Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Rise of the Network Society

The information technology revolution is different from the preceding technological revolutions in that it brought about the network in which information in itself creates information through the continuous feedback loop, whereas all other technological revolutions were physical. In other words, all preceding revolutions provided extension of the human body, while IT revolution is creating extension of the human brain.

Manuel Castells, a philosopher, authored a thick book “The Rise of the Network Society” (a first volume of three books), in 1996, to describe the typical phenomena in “Information Age”. Although Castells wrote this book more than 15 years ago and some parts seem to be outdated or too familiar to us, we can still learn from the way he sees the network society.

Network society
Let’s see the definition of network first. According to him, a network is a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point a t which a curve intersects it self.

The network owes much to the IT revolution and plays central role in the Information Age. The network society came after the information technology advancement. Internet is the main stage of this society, in which people interact each other with unprecedented frequency, creating the vast amount of communication. The idea of network society is quite common to the people living now, as we usually use facebook, twitter, etc for our daily communication.

As we always see, the dominant functions and processes in the Information Age are increasingly organized around networks. In capitalism society, capital flows into where the value is created. That means, the capital is invested globally from and to these networks.

Its impact
The author argued that the information technology and the rise of network society will bring about the globalization and change in culture, lifestyles and enterprises.

Globalization is exactly what we see now its somewhat brutal process. Culture is made up of communication process, and if we change the process, it is natural that culture changes as well. Many are very keen on joblessness especially among the youth, and some blame technological advancement as the culprit (actually, same thing happened in the preceding technological revolutions, but in the long run there will be more job creations to adopt to the change. The point is how to overcome the turbulence during the transition).

Features of information technology paradigm
Why network society matters much to us and why it emerged now? It’s because of the information technology paradigm. Castells argues that there are five key features that constitute the heart of the information technology paradigm (from page 70) :

1. Information as its raw material. Technologies act on information, not just information to act on technology. “What characterizes the current technological revolution is not the centrality of knowledge and information, but the application of such knowledge and information to knowledge generation and information processing/communication devices, in a cumulative feedback loop between innovation and the uses of innovation.”

2. Pervasiveness of effects. The new technological medium shapes all processes of our individual and collective existence, because information is the integral part of human activity.

3. Networking logic. When networks diffuse, their growth becomes exponential, as the benefits of being in the network grow exponentially, because of the greater number of connections, and the cost grows in a liner pattern. According to Robert Metcalfe (1973), the value of a network (V) increases as the square of the number of nodes (n) in the net: V = n^(n-1).

4. Flexibility. As the network is not hierarchically structured, not only processes are reversible, but also organizations and institutions can be modified, and even fundamentally altered, by rearranging their components without destroying the entire structure. What is distinctive to the configuration of the new technological paradigm is its ability to reconfigure, a decisive feature in a society characterized by constant change and organizational fluidity.

5. Convergence of specific technologies into a highly integrated system. One element in the technological system cannot exist without the other, and the borders among specific devices are diminishing. Micro-electronics, telecommunications, opto-electronics, and computers are all now integrated into information systems. Some business distinction between chip makers and software writers will exist for sometime, but not for long.

The five features of information paradigm are still useful to explain what is going on now and predict what will come next. Especially, the idea of convergence of specific technologies is informative to me, making me think of the world in which borders are diminishing. The border is fading out in every field, not limited to the specific information devices.

Manuel Castells, “The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Volume I (Information Age Series)” 2nd Edition with a New Preface, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009/8/25

No comments: