Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Questions about The Network Society

I am interested in hearing the reaction to Manuel Castells’ theory of network society. I find several troubling things about it:

1. Castells claims (page 5) electronic technology makes networks efficient. I wonder: efficient at what? I argue efficiency implies some positive result. People can communicate more with email and text messages in addition to non-electronic communication, but are they happier, wiser or wealthier for it?

2. Do geneticists, like Castells, link electronic communications and genetic engineering? I had never considered these as parallel developments (and I am still having trouble fitting them into the scope and aims of this text).

3. Does socialization (as Castells claims on page 30) happen online? With an idea of the use and content of the internet, this idea frightens me. I am relieved that studies find online social activity follows and complements offline social activity, leading me to argue that socialization occurs offline and that the rules and norms of interpersonal interaction are transferred, and adapted to, online activity.

On a different note, Keith Hampton argues that network society will not erase communities of shared place and I agree. Wisconsinite communities spring up in many other states; while we may not talk to neighbors, place still gives us a reason to treat total strangers as instant friends. I once had a friend start a conversation in a bar over a credit card – it was from a local credit union and we both knew immediately that the stranger next to us shared our home town. Not only can electronic technology strengthen ties to place, it can advertise that connection.

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