Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Network Society

I tried to keep this short, but apparently I didn’t try hard enough…

Informationalism, Networks and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint, Manuel Castells

Castells hypothesizes that the inherent culture behind a networked society is based on the synergy from giving and receiving. He proposes that this culture is a culmination of the communication between all cultures in the world and points to emerging networks (as interacting cultures) as having a common desire to place value in sharing. Networks based on technology thrive when flexibility, scalability and survivability are given proper consideration but he rejects the idea that either social evolution or technology inevitable results in a networked society.

Castells proposes that three independent processes contributed to the rise of the network society: the cultural movement of the 60’s and 70’s, the revolution in communication technologies and the restructuring of industrialism. By enabling a more open platform for the exchange of human thought, innovation became a commodity that was funded heavily by venture capitalists as new business models emerged.

Institutional Models of the Network Society: Silicon Valley and Finland, Pekka Himanen and Manuel Castells

The vastly different social and institutional models of Silicon Valley and Finland are examined to provide insight into the growth of each network society. Himanen and Castells compare and contrast the “unfettered capitalism” atmosphere historically present in Silicon Valley with the “comprehensive welfare state” that exists in Finland. The article addresses the expansive technology industry in Silicon Valley, but focuses primarily on Nokia in Finland. Citing a high tax rate, the chapter explains that although a high value is placed on innovation in Finland, entrepreneurship is rather hamstrung.

The flows of talent for the two areas are intrinsically different based on state controls, which the authors feel have a substantial impact on long term growth. Although private businesses and government are key actors for growth in both regions, fundamentally different approaches provide different atmospheres for innovation.

The Russian Network Society, Elena Vartanova

With a somewhat simple assessment, Vartanova looks at the concept of the network society after the collapse of the USSR and the following change in intellectual paradigms. Privatization, liberalization and decentralization spawned a new elite assembly in the form of young, rich urban dwellers that became the core of the network society. The transformation of the internet from an academic enterprise into a mainstream social device has been met with technical and social obstacles, while demand is increasing on par with the rest of the developed world. Vartanova does not address intellectual property rights in Russia, which many see as an obstacle to technological development.

The Internet in China, Jack Linchuan Qiu

Among other topics, Qiu provides an interesting perspective on the issue of internet censorship within China. The censorship effort and controls by the government generate profits, creates jobs, and allows international collaborators to work with China in a growing global industry. Qui’s viewpoint helps to explain why censorship continues to expand, even with growing international criticism.

Reflexive Internet? The British Experience of New Electronic Technologies, Steve Woolgar

Wooglar’s self proclaimed “more epistemological than sociological” discussion regarding Britain’s overall view of technological acceptance outlines a set of rules developed by the Virtual Society? program. The rules address issues such as new technology uptake, social distribution of fear, virtual technologies as supplements for the real world and globalization. Overall, the studies point to a trend toward analytic skepticism on the part of British observers.

Why Information Should Influence Productivity, Marshall Van Alstyne and Nathaniel Bulkley

Alstyne and Bulkley propose a set of 12 hypotheses which aim to explain how the management of information influences white-collar productivity. The role of information as a tool for productivity is examined by comparing total input with output. The authors seemingly raise questions that may be explored in the future as new avenues of research into business practices intended to increased productivity.

Labor in the Network Society: Lessons from Silicon Valley, Chris Benner

Benner addresses the fundamental difference between work and employment within a flexible labor market. Intermediaries within the Silicon Valley labor market played a major role in the formation and outcome of the dot com environment. These “risky” labor markets, according to Benner, were a contributing factor on power relations with regard to their impact on career outcomes.

Time, Space and Technology in Financial Networks, Caitlin Zaloom

Zaloom’s informative chapter on financial networks examines the technological evolution of the Chicago Board of Trade from a trading pit based exchange to an electronic network. Prior to the modern transformation, the pit was a space with physical and social overlap. Relationships were formed with as a result of the constant social interaction between traders. The electronic network reshaped the physical and social spaces by favoring traders who seemed to thrive as isolated individuals. Technology not only altered the overall function of the trading floor, but redefined the ideal personality traits of successful traders.

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