Archive | network society RSS feed for this section

Case Study: Scaffolding Outline

OoS: Google Analytics

  • Activities addressed in my OoS: Collection, Collation, Processing, Reporting
  • GA Data Model: User (Visitor), Session (Visit), Interaction (Hits)
  • Data Model Collections and Reports: 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).

Theories & Selection Rationale

  • Ecosystem Ecology (Bateson, 1972/1987; Gibson, 1972/1986; Guattari, 1989/2012; Spellman, 2007)
    • Boundaries are difficult to define: Mirrors struggle to define GA boundaries
    • Inter-relatedness to neighboring ecosystems: GA connects and measures incoming & outgoing links
    • Limits analysis to groups of (rather than individual) living and/or nonliving things: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data
  • Neurobiology (Annenberg Learner, 2013)
    • Demonstrates interconnectedness of various nodes and frameworks: GA data model reports metrics interconnected with dimensions to reflect user behaviors; GA also enables both SPCS account and UR roll-up account
    • Uses hippocampus as server metaphor: Google data center as input/output hub for GA data collation and processing
    • Affirms difference between input and output: GA collects data via data model (input) and reports results via aggregated data tables and visualizations (output)
  • Network Society  (Castells, 2010)
    • Limits analysis to groups rather than individuals: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data (cf. Ecosystem Ecology, above)
    • Addresses movement of data through the network: GA focuses on movement of data from website server (collection) to Google data centers (collation & processing) to administrative accounts (reporting), although this movement is entirely serial rather than parallel
    • Provides hierarchy of nodes: GA endows administrators with creative, destructive, and manipulative authority in relation to data; other nodes have far less agency
  • Social Network (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987; Scott, 2000; Rainie & Wellman, 2012)
    • Recognizes value of social capital in network growth: GA enables measurement of increased or decreased engagement and provides help to increase engagement (social capital)
    • Reveals rhizomatic (and unpredictable) character of network connections: GA visualizes network connectivity in myriad visualizations, tables, and downloadable files (which can also be visualized)
    • Values growth and sustenance of weaker ties: GA sets up goals that seek to measure and value increased engagement on less-engaging content

Similarities

  • Focus on flattened network
  • Emphasis on rhizomatic rather than hierarchical connections
  • Address difficulties of establishing boundaries
  • Recognize value of grouping in discussing large-scale network systems
  • Focus on nodal groupings rather that individual nodal identities
  • Define network as mediator rather than intermediate (Latour, 2005)

Minding the Gaps

  • Localization: Neurobiology and Network Society affirm the value and influence of local conditions on global networks that Ecosystem Ecology and Social Network either undervalue or do not address.
  • Activity and Flow: Ecosystem Ecology, Neurobiology, and Network Society address movement of data and value across or through the network that Social Network does not directly address.
  • Agency: Social Network and Neurobiology ascribe local agency to nodes that Ecosystem Ecology (focused on instinct) and Network Society (focused on hierarchical relationships among managerial elites) do not accept or address.

My Position as Scholar

These theories align with the following statements of my theories of scholarship and pedagogy:

  • I embrace the flattened, rhizomatic character of the 21st-century classroom as a (possibly the most) valid model for preparing students for the world of the 21st-century networked workplace.
  • I embrace composition as social and situated within a larger global context, and I embrace and value local and global aspects of the composing experience as preparation for both academic scholarship and professional management.
  • I embrace scholarship as collaborative and networked, and revel in the breakthroughs made more likely and/or possible through collaborative, rather than individual, scholarship.
  • I embrace pedagogy as joining with a group of students in a flattened community of learners in which, to the extent possible, hierarchical teacher-student relationships are replaced by flattened learner-learner relationships.
  • I embrace and seek connections between scholarship and utility, between theory and praxis, and between academic and alt-academic pursuits and theorizing.
  • I embrace Yagelski’s (2006) “troublemaking collectivity” as a mantra for the disruptive role of my own and my collaborative scholarship and pedagogy in institutions entrenched in antiquated, outdated theoretical paradigms.
  • I embrace as vital the role of network activity in learning activities.
Satellite image - night

U.S Atlantic Seaboard at Night: May 23, 2011. Original image from NASA Earth Observatory.

My Biases and Background

These theories align with my own biases and background in the following ways:

  • I am now, and have been since 2000, employed in an alt-academic role as a full-time marketing web manager and part-time adjunct professor of liberal arts and scholar of English studies. This role influences the value I place on connections between theory and praxis, between research and application.
  • As former director of a summer residential governor’s school for gifted and talented high school students, I value pedagogical theory and praxis that views standards-based education as little more than a starting point for true academic excellence. This experience influences my preference for network activity in learning activities, especially over standardized assessment tools and products.
  • As a professional writer and marketer, I use academic skills like research and collaborative composing in non-academic settings. This experience influences my preference for collaborative, team-based solutions to professional challenges, including audience research.
  • As a third culture kid who grew up outside of the U.S., I embrace the global nature of communications, commerce, development, employment, and growth. This experience influences my desire to place local activities and culture within global networks.
  • As a web developer, I value and prefer platform- and system-agnostic open-source software solutions over commercial, and especially proprietary, software solutions. This influences my desire to flatten hierarchical structures, especially of proprietary commercial interests, in favor of open-source and open-access models wherever feasible.
  • I am a social media marketer. As a result, I value social networks beyond their community-building application; I value them for monetization via targeted advertising. My role as a social media marketer influences my willingness to find value in globally-accessible (but not open-access or open-source) products like Google Analytics while pushing for greater openness and access to these social networking products (see the troublemaking collectivity statement, above).
  • I measure web visit data, and my job as web manager exists because I can demonstrate value through higher visit rates, greater visibility across networks, and ultimately higher admissions and enrollment figures. In a professional and continuing studies unit, the value of individual admissions and enrollments is taken very seriously. This experience forces me to work with Google Analytics, which directly influenced by choice of Google Analytics as my object of study. I enter this study with an eye towards providing my team and my administration critical theoretical approaches to data measurement that result in better, clearer communication with prospective and current students.

References

Annenberg Learner. (2013). Neurobiology. Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives [Online textbook]. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/neuro/index.html

Bateson, G. (1987). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc. Originally published in 1972

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)

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Originally published in 1979

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

Guattari, F. (2012). The three ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group. Originally published in 1989

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

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis: A handbook (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 3-23; 61-84.

Yagelski, R. P. (2006). English education. In B. McComiskey (Ed.), English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) (pp. 275-319). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

[ Feature image: Bamboo Scaffolding, Cambodia. CC licensed image from Flickr user Lorna ]

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

Mindmap #12: Connectedness

Last week’s mindmap took into account most of what we’ve read from Castells, so I did not add any more to the Castells nodes. Preparing for end-of-term assignments, however, I started thinking about the network ecology I’ve created in the mindmap in order to identify some trends. So I pulled out what appear to be the most connected nodes in the mindmap network — Foucault, Ecology, and Network Society — and started thinking about characteristics that describe these most-connected nodes (aside, of course, from being the most connected).

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.30.58 AM copy

Well-Connected Nodes: Inset from larger mindmap (Popplet)

My three characteristics that help explain why these nodes are so well connected are influential, applicable, and contemporary.

Influential: Throughout the semester, we’ve seen Foucault’s ideas about the ephemeral character of discourse reiterated by various theorists and theories. From Biesecker’s (1989) différance to Prior et al.’s (2007) CHAT  to Latour’s (2005) ANT, and in several other theories in between, we’ve see Foucault’s influence. Several of us were chatting yesterday evening in Facebook about the theory tree assignment, and the phrase “Foucault is everywhere” kept repeating itself. I’ve drawn these connections in terms of the moment of discursive formation in a couple of my own blog posts, and others have focused on trace, on the archive, and on the monument in other blog posts. Foucault is clearly deeply influential on many of the theorists we’ve encountered this semester. In addition, we’ve seen ecological ideas appear relatively frequently, although less so that Foucault’s ideas. Where Foucault addresses the behavior of the individual rhetor in discourse, ecological perspectives address rhetors or actors as groups of like organisms working within a larger system. Both of these ideas are influential and, given our timeline of original publication, both Foucault and Bateson published in the same year (1972). They’ve had time to become influential.

Applicable: Here I’m focusing on the operationalizability (how’s that for a made-up word?) of the theory in real-world applications. Foucault remains entirely theoretical; on the other hand, ecology and network society find real-world applications as ways to specifically and concretely understand network activity occurring in lived experience. Ecology offers us specific ways to understand and affect the impact of actions on environment, to recognize the effects of ecological change on the biosphere, and to speculate on ways specific activities can improve ecological function. Network society offers us specific ways to understand  social activity in the informational global economy, and it provides a rubric for recognizing how networks include and exclude populations. While other theories (like ANT and genre theory) also provide operationalized examples (especially Spinuzzi’s [2003] genre tracing), I did see that characteristic on its own resulting in high levels of connectedness among other theorists.

Contemporary: I should probably term this “post-modern” to be more accurate, but I’ve chosen “contemporary” to more specifically reflect how these theorists/theories can relate to twenty-first-century lived experience. Foucault, ecology, and network society all provide broad perspectives for understanding the fragmentary, simultaneous, ephemeral experience of living in a networked age. Each in its own way resists pre-categorizing lived experiences: Foucault in terms of rhetoric, ecology in terms of biological determinism, and network society in terms of socio-econo-political realities. Each proposes to carefully study “all the things” within its domain before considering any type of categorical placement. I recognize that other theories also offer such tools for understanding; however, they did not result in the same level of connectedness in my mindmap.

And that’s the question to be addressed: What is it about these three theories that makes them more highly connected than others in my mindmap? I propose that one differentiator is the combination of these three characteristics. While other theories might demonstrate one of these characteristics, I think the combined characteristics help explain the level of connectivity. That said, I immediately recognize the need to problematize these categories as potentially hegemonic or biased toward utility. But in order to close this post, I won’t move past this point!

References

Bateson, G. (1987/1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Biesecker, B. A. (1989). Rethinking the rhetorical situation from within the thematic of “différance.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, 22(2), 110-130.

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

Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., Rohan, L., Roozen, K., Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P., Shipka, J., Van Ittersum, D., & Walker, J. R. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[ Header image: Connect. CC licensed image from Flickr user Katherine Pangaro ]

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 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

 


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

 


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

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

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