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Reading Notes: Week 13, Castells

Brief Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Connection to Spinuzzi

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

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

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

 

Application of Real Virtuality

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

 

 

Random Products that Seem Related

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

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

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

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

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And away we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[add pictures here]

[more notes]

Reference

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

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


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

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

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

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

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

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And away we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Reading Notes: Week 12

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

Questions with Discussion

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

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

Castells, p. 17

Castells, p. 17

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

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

Quotes for Discussion (with Examples)

Wolfhard's Interview

Wolfhard’s Interview

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

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

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

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

Connections with Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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