms of technologies, and embedded in the structure of the network society” (464). The actors operating within the space of flows of breastfeeding (doctors, manufacturers, researchers, etc…) make breastfeeding knowledge a commodity (as is milk) that must come from authorities, and they also seem to suggest that breastfeeding, facilitated by technology, can be a function of timeless time. On the other hand, the space of breastfeeding in a local mom-to-mom peer support group us a local space. A core part of LLLI’s philosophy is that the embodied experience of breastfeeding is very important. Thus, LLLI values the space of place for breastfeeding mothers as well as biological time. LLLI values time spent with children, and encourages mothers to place other demands on time lower on the list of priorities.

In the vertical organization of the breastfeeding network, the space of flows, the meaning of information traveling through the network is interpreted by others. The organization, commanders, researchers, designers, etc… passes down information and presents it to the audience, who is expected to be passive and operate according to the information passed down. In contrast, LLLI meetings occurring at the local level operate similarly to the counterculture in the information technology revolution. The computer counterculture, Castells tells us, developed the modem. The modem allows for files to be transmitted between two computers without a host system, and the counterculture movement spread innovations at no cost. This is very similar to the organization of the LLLI mother-to-mother meeting (though there is a top-down element to the organization as well). There is a potential at the peer meetings for information based on real experience to be exchanged between mothers without them having to be transmitted via a host. In the process of information and knowledge transition, breastfeeding is demedicalized and is constructed as something that mothers can understand and explore without the intervention of medical professionals.

Image of breastfeeding mother and chils outdoors.

Breastfeeding outside of the space of flows? Bamboo magazine claims that breastfeeding is the greenest choice because it leave no manufacturing or distribution by products.

Castells explains that network structure, such as the network that involves those with an interest in breastfeeding, “is a highly dynamic, open system, susceptible to innovating without threatening its balance” (501-502). He also says that “the network morphology is also a source of dramatic reorganization of power relationships” (502). In the case of LLLI, the introduction of new members into the organization has shifted organizational rhetoric about working outside of the home and patriarchy. The organization once catered primarily to heterosexual, married, white, middle-class women who stay at home, but as more women work, and as breastfeeding rates increase, more women have come to LLLI for assistance. LLLI has had to shift it’s rhetoric to be more inclusive, while still maintaining its core philosophy. By being flexible and allowing for innovation, the organization has grown rather than dissolved.

There is a great deal that Castells’ theory of the network society allows us to see when examining LLLI. Through the theory of networks, we can examine the role that understandings of space and time influence the organization and the way the organizational structure exhibits these values. It also made it easy to see the role of vertical and horizontal organization in the network. What it does not allow for, as much as past theories I have explored, is the way in which the organization employs rhetoric and genres to present its values. The network society theory seems more appropriate for examining the links between nodes in the network of which LLLI is a part, rather than examining the nuances of the relationships within the organization.

Viral breasting in the zombie apocalypse meme.

I couldn’t resist including this image. It seems to me that the Zombie trope could represent resistance to the space of flows and a need for self-reliance and self-containment, so this meme really speaks to the idea of separating breastfeeding from the space of flows of the medical establishment and infant-feeing industries.

Works Cited

Boyer, Kate. “Of care and commodities: breast milk and the new politics of mobile biosubstances.” Progress in human geography 34.1 (2010): 5-20.

Koerber, Amy. “Rhetorical agency, resistance, and the disciplinary rhetorics of breastfeeding.” Technical Communication Quarterly 15.1 (2006): 87-101.

Torres, Jennifer. “Medicalizing to demedicalize: Lactation consultants and the (de) medicalization of breastfeeding.” Social Science & Medicine 100 (2014): 159-166.


Case Study #3: GA and Castells’ Network Society

Literature Review

As I noted in Case Study #2, Google Analytics (GA) appears most often in scholarship as a black-boxed application that reports (presumed accurate) visitor frequency and browsing behavior on websites. Websites are said by be “successful” in terms of reported visitor traffic to the site, number of pages viewed while on the site, length of browsing session, and additional metrics and dimensions. Few questions are asked of the application itself; its results are considered authoritative and accurate.

For this literature review, I sought scholarship that challenges the assumption of accuracy or convenience of GA data, either in term of collecting, configuring, processing, or reporting data. I also shifted my focus from searching in social sciences and humanities databases to searching in computer sciences-related databases. The results were mixed. On one hand, I found more scholarship that questioned Google Analytics and web/digital analytics in general; on the other hand, I found the scholarship less thorough than humanities or social sciences research.

Dhiman and Quach (2012) report briefly on the rationale and results of a workshop at CASCON ‘12 (Center for Advanced Studies on Collaborative Research) introducing Google’s Go and Dart, two applications under development (at the time) to enable “better analytics” and “better applications” (p. 253). The challenge Dhiman and Quach identify related to GA is that “in a world where there is an emergence of extensive use of analytics, data and fact-based decision making, spontaneous sorting of data becomes imperative…. [A]nalytics are crucial for knowledge discovery, business growth and technological improvements” (p. 253). Google Go is described as a “language that allows programmers to exploit concurrency in program by providing simple yet powerful features” that “make it an excellent language deploying application on concurrent systems” (p. 253). GA is one of many applications engaged in providing digital performance data; Go appears to provide programmers a language that enables concurrently-operating applications the ability to communicate with one another and to report on multiple application data at the same time. GA and other data-generating tools are implicitly critiqued for reporting data in a delayed and proprietary form that requires a mediating application to collate and report data spontaneously.

Fomitchev (2010) is far more direct in his GA critique. In a two-page poster presented at the 9th International Conference on World Wide Web, Fomitchev identifies specific inaccuracies in GA’s collecting of recurring website traffic using cookies. Specifically, Fomitchev finds that “Google Analytics ‘absolute unique visitor’ measure is shown to produce a similar 6x overestimation” of unique visitors (p. 1093). Based in comparative studies that collect recurrent visitor data via multiple methods, Fomitchev elaborates that “Google’s ‘absolute unique visitors’ are not at all unique: the inflation depends on the visitation frequency and grows linearly with time” (p. 1094, emphasis original). Given the potential, even likely, inflation of unique visitor numbers in GA reporting, Fomitchev concludes that the “discrepancy between unique cookies and unique visitors eases doubts in the accuracy of published unique visitor stats used to solicit advertising money” (p. 1094). While the critique of GA collecting methods is explicit, the implicit critique of using GA unique visitor reports to solicit funds for advertising seems more damning. GA as a free service must be monetized in Google ledgers, and advertising is where Google excels. If its reported data are inaccurate, its ethical foundation on accurate reporting (accuracy that is taken for granted, as shown in most studies) becomes suspect.

Back to the OoS

When I re-proposed Google Analytics as my object of study, I narrowed my discussion of GA to its data model and its activities. Both Dhiman and Quach (2012) and Fomitchev (2010) offer meaningful connections between GA and my theoretical lens, Castells’ (2010) social network theory. Dhiman and Quach reiterate the validity of Castells’ “space of flows” and “timeless time” in their needs assessment for a programming language that demonstrates “lightweight concurrency” in its ability to create sets of “lightweight communicating processes” between various programs running and reporting simultaneously (p. 254). Fomitchev (2010) corroborates Castells’ construction of “real virtuality” in which the local and the global function interchangeably and simultaneously, recognizing that GA, a global analytics application, is “fooled by periodic [local] cookie clearing and the multitude of [local] Internet access locations/devices…” (p. 1094).

Defining Google Analytics via Social Network Theory

Castells (2010) considers technology to be society (p. 5). While this seems extreme — I’d be more willing to accept technology as an aspect of society — the result is that GA can be considered social. As an information technology, GA creates active connections between websites (data collection), Google data centers (data configuring and processing) including aggregated tables (processing), and GA administrator accounts (configuring and reporting). These active connections collect, mediate (configure and process), and report on the three aspects of the GA data model consisting of users, sessions, and interactions. These connections represent social actions. So Castells (2010) might define GA as a global informational network (p. 77) that collects data from and reports data to local nodes (websites). Google servers where data are configured and processed might be consider mega-nodes (xxxviii) that, through the iterative process of increasing user visits and interaction by improving website design and content based on GA reported results, impose global logic on the local (xxxix).

Nodes in Google Analytics

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 9.33.26 PM

Google Data Center Locations: Image from Google Data Centers.

Individual websites, GA account administrators, and website visitors are local nodes in the global informational network. Google data center servers are mega-nodes in the network. Google employees who program GA and maintain Google servers and centers are localized nodes in the global network. Google’s data centers are located in a variety of locations that include North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Several are found in Castells’ (2010) “milieux of innovation” (p. 419) including Taiwan, Singapore, and Chile. Others are found in what appear to be unlikely global spaces, including Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Mayes County, Oklahoma. These locations reiterate Castells’ insistence that local and global are not mutually exclusive polar opposites; rather, the new industrial system is neither global or local, but a new way of constructing local and global dynamics (p. 423). Websites, administrators, visitors, servers, and employees are simultaneously localized nodes (even the the mega-nodes are situated in space and time) in the global informational network.

Agency among Google Analytics Nodes

GA account administrators and website visitors have the greatest level of agency in the network, while Google employees exert limited agency within the confines of their labor relationships and conditions. Account administrators would likely be considered among Castells’ (2010) “managerial elites” (p. 445), while Google employees who maintain and program the servers might be part of Castells’ disposable labor force (p. 295). Account administrators have the authority to configure GA data, including the ability to filter out results, narrow data collection according to metrics and dimensions, and even integrate external digital metrics in GA. This authority is not, of course, the authority of Google’s corporate structure and hierarchy, but within the boundaries of GA data model and activities, account administrators exude authority. Website visitors may choose to visit, or not visit, any given website, once or more than once (meaning a single session or multiple sessions). This agency includes the power to intentionally separate themselves from the network, meaning that, for users, they only enter into the network as a node when they visit the tracked website. Interestingly, only the GA administrator has authority to eliminate users from the network; account configurations may filter out visitors along several dimensions.

Nodal Situation and Relation

Nodes are locally situated. While simultaneously part of the global informational economy, all of the nodes in the GA network are situated in a space and time. This simultaneous here/there compression of space and time is the origin of Castells’ (2010) “space of flows” (p. 408) and “timeless time” (p. 460). Websites are simultaneously hosted on physical servers around the world and locally viewed on specific platforms and media. Users are simultaneously accessing global data in territorial space on hardware. GA administrators are situated while configuring accounts and loading reports from the cloud. Google data centers are situated in specific locations, but they collect and process global data from local spaces and times. Google employees are culturally and territorially situated in the global Google labor pool.

Data rarely travels along parallel paths in the GA data model or GA activities. Website visit data are collected in the data modeluser, session, and interaction data — and sent to Google data centers for processing and configuration. Other than writing unique user identification data onto cookies on users’ browsers or apps, little data travels from GA to users. Website content is indirectly affected by GA reports configured and read by GA administrators, but within the GA activity network, websites are unaffected by GA activity on the data model. Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.

Movement in the Network

Framework for Movement: Wires in The Dalles, Oregon, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Data moves in GA. More specifically, data in the GA data model moves in GA. Data are initiated by users visiting tracked websites. Specific frameworks must be in place for connections to occur and data in the data model to be collected. Namely, websites must contain GA tracking code, embedded in the website code through the agency of the GA administrator. The embedded GA tracking code enables, and the web browser and hardware afford (Norman, n.d.), the user to initiate a tracking pixel (gif) and generate data to be collected in the GA data model. Once collected, the data are configured (by the account administrator and by the GA algorithms), processed (in a largely opaque manner) and collated in aggregated data tables, and reported in visual and tabular representations. In Castells’ (2010) terms, data represent flow in the GA network (p. 442). That data is both spatial and temporal (it comes from and is attached to a specific territory and represents a specific, chronological activity), but it is also entirely global and digital.

Content in the Network

Data are collected and packaged — literally, in a gif image pixel — in parameters relating to user, session, and interaction. The GA tracking code encodes data and sends it to Google data centers where the data are decoded, configured based on administrator preferences, processed and repackaged in aggregated data tables, and made available to the account administrators. The reporting function remediates the data in visual and tabular formats for ease of reading and use. While the data reported are considered authoritative and authentic, the actual processing function remains largely proprietary, with only end results available to extrapolate what processing actually occurs. This black boxed processing function seems unlikely to represent Latour’s (2005) intermediary; as Fomitchev (2010) claims, there are probably processing functions that result in highly mediated, possibly even inaccurate, results. Castells (2010) would likely measure GA performance based on “its connectedness, that is, its structural ability to facilitate noise-free communication between its components” (p. 187). I hope we will see increased academic scrutiny focused on this perceived intermediary function in GA, even as we scholars rely on its results.

Birth and Death of a Network

Killing the Network: Failed Google data hard drives to be destroyed at the St. Ghislain, Belgium, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Castells (2010) indicates that global informational networks emerge within milieux of innovation. These main centers of innovation are generally the largest metropolitan areas of the industrial age (p. 66), able to “generate synergy on the basis of knowledge and information, directly related to industrial production and commercial applications” (p. 67), and combine the efforts of the state and entrepreneurs (p. 69). Nodes on the network get ignored (and therefore cease to be part of the network) when they are perceived, by either the network or by its managerial elites, to have little value to the network itself (p. 134). The GA network grows as more nodes are added, either as users or as web pages with tracking code. GA administrators have agency to kill network nodes by removing tracking code from pages, or by directing IT managers to remove poorly performing web pages. Users have agency to quit visiting a website, thereby removing its value to the person. While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.

Boundaries of Discussion

Two sets of boundaries apply. First, the boundaries I set in re-proposing my object of study, namely limiting the application of theory to GA’s activity and data model. By narrowing my object of study, I believe I’ve given myself the ability to tackle each aspect of the theory’s application to GA more specifically and directly. The result is greater clarity in describing GA function and in applying particular aspects of theory to the object.

Second, Castells sets some boundaries to the application. While Castells addresses the local, he tends to discuss localization in terms of groups rather than individuals. In this way, Castells more closely resembles ecological theories that apply to organism categories rather than to individual organisms. He regularly refers to groups of people and nodes: the managerial elites (rather than individual leaders), the technological revolution (rather than revolutionary technology pioneers), and the global and local economy (rather than the economic wellbeing of the individual small business owner). The result is that I can’t really address the individual user as a single agent in GA. Then again, this is hardly a hardship, in that GA aggregates data and anonymizes identities. GA, too, resembles an ecological theory rather than a rhetorical theory; it focuses on profiles of territorially localized users rather than individual users in a specific city. As a result, Castells and GA match rather nicely in defining the boundaries of the discussion. In fact, I’d argue that GA (and Google more broadly) represent precisely the network society Castells defined in his text. It’s interesting that he didn’t predict or recognize the rise of Google as I would have expected him to do in his 2010 preface. And Castells’ (2010) discussion of communication media clearly did not predict the popularity or ubiquity of Google’s YouTube on the network as a differentiated medium whose content is driven by user tastes and users-as-producers (p. 399).

Castells claims that his three-volume series did not try, and is not trying, to predict future evolution of the network. He also claims to avoid ethical judgments on the managerial elites’ treatment of those lacking connectivity in the global network. I found neither claim satisfactory. As GA “black boxes” processes that need to be problematized, so Castells “black boxes” prediction and judgment as processes without taking personal responsibility. In this way, too, Castells and GA are good matches.

References

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Dhiman, K., & Quach, B. (2012). Google’s Go and Dart: Parallelism and structured web development for better analytics and applications. In Proceedings of the 2012 Conference of the Center for Advanced Studies on Collaborative Research, (pp. 253-254). Riverton, NJ: IBM Corporation.

Fomitchev, M. I. (2010, April 26). How Google Analytics and conventional cookie tracking techniques overestimate unique visitors [Poster]. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on World Wide Web, (pp. 1093-1094). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery.

Google Data Centers. (N.d.). Data center locations. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/inside/locations/index.html

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design. Don Norman Designs. Retrieved from http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and_desi.html

Reading Notes: Week 13, Castells

Brief Summary

In Rise of the Network Society, the first volume in a 3-volume series, Castells analyzes the structure of a networked society, often times arguing against popular assumptions about its economic and societal impacts.

In Chapter 4, Castells breaks down the impact of a networked society on the workforce. He begins by foregrounding the three primary statements or predictions of classical post-industrialism:

  1. The source of productivity and growth lies in the generation of knowledge, extended to all realms of economic activity through information processing.
  2. Economic activity would be shifted from goods production to services delivery. The demise of agricultural employment would be followed by the irreversible decline of manufacturing jobs, to the benefit of service jobs which would ultimately form the overwhelming proportion of employment. The more advanced an economy, the more its employment and its production would be focused on services.
  3. The new economy would increase the importance of occupations with a high information and knowledge content in their activity. Managerial, professional, and technical occupations would constitute the core of the new social structure. (pp. 218-219)

These statements, Castells argues, focuses on the wrong differentiation: “The appropriate distinction is not between an industrial and a post-industrial economy, but between two forms of knowledge-based industrial, agricultural, and services production”  which, her further argues, necessitates a shift in the “analytical emphasis from post-industrialism . . . to informationalism” (p. 219). To demonstrate this shift, Castells traces the historical transformations of manufacturing and services employment from agricultural to industrial to informational economies, differentiating between different service industries (the method of which is very complex and includes a lot of numbers, which I will not attempt to include here).

To keep the summary brief, I’m going to bullet point the primary conclusions he draws about work in a networked society:

  • Changes in the social/economic structure concern more the type of services and the type of jobs than the activities themselves. (p. 230)
  • Evolution of employment shows not only a shifting away from manufacturing jobs but also two different paths regarding manufacturing activity: 1) rapid phasing out of manufacturing jobs and a strong expansion of employment in producer and social services, and 2) closer linking of manufacturing and producer services,  cautious increases in social services employment, and maintenance of distributive services. (p. 231)
  • Informationalization seems to be more decisive than information processing. (p. 231)
  • The different expressions of economic models are dependent upon their positions in the global economy not just their degree of advancement in the informational scale. (p. 246)
  • There is not, and will not be in the foreseeable future, a unified global labor market (p. 251), but there is global interdependence of the labor force in the informational economy (p. 255)
  • Information technology is the indispensable medium for the linkages between different segments of the labor force across national boundaries. (p. 251)
  • The broader and deeper the diffusion of advanced information technology in factories and offices, the greater the need for an autonomous, educated worker able and willing to program and decide entire sequences of work. (p. 257)
  • What disappears through automation is the routine work–the repetitive tasks that can be precoded and programmed for their execution by machines. This labor is expendable but the workers are not, depending on their social organization and political capacity (p. 258)
  • There is a new division of labor that is constructed around three dimensions: 1) actual tasks, 2) relationship between a given organization and its environment, and 3) relationship between managers and employees in a given organization or network.
  • The bifurcation of work patterns is not necessarily the result of technological progress–it is socially determined and managerially designed in the process of the capitalist restructuring. (pp. 266-267)
  • Institutional variation seems to account for levels of unemployment, while effects of technological levels to not follow a consistent pattern. (p. 270)
  • There is no systematic structural relationship between the diffusion of information technologies and the evolution of employment levels in the economy as a whole. (p. 280)
  • A new production system requires a new labor force; those individuals and groups unable to acquire informational skills could be excluded from work or downgraded as workers.
  • Even if technology does not create or destroy employment, it does profoundly transform the nature of work and the organization of production. Four elements in this transformation: 1) working time, 2) job stability, 3) location, and 4) the social contract between employer and employee. (p. 282)
  • Just-in-time labor seems to be substituting for just-in-time supplies as the key resource for the informational economy. (p. 289)
  • The traditional form of work, based on full-time employment, clear-cut occupational assignments, and a career pattern over the life-cycle is being slowly but surely eroded away. (p. 290)
  • The prevailing model for labor in the new, information-based economy is that of a core labor force and a disposable labor force that can be automated and/or hired/fired/offshored. (p. 295)
  • Transformations are the result of the restructuring of capital-labor relations. (p. 297)

In chapters 5-7, Castells builds on his economic analysis to explore more abstract concepts, which he identifies as real virutality, space of flows, and timeless time.

Real virtuality: In chapter 5, Castells explains the impact of informationalism on communication practices, arguing that while they have become more global (connected), they have also become more individualized. The primary feature of communication in the informational age, however, is real virtuality–“a system in which reality itself (that is, people’s material/symbolic existence) is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience” (p. 404).

Space of Flows: In chapter 6, Castells expands his analysis to the complexity of the interaction between technology, society, and space. He determines that society is constructed around flows, which are more than just an element of the social organization: “they are the expression of processes dominating our economic, political, and symbolic life” (p. 442) and thus there is a new spatial form specific to the network society. The space of flows, he explains” is the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows” (p. 442).

Timeless Time: Finally, in chapter 7, Castells brings these concepts together to show the complexity of time in the network society. He labels the dominant temporality of our society as “timeless time,” which “occurs when the characteristics of a given context, namely the informational paradigm and the network society, induce systemic perturbation in the sequential order of the phenomena performed in that context” (p. 494).

 

Connection to Spinuzzi

Castell’s claim that “What tends to disappear through integral automation are the routine, repetitive tasks that can be precoded and programmed for their execution by machines” immediately made me think of Spinuzzi’s genre tracing and the microscopic level breakdowns that reveal organizational destabilizations. My first thought was that we lose the ability to identify the breakdowns at the microscopic level and the fixes the workers create when work because automated. However, as Castells explained the informational production process, I saw overlaps between the analytic approaches. Here is the process as he outlines it:

  1. Value added is mainly generated by innovation, both of process and products.
  2. Innovation is itself dependent upon two conditions: research potential and specification capability. That is, new knowledge has to be discovered, then applied to specific purposes in a given organizational/institutional context.
  3. Task execution is more efficient when it is able to adapt higher-level instructions to their specific application, and when it can generate feedback effects into the system. An optimum combination of worker/machine in the execution of tasks is set to automate all standard work procedures, , and to reserve human potential for adaptation and feedback efforts.
  4. Most production activity takes place in organizations.
  5. Information technology becomes the critical ingredient of the process of work as described because
  • it largely determines innovation capability;
  • it makes possible the correction of errors and generation of feedback effects at the level of execution
  • it provides the infrastructure for flexibility and adaptability through the management of the production prococess. (pp. 258-259).

Castell’s inclusion of feedback effects seems similar to Spinuzzi’s breakdowns and, in the informational economy, they would be monitored by a more skilled worker. However, if the goal is to operationalize mesoscopic actions so that the become microscopic behaviors, I wonder to what extent these systems can overlap. Is there a level at which work cannot be operationalized and, therefore, automated? Or will the feedback loop of informationalism increasingly allow for more complex thinking to be automated by technology?

 

Application of Real Virtuality

Castells discussion of real virtuality and the interactions between our physical and social worlds made me think first of gamers and role playing games (to which he makes connections in the chapter)–and then I started to think about how physical and virtual lives intersect beyond the obvious. Online dating, for instance, allows for the multiplicity of identities that interact both physically and virtually. Initiated by the physical desire for companionship, people take to the virtual environment and construct their identities to find a match. Ideally, online connections will become in-person connections. As is shown in the chart, online dating reflects social and economic structures of the physical world (note the statistic on the percentage of women who have sex on the first date that does not have a corresponding men who have sex on the first date percentage).

 

 

Random Products that Seem Related

In a Google search for additional resources, I started coming across products that, though not stated, seem to be outgrowths of Castells’ concepts:

Timeless Time, by MAG Softwrx Inc: This software to track time and expenses appeared the same year as the first edition of Rise of the network society.

Real Virtuality by Bohemia Interactive: A game engine originally called Poseidon.

 

References

Castells, M. (2010). Rise of the network society. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from Kindle.

Building Castells in the Air

Castells points out the dark underbelly of global networks and franchises.

Castells points out the dark underbelly of global networks and franchises.

Don’t read Manuel Castells’ The Rise of the Network Society if you’re looking for either a light read or a feel-good tome. You’ll leave with a sense of foreboding and outrage and wonderment at how he can identify such global turbulence and selfish decision-making and yet no policymaker seems to listen. I’m left wondering why he isn’t a Chief Advisor to the President, or the head of the Federal Reserve, or in some position where he can lay out the inter-relations of the various short-sighted decisions and help those with political blinders on see the big picture.

It was only a matter of time before someone exposed the dark side of networking, of how it serves neoliberal late capitalist goals, of how it is a tool to connect those with power and amplify their power, and, by the same means, disconnect, disempower and disenfranchise those who are programmed with the wrong protocol or lack the means to connect. Rather than one, happy, flattened, connected world of unprecedented opportunity and a lack of traditional hierarchy, Castells exposes an inequality of networks within networks: networks of places and networks of flows; networks of implementation and network of decision-making and innovation; cultural networks and information networks; as well as “landscapes of despair” (xxxvi), a term coined by Dear and Wolch, to indicate areas and people outside of the places of networked value creation.

Castells points out the economies of synergy, where “potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction” (xxxvii) are what is most important in the global real-time network. Largely a recreation of the “Good Ole Boy Network” of the past, these face-to-face encounters are where the strategic plans are developed, plans are made, decisions cast, and communication systems created. What emerges from these synergistic economies are the “economies of scale” and “networks of implementation” — areas which are transformed by the “information and communication technologies” into “global assembly lines” (xxxvii). In other words, it’s still a matter of of a manufacturing economy, but the factory is a virtual one, assembled from around the world, and controlled by the panopticon of the overseer: the networked computer.  As Castells points out, this virtual board room/corporate headquarters vs. branch offices and “worker bees” is merely an extension of the old model, but one, by virtue of the global connectedness that outstrips any national laws or regulations, that wields ever more power and controls both the means of production and the livelihood of the world’s workers. Indeed, though, all is not well for those who would control the network, because, as Castells points out, though we attempt to tame the technological forces unleashed by our own ingenuity, we struggle against “our collective submission to the automaton that escaped the control of its creators” (xliii).

Information technologies have replaced work that can be “encoded in a programmable sequence” and enhanced work that requires a human brain:  “analysis, decision and reprogramming” in real time (258).  These two main types of work can be further broken down into a hierarchy of  value, innovation, task execution, and production, completed by the corresponding stratified workers:

  • Commanders: strategic decision-making and planning
  • Researchers: innovations in products and process
  • Designers: adaptation, targeting of innovation
  • Integrators: managing the relationships between the decision, innovation, design, and execution to achieve stated goals [this is where the communication function of an organization lies, I think]
  • Operators: execution of tasks according to initiative and understanding
  • Operated: execution of ancillary, preprogrammed tasks that are not automated. (259)

Furthermore, Castells delineates three fundamental groups within the networked system:

  • Networkers: who set up connections
  • Networked: who are part of the network but have no say about their position there
  • Switched-off: not connected; perform specific tasks; one-way instructions; little to no input (260)

And at the top level of the organization, Castells creates a typology of the decision-making progress:

  • Deciders: make the decision; final and ultimate call
  • Participants: give input; are involved in decision-making
  • Executants — implement decisions (but do not have say in what decision was made) (260)

These various groups become nodes in nested networks, not a flattened system, but a tree network (a tree of enunciative formation, I would argue, channeling Foucault) with a clear root and a clear structure of branching with gatekeepers at critical points. What flows across this network? Information. Information which must be communicated. Thus, the entire network is a rhetorical situation.

Decision Tree Template

This PowerPoint slide placeholder graphic is designed to enable communicators and integrators to fill in the text specific to their organization’s hierarchy. It implies a basic replicable structure that can be templated.

Castells states that “infrastructure of communication develops because there is something to communicate” (xxxvii). He calls it a “functional need” that calls into existence the infrastructure. Bitzer and Vatz would refer to this as an exigence, something that drives discourse. Networks of communication, which disseminate information according to the role one plays in the organization (see above) are dynamically created among the variable pathways that may exists. In some cases, a specific pathway or communication channel is used; in other cases, multiple channels; in still other cases, new channels and media may need to be created. The level of detail, causality, and interactivity within that communication is determined by the place on the network. Some information flows all the way through to the very end of the pathway; other information is stopped by a gatekeeper who determines “need to know” as programmed by the deciders, executors and integrators. In each case, the audience is taken into consideration, and though Castells does not directly look at this communications infrastructure as a rhetorical situation, he does talk about media as the mode of a global society.

Castells points out that the acceleration of time and exploitation made possible by the global network has annihilated our concept of time, and indeed our very humanity, causing us to live in the “ever-present world of our avatars” (xliii). We have lost a sense of past grounding and future obligation, living along the bandwidth as flickering images moving from place to place, doing the work of the machine that keeps us imprisoned. Simultaneously, we will rhetorically position ourselves as having found freedom from the constraints of our bodies and our physical limitations, not realizing that our cybernetic existence is one of less agency and greater self — and world — destruction. Castells calls this the “bipolar opposition between the Net and the self” (3). We are simultaneously created and destroyed by our interactions in the information age, which made me think about Spinuzzi’s centripetal and centrifugal forces in an organization.

I also channeled Spinuzzi with Castells’ three dimensions to define the new division of labor:

  1. First Dimension:  actual tasks in a given work process. Also called Value-Making.
  2. Second dimension: Relationship between an organization and its environment, including other organizations. Also called Relation-Making.
  3. Third Dimension: Relationship between managers and employees in a given organization or network. Also called Decision-Making. (259)

These seem to correspond in interesting ways to Spinuzzi’s Microscopic, Mesoscopic, and Macroscopic levels of activity. Interestingly, I think, Spinuzzi’s levels seem to make sense in the way a telephoto lens works: focus closely on the workers’ tasks (microscopic), zoom out to the mesoscopic to look at relationships between workers and workers within a system or network or the organization; zoom out further to the macroscopic level of strategy and organization within an industry. However, Castells puts what would be Spinuzzi’s macroscopic level as his Second Dimension, and what would be Spinuzzi’s mesoscopic level as the third dimension. I’m wondering then, if these are to be seen in the same sort of stratified or wide-shot, mid-shot, close-shot way as Spinuzzi. It suggests that the OUTSIDE influence — the organization within the larger world — is an intermediary between the actual work done and the decisions made about that work. The paradigm of internal vs. external communications, as well as the flow from worker to organization to economy is disrupted, with more importance and relevance given to the competitive, connected, global environment rather than the immediate supervisor. Decisions made internally are connected through the external world. The model would look more like the managers and employees sending information up to the cell towers and satellites and then back down to the production line, informed by outside perspective, which is subsumed somehow into the organization.

I’d like to complicate Castells’ view with two articles in the past two weeks that seem to challenge the prevailing opinion of a globalized society, asserting instead a return to hyper-localization and regionalization. I am wondering, since Castell’s theory in this book is now 15 or more years old, if the pendulum is swinging the other way, toward a renewed sense of group affiliation and identity (which may or may not be connected to a modern constructed idea of a “nation-state”).  Robert D. Kaplan, in his Time Magazine March 31, 2014 cover story “Old World Order: How geopolitics fuel endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st century” reminds us that although “the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water” (32). He goes on to show the instability of nation-states and the importance of actual physical spaces and resources to the world’s geopolitics and economy. While this seems to support Castells’ notions of space as well as flow, the concentration of resources and talent in particular cosmopolitan mega-nodes, it also underscores the importance of tribal, local, regional and national cultural pride and identity that cannot be merely summed up in the trade of ideas and the flow of goods across a global production system. What Kaplan continues to point out is that according to privileged Western philosophers, politicians, policymakers, and businesspeople (Kaplan calls them the “global elite”), “this isn’t what the 21st century was supposed to look like” (32). We were supposed to post-physical space, post-geography, post-political power grabs for physical resources. We were supposed to be an information economy and a global production system operating on trade among stable entities. Recent changes in Ukraine, and the Arab Spring remind us that what the mind can extrapolate and theorize often does not take into account visceral and physical loyalties that may operate beyond reason and individual or communal prosperity.

A week later, Rana Foroohar, in “Globalization in Reverse: What the global trade slowdown means for growth in the US — and abroad”, posits that many economists and trade experts are talking about “a new era of deglobalization, during which countries turn inward” (28). If this trend continues, then “markets, which had more or less converged for the past 30 years, will start diverging along national and sectoral lines” (28). While Castells discussed the convergence of the markets, there appears to be a counter movement, according to some, that would dismantle that synergy and supposed “free movement of goods, people and money across borders” (28). Personally, I do not believe that this means the end of the network society, only that the configuration of the network will change again, with a movement to more unique protocols for individual networks, attempting to communicate with a global mega-network. Rather than considering there to be a unified global economy or a “world-wide web”, there may indeed be more of a multiverse model, with pockets of independent development that coexist, and pathways must be set up to port between them.

Works Cited

Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Vol. 1. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print. 3 vols. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.
Foroohar, Rana. “Globalization in Reverse | TIME.” TIME.com. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
Kaplan, Robert D. “Geopolitics and the New World Order | TIME.” TIME.com. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

Pictures used

Decision Tree. http://www.slidegeeks.com/pics/dgm/l/d/decision_tree_network_diagram_powerpoint_templates_1.jpg

Welcome to the Dark Side. http://crazyhyena.com/imagebank/g/5736914_700b.jpg

Manual Castells Reading Notes

Castells, Manuel. The Rise Of The Network Society. 2nd ed.Oxford; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2010.

 

Manuel Catells, author of The Rise of the Network Society

Manuel Catells, author of The Rise of the Network Society


Since I took notes on the text during Week 1, I am continuing notes here.

Chapter 1

In the first chapter, Castells explores the information technology revolution. The revolution is one of the few eras of rapid change that have punctuated periods of stable eras. Technologies involved include micro-electronics, computing, telecommunication/broadcasting, and opto-electronics (29). Technological revolutions are pervasive in that they penetrate all domains of human activity, they are process-oriented, but the technology revolution is one of technology information and processing. It applies knowledge and information to knowledge generation and information processing, communication devices (31). Stages of the development of the revolution included: learning by using and learning by doing (31). The human mind is a direct productive force in the revolution, and computers, communication systems, and genetic decoding amplify and extend the human mind (31). Minds and machines have become increasingly integrated. Unlike past technological revolutions, the information revolution spread across the globe rapidly, and those places that are cut off from the technology is “a critical source of inequality in our society” (33). Energy has been the key to past revolutions, while power to produce, to distribute, and to communicate is the core of this revolution (38). Key developments in the revolution include: micro-electronics, computers, and telecommunications. The transistor, the microprocessor, micro-electronics, microcomputers, telecommunications, and opto-electronics all brought something to the amplification of the effects of information technologies (45). Castells explores the development of the Internet, network technologies, and biotechnology in the chapter. The new technological system resulted from “the autonomous dynamics of technological discovery and diffusion, including synergistic effects between various key technologies” (59-60). The technological revolution was not socially determined, but was the result of development and applications and content (60). The technological revolution comes about in a “milieu of innovation by the convergence on one site of new technological knowledge and a large pool of skilled engineers and scientists” (62). The milieu generates its own dynamics, to attract knowledge, investment, and talent (65). Sites must be able to “generate synergy on the basis of knowledge and information, directly related to industrial production and commercial applications” (67). The state is often involved in innovation.

The information technology paradigm provides the foundation of the network society, and it includes:

1)      Information is the raw material

2)      Information technologies are pervasive as information is part of human existence

3)      The network is adapted to increasing complexity of patterns and unpredictable patterns of development

4)      The paradigm is based on flexibility

5)      The convergence of specific 6echnologies into a highly integrated system

 

In the information society, technology serves as an extension of the human mind and furthers human productivity. From: http://peacepark.us/importance-information-technology/

In the information society, technology serves as an extension of the human mind and furthers human productivity.

 

Chapter 2:

The new economy emerging through the information technology revolution is informative, global, and networked. The agents of productivity and competitiveness depend on information, production, consumption, and circulation, and their components are organized globally, and productivity and competition happens through a global network of interaction (77). The global economy acts as a feedback loop in that changes that it makes to technology, knowledge, and management, impact technology, knowledge, and management themselves (78). An increase in productivity drives the growth of the economic system, despite a lag that sometimes exists between innovation and production. The evolution of productivity depends on the context of that productivity (88). Statistical studies of productivity need to be adapted to the dynamics of today’s economy in order to better understand growth. Economic agents must adapt to the new economy or face extinction (94). While productivity drives the economy, it is profitability and competitiveness that drives productivity (94). Profitability is increased the global economy network is increased through extending reach, integrating markets, and maximizing advantages (96). The development of the economy was complex, and involves knowledge and information processing and the subsuming of the industrial economy. Today, we have a global (not world) economy that works as a unit, but local and regional nodes like organizations and firms still play an important role (101). Technology allows for fast movement of capital, so global financial flows have increased a great deal. Deregulation, development of infrastructure, new financial products, speculative movements of financial flows, and market valuation firms have resulted in the global interdependence of financial markets. The globalization of the market drives the new global economy through increased flow of the market. Labor has been divided internationally, resulting in trade dominance of some countries while opening up new channels of integration of new economies (110), but local public institutions have impacted free trade and government decisions (116). Production sectors are organized in “the global web” (122), with many firms in many locations networking to create a production economy that is 1) high-volume, 2) flexible, 3) customized (123). Technological knowledge is diffused globally in a selective pattern of decentralized, multidirectional production networks (129). Laborers find themselves increasingly connected to others globally, resulting in increasing transnationalism from the bottom (132). That which is valuable to the network appropriate wealth, while those not valuable are excluded (134). Politics plays a big role in the development of the new economy because development of firms and technologies often depends on political action like regulation, deregulation, privatization and liberalization of trade/investment (147). The new economy is rapidly spreading and it is causing restructuring, prosperity, and crisis as economies and societies adapt (162).

 

From: http://www.greenberg-art.com/.Illustrations/.Humorous/GlobalEconomy.html

The global economy requires networking and competition.

 

Chapter 3: Culture, Institution, Organization

The globally economy is characterized by “its emergence in very different cultural/national contexts,” but there is still the possibility of a “common matrix of organizational forms in the processes of production, consumptions, and distribution” (163). Castells claims that cultures manifest themselves “through their embeddedness in institutions and organizations” (164). The informational, global economy relies on the “convergence and interaction between a new technological paradigm and a new organizational logic that constitutes the historical foundation of the informational economy” (164). This logic takes different forms in different cultural and institutional contexts (164). There are a number of possible organizational trajectories (“specific arrangements of systems of means oriented toward increasing productivity and competitiveness in the new technological paradigm and in the new global economy” (165-166). These trajectories include: a move from mass production to flexible production that accommodates change, the crisis of the corporation and the resilience of small and medium business well adapted to flexible production, new methods of management (management worker cooperation, multifunctional labor, total quality control, and reduction of uncertainty) which prevent major disruption in production, inter-firm networking (multidirectional networking in small and medium business and licensing-subcontracting under an umbrella organization), strategic alliances between large corporations that are no longer self-contained and self-sufficient, a shift from hierarchical bureaucracy to horizontal cooperation in a “dynamic and strategically planned network of self-programmed, self-directed units based on decentralization participation, and coordination” (178), a crisis of vertical corporation models and the rise of networked businesses that are adapted to the global information economy, and the rise of the global networked business model that gives a different role in the process to different firms involved.

Traditional corporate culture was an obstacle to adapting corporations to the flexibility of the global economy. The organizational change happened independent of technological change as a response to the changing environment, but technology did help the change take place (185). The new organizational model that has formed is called “the network enterprise” (187). This enterprise “makes material the culture of the informational, global economy: it transforms signals into the commodities by processing knowledge” (188).

Economic organization depends upon the culture and institutions within the context. Technology and global business causes, the forms “diffuse, borrow from each other, and create a mixture that responds to largely common patterns of production and competition, while adapting to the specific social environments in which they operate” (188). Castells uses East Asian business networks as case studies through which to explore this. The new organizational paradigm includes business networks, technological tools, global competition, the state, and the emergence and consolidation of the network enterprise (212). The network enterprise contains “a common cultural code in the diverse workings of the network enterprise” (214).

Questions with Discussion:

What is the role of counterculture and activism in the growth of a network society?

One of the concepts that most interested me when I read Castells was the role of counterculture in the information technology revolution. The computer counterculture, Castells tells us, was “often intellectually associated with the aftershocks of the 1960′s movements in their most libertarian/utopian version. The computer counterculture developed the modem. The modem allows for files to be trabnsmitted between two computers without a host system, and the counterculture movement spread innovations at no cost.

In this previous video, Castells talks about contemporary social movements such as the occupy movement. He explains that they form in cyberspace, thereby potentially having a global reach, as the global economy does, but just as with the global economy, local context or space is vital to the development of the social movement also. The pattern he discusses is internet use, occupation of space (usually), and the possibility of creating a new form of democratic representation.

He says that part of the idea behind such movements is to escape the positivist logic of the capitalist system. He says that movements are attempting to make people aware that they do not have to delegate their power to the politicians. When I watched this video, it reminded me of the way in which the computer counterculture cut out the middleman (the host) with the creation of the modem and other technologies that allow the individual user more autonomy.

Innovation by activists is key here as it was in the computer counterculture because innovation acts to reshape the political system, whether positively as in the case of Iceland or negatively as in Cyprus. So, this innovation, just as computer innovation, is not neutral, good, or bad.

 

What about Ecology? How does it compare to the concept of the network society?

As I was reading, it occurred to me that the concept of the network society has a good deal in common with the concept of the mind in ecology. In ecology, the mind is both a complete system and a sub-system within a system. It seems to me that Castells describes the network society in a similar way. For Castells, machins become part of the ecology of the human minds, since computers, communication systems, and genetic decoding amplify and extend the human mind (31). Minds and machines have become increasingly integrated.

When I watched the video above, I realized that environmental ecology is not a parallel system, but that in fact environmental ecology exists within the framework of the global network society. Castells says that “space and time are intertwined in nature and in society” and he says that “Both space and time are being combined in effect of the information technology paradigm” (407). I tend to think of environmental ecology as a place of space,” and materials, but when I watched the video, I realized that the agricultural industry is part of the network society, as information is vital to the success of the industry. However, the role of the technologically networked society in the environment is not limited to cultivated plant and animal life, but that the network society is becoming increasingly vital to conservation activism.

 

How does feedback impact the network society? How does it compare to LLLI? 

It seems that in a network society, information continually cycles from the source, to the user, and then the user make innovations or contributes to knowledge. Castells says, “A networked, deeply interdependent economy emerges that becomes increasingly able to apply its progress in technology, knowledge, and management to technology, knowledge, and management themselves” (78). He also says that “the application of knowledge and information to knowledge a generation and information processing/communication devices” happens “in a cumulative feedback loop between innovation and the uses of innovation” (31).

In some ways, the mother/baby and mother/baby/leader dynamic in LLLI, the end users of LLLI recommended philosophy and practice, is instrumental in an eventual shift in policy/practice because the problems face by real mothers requires innovations and practices that may cycle back to the organization in one of these “virtuous circles” that Castells describes on page 78.

 

 Key Ideas from Chapters 5-7

 Chapter 5: The Culture of Real Virtuality

  • the formation of hypertext and meta-language integrates, oral, written, and visual modes of communication for the first time, and changes the character of human communication
  • the culture of real virtuality is the result of the new communication system, is mediated by social interests, government policies, and business strategies
  • the fundamental impact of the normalization of messages is that it levels all content into each person’s frame of images
  • the audience is not a passive object but an interactive subject
  • in the new media system, the message is the medium
  • we don’t live in a globalized village, but in customized cottages globally produced and locally distributed
  • there have been “efforts to regulate, privatize, and and commercialize the Internet and its tributary systems, CMC networks, inside and outside the Internet, are characterized by their pervasiveness, their multi-faceted decentralization, and their flexibility” (385).
  • the Internet allows the forging of weak ties with strangers, linking people with different social characteristics (388)
  • virtual communities are and are not real communities; they are not physical and they do not follow the same patterns, but they work on a different plane of reality (389)
  • most CMC activity takes place at work or in work related situations, but they also reach the whole realm of social activity
  • in the new system, the message is the message (399)
  • widespread social/cultural differentiation leads to the segmentation of users/viewers/readers/listeners (402)
  • social stratification of users; the multimedia world will be populated by two distinct populations: interacting and interacted (402)
  • the communication of all kinds of messages in the same system induces an integration of all messages in a common cognitive pattern (402)
  • the most important feature of multimedia is that they capture within their domain most cultural expressions in all their diversity (403)
  • real virtuality creates a system in which reality itself is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated (404)

 Chapter 6: The Space of Flows

  •  space and time are intertwined with nature and society
  • space orders time in the network society
  • the informational, global society is ordered around command and control centers able to coordinate, innovate, and manage interwtined activities of networks of firms (409)
  • as the economy expand and incorporates new markets it also organizes the production of advanced services required to manage new unites in the joining system (410)
  • the global city is a process, not a place (417)
  • the new industrial space is organized in a hierarchy of innovation and fabrication articulated in global networks (424)
  • there is an increasing dissociation between spatial proximity and the performance of everyday life functions (424)
  • interactivity of spaces breaks up spatial patterns of behavior into a fluid network of exchanges (429)
  • new forms of urban centers emerge from the network
  • space is the material support, always bearing a symbolic meaning, of time-sharing social practices  (441)
  • the space of flows is the material organization of time-sharing practices that work through flows (442)
  • the first material support of the space of flows is constituted by a circuit of electronic exchanges (442)
  • the space of flows is constituted by its nodes and hubs (443)
  • the spatial organization of the dominant, manages elites exercise the directional functions around which space is articulated (445)
  • societies are organized around the dominant interests specific to each social structure (445)
  • the space of flows is the dominant spatial form of the network society (448)
  • a place is a locale whose form, function, and meaning are self-contained within the boundaries of physical contiguity (453)
  • people live in places, but function and power in society is concentrated in the space of flows (458)
  • unless cultural, political, and physical bridges are deliberately built between the two forms of space, we may be heading toward life in two parallel universes (459)

 Chapter 7: Timeless Time

  •  capital’s freedom from time and culture’s escape from the clock are decisively facilitated by new forms of technologies (464)
  • timeless time is the emerging dominant form
  • the suppression of time is at the core of new organizational forms of economic activity (467)
  • high performance firms attempt to manage time (468)
  • the challenge of the new relationship between work and technology is the shortening of life working time for most of society (475) age wars will be the result

 

Terms:

Network enterprise: “that specific form of enterprise whose system of means is constituted by the intersection of segments of autonomous systems of goals” (187).

mass self-communication - a new form of societal communication  that is mass “because it reaches a potentially global audience through p2p networks and Internet connection” and it is multimodal because digitization of content and social software allow for reformatting of content in almost any form to be distributed in wireless networks (xxx).

space of contiguity - spaces of places (xxxi)

space of flows - “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance” (xxxii).

timeless time - the kind of time occurring in a context when there is a systemic perturbation of sequential order (xli).

glacial time - slow motion time the human mind assigns to the evolution of the planet (xlii).


Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some cities in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther, deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

And, in the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contain heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as it we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

 

[add pictures here]

[more notes]

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some city in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything written by people writing anywhere. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther out and deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

In the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contains heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress. But, “space is the expression of society. Since our societies are undergoing structural transformation, it is a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that new spatial forms and processes are emerging…space is not a reflection of society, it is its expression. In other words: space is not a photocopy of society, it is society. Spatial forms and processes are formed by the dynamics of the overall social structure. This includes contradictory trends derived from conflicts and strategies between social actors playing out their opposing interests and values. Furthermore, social processes influence space by acting on the built environment inherited from previous socio-spatial structures. Indeed, space is crystallized time” (440-441). I love this idea of “space as crystallized time” as it makes me imagine walking along the streets of a city, where others have come and gone before me, leaving their marks in places I can and cannot see. Human history is embodied in the places we leave behind, as archaeology is constantly reminding us, and our cities are intergenerational projects. We do not rebuild a city from the ground up every time a new type of society emerges. We may transform aspects of our cities to fit new needs and demands (think of how we built factories and then cities grew around them, even when those factories became obsolete and were abandoned).

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

But, a metropolis is never a unified whole. Instead, it is a series of places that have been linked through transportation, through business deals and physical businesses, through families and rivals, politics, telephone lines, electricity and water and sewage. A metropolis is a collection, eccentric as it is, of different cultures, societies, identities. Sometimes they mesh, though often they don’t. A metropolis is a collection of actors, human and non-human, moving through the paces of living, growing and shrinking with the changes that happen to cities over the course of their timelines. Castells’ comment about identity strikes me as I think of cities expanding outwards, enveloping the surrounding areas whether they are urban, suburban, or rural: “In the absence of active social demands and social movements the mega-node imposes the logic of the global over the local. The net result of this process is the coexistence of metropolitan dynamism with metropolitan marginality, expressed in the dramatic growth of squatter settlements around the world, and in the persistence of urban squalor in the banlieues of Paris on in the American inner cities. There is an increasing contradiction between the space of flows and the space of places…few people in the world feel identified with the global, cosmopolitan culture that populates the global networks and becomes the worship of  the mega-node elites. In contrast, most people feel a strong regional or local identity…in a world constructed around the logic of the space of flows, people make their living in the space of places” (xxxix). This idea of people being drawn to a regional or local identity as a way as an alternative to the “mega-node” imposing “the logic of the global over the local” reminds me of Spinuzzi’s discourse regarding local work-around solutions, except that this here it is in terms of identity rather than work measures, though Castells does have a section on workers later in the book. But, this also reminds me of Ecology Theory. The city is an ecosystem, but each section, each neighborhood, and each family become smaller ecosystems operating within and spilling over into the surrounding ecosystems. And then the ecosystem of the metropolis functions within itself and then spills over into the surrounding cities that compose the metropolitan region. This region goes through the same cycle on a much larger scale. In order to function within a totalizing group, smaller networks crop up within to humanize people. The mega-node can become so big because there are small networks within, operating on their own while simultaneously connecting outwards in all different directions.

As I was working through these concepts of regional identities and mega-nodes and ecosystems, I found that the best way to visualize this was to think of the Lego Movie where the different parts of the world were represented as different Lego sets (big city, Wild West, fantasy land, and so on). Each of these “worlds” had its own distinct flavor and yet all of the worlds were interconnected as a web of symbols sprawled out across a large table. So, as a treat (or torture), here you go:

Another huge part of the Network Society has to do with economics, productivity, and wealth. Castells makes an interesting point about how our society is no longer dominated by industry, but by information, but that these two are never separate: “The informational economy is a distinctive socio-economic system in relationship to the industrial economy, but not because they differ in the sources of their productivity growth. In both cases, knowledge and information processing are critical elements in economic growth, as can be illustrated by the history of the science-based chemical industry  or by the managerial revolution that created Fordism. What is distinctive is the eventual realization of the productivity potential contained in the mature industrial economy because of the shift toward a technological paradigm based on information technologies” (99). What I liked about his exploration of our society’s economic changes between agricultural to industrial to informational is that he talks about how none of those economic structures ever really disappears. A country still needs to produce food and material goods still need to be made, even as the society itself moves towards a “technological paradigm based on information technologies.” The underlying foundation of technology being an integral part to society makes sense, not only as we move into an era of global connectivity, but also just looking at Castells’ examples of the past, what worked and what didn’t. I was struck by his section on China throughout the ages and how it is direction of the government that ultimately limits or propels technological progress. In a way, I am reminded also of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, in that prosperity and peace can stagnate a culture and its technological ambitions. A country can have all the wealth in the world, but without the drive to move forward, it stalls out, lagging behind those countries that need the technology and that want what benefits they can get out of progressive movements.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Castells: Time and Space Walk Into A Bar…

Several times while reading Castells, I thought of science fiction and the philosophical musings about time, space, dimensions, and what not. So imagine my surprise when I read Castell use the phrase, “city on the edge.” His references to time … Continue reading

Mind Map: Week 12

This week I added the neurobiology and Castells readings to my Popplet. Once again, I only added a few nodes. The more we update the mindmap, the more trouble I have with it. I’m having a difficult time getting it to zoom in and to navigate around the map to find the specific sections I want.

ENG  894 Mind Map12

Anywho, the nodes that I added. Following my usual pattern, I added primary nodes for each of the main readings (neurobiology as a category rather than the specific scientists). I connected neurobiolgy to Syverson (ecology), focusing on the element of embodied. I connected neurobiolology and Castells for several reasons (outlined in more detail in Reading Notes for Week 12): interdependence of connections, difficulty distinguishing boundaries, and evolution through a feedback loop.

I do know that next week’s mind map will have a lot more connections–I’ve already been making a lot of marginal notations about Spinuzzi in Chapter 4. 🙂

Reading Notes: Week 12

In lieu of a summary this week (mainly because I don’t think I could summarize the neurology content), I’m choosing to explore some content options I haven’t done so far.

Questions with Discussion

Why are these readings (the intro material of Castells and neurology) paired? Other than the obvious goal of getting started with Castells, these seem to be paired because Castells explains the informational revolution that led to the boom of knowledge in neurology. In each of the interviews, the interviewer asks about the importance of the 1990s as the “decade of the brain,” and in three of the four interviews, the scientists refer to the advances in technology, specifically microscopy, that have allowed them to view the activity of the brain at the neuronal (cellular) level.

Castells explains these advancements as characteristic of informationalism: whereas industrialism is oriented toward economic growth, informationalism is oriented toward  technological development, the accumulation of knowledge, and higher levels of information processing (p. 17). Thus, the advancements in scientific technology are representative of the shift in economic structure.

Castells, p. 17

Castells, p. 17

What other overlaps are there between the readings? Both Castells and the neurology readings describe the processes as cyclical. Castells claims, “what is specific to the informational mode of development is the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself as the main source of productivity” which creates a circle of interaction between knowledge and technology. As we produce technology, we gain more knowledge which lends to more technological production and so on. This cycle is illustrated in the development of neurobiology tools, namely microscopy. As more powerful microscopes lend to the knowledge of neurotransmission and neuronal regenesis, scientists gain both knowledge of the processes and awareness of what they still don’t know, which leads to the creation of more powerful tools intended to reveal those gaps.

Another overlap is the stage of knowledge both readings represent (which makes sense since they’re so foundationally related). In their interviews, each of the scientists points to the informational revolution of the 1990s as just the beginning–they are only beginning to understand the complexity of the mind and neuronal processes. Similarly, Castells examines the complexity of informationalism in its early stages. While he draws on previous economic transformations, he acknowledges that his goal is to be analytic rather than predictive.

Quotes for Discussion (with Examples)

Wolfhard's Interview

Wolfhard’s Interview

“And if you had a faint idea as to how the nervous system does what it does, we could build computers that emulate the nervous system, and we’d be ahead. Whoever makes that is going to be ahead financially, militarily, if it has to be” (Wolfard, in Neurobiolgy). Wolfard’s claim here echoes Castell’s claims about the connections between information and economic growth. This statement highlights what would be the ultimate achievement in artificial intelligence. Being able to replicate the human nervous system in computers would allow for replacement of human components on, to me, an unimaginable level. Wolfard recognizes the connections between technological development and economic power–he even ties it to military power, an element that Castells doesn’t discuss in his opening material.

“In such a world of uncontrolled, confusing change, people tend to regroup around primary identities: religious, ethnic, territorial, national” (Castells, p. 3).Castell’s claim here explained the trends we see so vividly through social media–the isolating of persons and the commitment to identity. As traditions are challenged and transformed, people react strongly and publicly to maintain the cultural traditions that define their identity–it seems especially true for the traditions that have been dominant. For instance, when the Duck Dynasty patriarchy Phil Robertson made public statements about homosexuality and sinners, criticism from gay supporters led A&E to suspend Robertson from the show. In response, his supporters launched a social media campaign against A&E, arguing that the network was attacking traditional Christian beliefs about family and sexuality. Facebook posts and tweets revealed polarized opinions about the fairness of Robertson’s suspension, and many who supported him changed their profile pictures to Duck Dynasty images and began spreading an online movement to boycott the network. These actions foregrounded traditional Christianity and political conservatism as part of their identities. Despite the legality of A&E’s action, Robertson supporters were reacting to the realization that their traditions are being challenged as society increasingly redefines the balance of power.

This example also represents the connections between the networked society and the economics. Because of the increased communication provided through social media, A&E faced a public relations nightmare (they ended up reinstating him on the show). Despite this seeming nightmare, the controversy prompted an economic boom for Christian retailers and A&E (Duck Dynasty merchandise) and threatened to affect retailers of the show’s merchandise (for an article on the impact, click here).

“Differential timing in access to the power of technology for people, countries, and regions, is a critical source of inequality in our society” (Castells, p. 33). While it’s no surprise that regions that lag in technological development also lag in economic development is no surprise, Castells further claim that “The switched off areas are culturally and spatially discontinuous” (p. 33) is. In the United States, we tend to think of the the inequality as a global rather than national problem, although it has been addressed sparingly at the state and national levels. Castells argument, however, indicates that attempts to solve the inequalities at the national and state levels take a backwards approach. Take education, for example. In low socioeconomic status areas, state and local governments tend to dole out grants for technology in the classroom and community, in hopes of balancing out the inequities. Castells argument (though not fully represented by the above quote), however, is that technological development is the key factor in economic development. Thus, providing access to technology is an insufficient approach. Instead, the focus should be on helping these areas become leaders in development.

Connections with Course

Both Castells and the neurobiology chapter point to the complexity of dynamic systems. In both systems, the transfer and transformation of information is key–information is both the goal of and the catalyst for change. Here are some key points about systems that both readings suggest:

Boundaries are hard to define: In terms of a networked society, Castells explains that even as people try to hold on to markers of their individual identities, “our societies are increasingly structured around a bipolar opposition between the Net and the self” (p. 3). Furthermore, “technology is society and society cannot be understood or represented without its technological tools” (p.5). Boundaries between nations, societies, and individuals are collapsing as they become globally networked.

Similarly, in neurobiology, the boundaries are not always clear. While we can distinguish at the molecular level, the boundaries between the human mind, the human body, and the environment are not as easy to distinguish (think Gibson’s affordances). As Wolfhard explains, “Synapses change all the time. While we are speaking, and every morning you wake up, you’re the same person-almost. You’re never quite the same person because through the day’s experience, your synapses will have changed as a result of neuro-transmission.”  The system, then, is altered by experience that results from the mere fact of existence. As researchers investigate the importance of being embodied, we realize that the boundaries that define us are far less definitive than previously realized.

The system evolves through a feedback loop: As stated above, both theories of networks identify the cyclical nature of the systems. According to Castells, as knowledge is developed, technology is produced, which prompts more knowledge, which prompts further technological development.

The system is interdependent on its many connections:In the body, neurons communicate by releasing neurotransmitters through synapses. The neurons themselves have two ends–axons and dendrites, with dendrites connecting to the axons of other neurons. Because of this structure, individual neurons can make thousands of connections, creating a complex system of connections that relay information throughout the body.

Likewise, the economic structure of an informational society is connected by the economies and technologies of other societies and defined by their own “interactions between modes of production and modes of development (p. 18). As such, “modes of [economic] development shape the entire realm of social behavior . . . including symbolic communication” (p. 18).

 

References

Castells, M. (2010). Rise of the network society. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Neurobiolgy. (2013). In Rediscovering biology. Annenberg Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/neuro/index.html

 

 


Reading Notes: The Rise of the Network Society

A text about network connectivity offered quite a few connections to aspects of my “real” (really virtual?) life outside of academe.

Higher Education

OK, so this isn’t exactly part of life outside academe. It’s the staff side of my professional position that drew a connection to the economic value of higher education in Castells’ (2010) illustration of the valuation process in the global economy. He writes, “Two key facts appear to be at work in the valuation process: trust and expectations” (p. 159, emphasis mine). Profits aren’t the primary indicator of value in the global economy. He uses the case of Amazon, which as of writing the 2000 edition had not yet turned a profit, as an instance of investor trust and expectation resulting in high stock valuation: “in spite of losing money, the institutional environment of the new economy… had won the approval and trust of investors. And expectations were high on the ability of the on-line selling pioneer to move into e-commerce beyond books” (p. 159). In the case of higher education, profitability is not the primary source of valuation (although recent decisions by accreditation agencies to shutter schools because they were no longer profitable is an interesting change of course). Instead, parent and student expectations of the long-term monetary and occupational value of education offered through institutions, along with trust (based on past history) that the school can provide an education that offers and holds that value define the way higher education institutions are “valued.”

Infographic: Does a Higher Education Guard Against Unemployment? Source: MintLife Blog

That said, I also drew connections to the erosion of authority (and perhaps trust) in higher education in Castells’ (2010) depiction of a flattened network of cultural expression in the integrated communication system of the network society: “it weakens considerably the symbolic power of traditional senders external to the system, transmitting through historically encoded social habits: religion, morality, authority, traditional values, political ideology. Not that they disappear, but they are weakened unless they recode themselves in the new system, where their power becomes multiplied by the electronic materialization of spiritually transmitted habits: electronic preachers and interactive fundamentalist networks are a more efficient, more penetrating form of indoctrination in our societies than face-to-face transmissions of distant, charismatic authority” (p. 406). While higher educators are likely to bristle at terms like “indoctrination” and “distant, charismatic authority,” the fact that higher education finds itself lagging behind other industries in transforming itself into a network enterprise is troubling. How long will higher education be able to “preach” its gospel of access, accountability, and value through local channels rooted in the space of places?

I don’t see this transformation limited to classroom experiences, either. Many fundamental organizational structures in higher education are vertical and hierarchical, not horizontal and collaborative. How long will the Richmond schools like the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, John Tyler Community College, Richard Bland College, and Reynolds College be able to differentiate our instructional products in the Richmond metropolitan area? At what point do the obvious synergies of labor talent, instructional content, and pedagogical practice become too obvious to ignore — and will collaboration and partnership be able to surmount historical boundaries of location and culture? And at what point does the Richmond metropolitan area either become part of either the greater Washington or greater Hampton Roads mega-city? And if it doesn’t become part of one or the other, will it be passed by as a node in the network society? At which point, will any of the higher education institutions, either collaborating or separated, survive? Castells’ depiction of the global informational economy makes the case for the need to restructure or die.

Google Drive

Infographic

Infographic: Google Docs for Learning. Source: Edudemic

Maury and I will be presenting Thursday at the “Humanities Unbound” conference about the role Google Drive plays in re/defining identity in our composition classrooms. With thoughts about the role of Google Drive in my classroom lurking in the corners of my mind, I read the following statement Castells makes about ways multimedia support what I would now (in 2014) consider an adolescent (rather than emerging) social/cultural pattern. One of the characteristics Castells (2010) points out is that “communication of all kinds of messages in the same system… induces an integration of all messages in a common cognitive pattern…. From the perspective of the user… the choice of various messages under the same communication mode, with easy switching from one to the other, reduces the mental distance between various sources of cognitive and sensorial involvement” (p. 402, emphasis original). Castells appears to predict the blurring and merging of genre conventions as a characteristic of communication in the Information Age. Google Drive reflects just such blurring: is a Google Doc a word processing document or a web page? Maury and I have used Google Docs like web pages as much as, or more than, we have used Google Docs as word processing documents. While this appears to be an instance of reducing “the mental distance” between cognitive and sensorial involvement, the localized facts are more interesting. In my own class, there are two or three students who have embraced Google Drive as a multimodal tool for writing, revising, collaborating, embedding, and linking. These are students whom I would consider embedded in network enterprises. Other students in my class struggle to use Google Docs effectively or proficiently. These are students whom I would consider embedded in the space of places, localized, lacking adequate experiences, background, training, or tools to engage fully and deeply in the global informational economy. These are students I’m seeking to “indoctrinate,” because I worry that they will find themselves unlinked, passed by as lacking value in the global economy. Worryingly, several of these students embedded in the space of places work in higher education.

Marketing


Everything You Know is Not Quite Right Anymore: Rethinking Best Web Practices to Respond to the Future from Doug Gapinski

I am a professional writer. This realization came as a surprise to me. I make money by writing, editing, proofreading, and managing web and other copy. I never thought I would make money from writing. I work on a team of four marketers, each with differentiated expertise and experience. We work as a collaborative team among what I would characterize as a vertically-structured collection of departments and divisions. While the fact that I work on a team that values and expects collaboration is not entirely germane to my next point, it explains the critical approach to higher education I shared earlier in this post.

As a professional marketer, I live out the reality that, as Castells (2010) puts it in “McLunanian” language, “the message of the medium (still operating as such) is shaping different media for different messages” (p. 368). My team develops different media for different messages. To attendees of regional graduate and professional school fairs we create a collection of integrated print pieces that focuses on the flexibility of our graduate degree programs, especially the ability to attend school part time while working in a related profession. To those who visit our site by clicking on ads we place on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google search results, the Google Display Network, and Bing search results, we craft webpages that are customized to each segmented audience. And to members of our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for learners aged 50 and over, we print a larger piece that focuses specifically on their interest in engaging in the life of a traditional private liberal arts college campus. We don’t mix these messages or these media; we segment messages by target audience with a large degree of granularity, and we use distinct media to convey those messages.

Market segmentation is the reality. We now advertise in only two traditional “mass media” — radio and billboards. And we continue to funnel more funds toward segmented online advertising efforts and away from the mass media. We can target highly specialized audiences on online advertising platforms, and as a result we can expect better return on investment (ROI) for the dollars spent to capture prospective students. This, in turn, leads to greater segmentation as web visitors expect even more highly individualized marketing messages, and as technological boundaries expand to enable ever greater granularity in advertising and marketing.

I appreciated and enjoyed that Castells wrote about my professional world. That was cool and welcomed.

References

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Louisiana State University. (2013, September). LSU enrollment mgmt org chart 9 2013 [Illustration]. Retrieved from http://studentlife.lsu.edu/category/search-keywords/organizational-chart

Mindmap #11: The Network Society

Castells represented 500 page of network goodness, and I savored (quickly) every morsel. I struggled to limit what I planned to include in this week’s mindmap, settling on a tried and true method: I use the table of contents to organize my new nodes.

Popplet mindmap visualization

Mindmap #11: The Network Society. Adding in Castells’ The Network Society (Popplet).

I linked Castells to Foucault, Latour, and aspects of ecology.

I found Castells’ depiction of the network enterprise as a virtual culture similar to Foucault’s (2010/1972) desire to “restore to the statement the specificity of its occurrence… it emerges in its historical irruption” (p. 28). Castells (2010) writes about the network enterprise that it “learns to live within this virtual culture. Any attempt at crystallizing the position in the network as a cultural code in a particular time and space sentences the network to obscelesence, since it becomes too rigid for the variable geometry required by informationalism” (p. 215).

I found Castells’ description of mega-cities quite similar to Latour’s description of individuation through increasing nodal connections. Latour (2005) writes about the emergence of the actor-network, “it is by multiplying the connections with the outside that there is some chance to grasp how the ‘inside’ is being furnished. You need to subscribe to a lot of subjectifiers to become a subject ad you need to download a lot of individualizers to become an individual — just as you need to hook up a lot of localizers to have a local place and a lot of oligoptica for a context to ‘dominate’ over some other sites” (p. 215-6). Castell’s identifies three characteristics of mega-cities in the space of flows, the third being “connecting points to the global networks of every kind; the Internet cannot bypass mega-cities: it depends on the telecommunications and on the ‘telecommunicators’ located in those centers” (p. 440).

And I found Castells’ closing statements about social action similar to a couple of our definitions of ecology, especially to Spellman’s focus on the relationship of the organism to the environment. Spellman (2007) writes that “ecology is the study of the relation of an organism or a group of organisms to their environment. In a broader sense, ecology is the study of the relation of organisms or groups to their environments” (p. 4). Castells (2010) uses a very similar formulation for his definition of social action: “social action at the most fundamental level can be understood as the changing pattern of relationships between nature and culture” (p. 508). As ecology studies relationship patterns among groups and environments, social action studies relationship patterns among culture and nature. This similarity, like the others, suggests (along with the book’s extensive bibliography) that Castells has incorporated ideas from many different sources in articulating this theory of network society.

Once I made those connections, I suggested that Castells offers theoretical, but not an operationalized, theory of the network society; his study of society is used to produce his theory, but he pointedly avoids using the theory to operationalize or predict anything about the network society.

Finally, I decided that the IT revolution is the “event” that triggered the emergence of the network society; without the IT revolution, there is no network society. All of the aspects of the network society, depicted in the table of contents — the global informational economy, the network enterprise, the transformed labor force, real virtuality, the space of flows, and timeless time — all rely on the advances brought about by the IT revolution for their existence.

I found Castells delightfully cogent and engaging. This is surely because of my engagement in a profession that relies on the IT revolution for its existence, but I also found intriguing connections to our emerging understanding of networks as they relate to English studies and to my own nascent ideas about the role of boundaries in network formation and nodal connectivity.

References

Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, F. (2009, December 17). The global society [Creative Commons licensed illustration]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/7oxX6G

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Introduction. In Ecology for Nonecologists [pp. 3-23]. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes

An Ecology of Reading Notes: Castells & Neurobiology, or NeuroEco

I’ll start this week with the readings on neurobiology because of my interests in that field. I’m actually quite fond of making references to mind mapping and neurobiology when looking for metaphors to explain critical thinking or other complex activities … Continue reading