Information Societies

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Information Society Definitions

Here is the main argument advanced in The Rise of the Network Society. Castells says that the following text fairly summarizes his ideas.

Note: The word “network” refers to any kind of functioning network — financial, supplier, producer, coalition, etc. — as well as the underlying electronic communications networks.

The convergence of the digital revolution in information technology and the reinvention of capitalism, into a vehicle for decentralized organizations, has made possible the development of a global, informational economy.

The global economy is “an economy with the capacity to work as a unit in real time on a planetary scale.” The informational economy is one in which productivity and competitiveness depend on the capacity of firms to generate, process, and apply information. Although major corporate centers provide the human resources and facilities necessary to manage an increasingly complex financial network, it is in the information networks connecting such centers that the actual operations of capital and business take place. Capital flows become at the same time global and increasingly autonomous vis-à-vis the actual performances of economies. Financial markets, including currency markets, are interconnected throughout the world. Capital and information are truly global.

A new kind of organization, the Network Enterprise, has arisen to operate in the global economy. The Network Enterprise is a virtual organization composed of many different types of businesses and networks of firms, supported by information technology, doing business with each other. Each segment of the enterprise may have an autonomous set of goals; the performance of the given enterprise will depend on how well it is connected, and how well the goals of the network components are consistent with the goals of the network enterprise itself

Successful organizations in this economy are those which can generate and process knowledge efficiently; adapt to the variable geometry of the global economy; be flexible enough to change their methods rapidly as their goals change, under the impact of fast cultural, technological, institutional change (such as Microsoft’s about-face with respect to the Internet); and innovate, for innovation is the key competitive weapon.

The Network Enterprise has transformed work and employment. Labor has become a global resource. There are now two kinds of labor: generic labor, and informational producers. Labor unions have been weakened — they have new kinds of workers (women, youth, immigrants), new workplaces (offices, high-tech industry) and a new organizational environment (the network enterprise). Flextime and temporary employment have changed the workplace. However there is no real danger of mass unemployment. Massive incorporation of women to paid work has swelled the ranks of workers around the world.

The convergence of telephone, television, and computer communications has homogenized the way we see reality into a series of images. The electronic images become the real data of our experience in the culture of Real Virtuality, and the real Dan Quayle can pick a fight with the fictional Murphy Brown..

The Network Society has changed the nature of space, since movement within a network has replaced presence at any location as the locus of power. Society is structured around flows — of capital, information, technology, organizational interaction, sounds, symbols. This is the “space of flows.” “Places do not disappear, but their logic and their meaning become absorbed in the network.”

The nature of time has also been changed. Capital now operates round the clock. Events are speeded up, product life-cycles shortened, work time reduced, cultural rhythms interrupted, sequences shuffled.

Although networks — social, business, and otherwise — have been around before, the new information technology paradigm lets networking pervade the entire social structure. Technology allows us to manage much higher levels of complexity. The network itself becomes a social actor, and network flow takes precedence over activity at any node. Presence or absence in the network, and the activity of one network toward another, determine social domination, performance, and change.

The emergence of the Network Society has changed the way nation-states operate; they have become less sovereign and more like power brokers in a world of shifting alliances. They can no longer control their currencies or fulfill the promises of the welfare state. The enclosure of the democratic process in the media has caused a crisis of democracy by transforming citizen representation into image making.

Taken together, these changes offer a new paradigm for the Information Age. The world is being split between a techno-elite, globally connected, and communal identities, locally entrenched. Societies are increasingly structured upon the bipolar complementarity of the Net and the Self. “In a world of global flows of wealth, power, and images, the search for identity, collective or individual, ascribed or constructed, becomes the fundamental source of social meaning.”


Critics such as Frank Webster argue that these approaches stress discontinuity, as if contemporary society had nothing in common with society as it was 100 or 150 years ago. Such assumptions would have ideological character because they would fit with the view that we can do nothing about change and have to adopt to existing political realities (Webster 2002b: 267). These critics argue that contemporary society first of all is still a capitalist society oriented towards accumulating economic, political, and cultural capital. They acknowledge that information society theories stress some important new qualities of society (notably globalization and informatization), but charge that they fail to show that these are attributes of overall capitalist structures. Critics such as Webster insist on the continuities that characterise change. In this way Webster distinguishes between different epochs of capitalism: laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century, corporate capitalism in the 20th century, and informational capitalism for the 21st century (Webster 2006).

Hans Rosling Data Visualisation:

A brief Exercise before we watch: Look at the pairs of countries below and choose which countries in the pair has the highest child mortality rate:

  • Sri Lanka or Turkey
  • Poland or South Korea
  • Malaysia or Russia
  • Pakistan or Vietnam
  • Thailand or South Africa

One of the interesting things that this shows is that we all hold a particular view of the world in our heads and very often this view of the world is not based on firm evidence but on prejudice. What other views might we hold that are similarly based on prejudice.

Hans Rosling has given several very influential lectures at on the new ways in which complex data sets can be made understandable and can be interrogated without a degree in statistics. He has been engaged in taking publically funded data from the United Nations that began to be collected in the early 1960’s and has made it available on the web free and there for anyone to examine.

One of his early lectures at Ted demonstrates the software and its abilities.

The software has been developed over the last few years and Google has bought the software and is funding Rosling to develop it further. You can find some of these devlopments at

Marshal McLuhan

During this session I am suggesting four headings as questions to keep in mind:

  • Technology
  • Economic Models
  • Law
  • Culture (changes in or new behaviour)

Marshall McLuhan well known media commentator suggested a similar approach when addressing new media phenomena he called this approach Tetrad Questions. Here McLuhan’s original tetrad questions:

1) What does it extend?

2) What does it make obsolete? Amputate? Remove?

3) What new opportunities does it create?

4) When it overextends, what does it reverse to?

A link to the extended piece examining these questions in relation to web 2.0 can be found on Robin Goods Blog.

Access To Data : Campaigns and Activism

Data Visualisation Tools

Visualisation tools that you can use

Apart from Photoshop there are a number of ways that you can visualise. You can use screenshots of your online wanderings, you can take digital pictures, you can scan in drawings and images that you make or cut up from other sources.

You can begin to experiment with a host of fairly easy to use online tools for visualisation:


A guy called Chris Jordan is currently working with still images and trying to use stills to visualise aspects of consumption the work he is creating is very US centric, but could easily be applied to our own or others consumption habits.

He speaks about his work, again at a recent TED conference.

Lets have  a closer look at some of his images.

prison uniforms

Written by nicholasmid

January 28, 2009 at 10:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Information Societies

with one comment

Welcome to M36mc Information Societies. You will find the relevant module documents on the document page. At the moment there is an outine of the module and also the assignment.

Written by nicholasmid

January 26, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized