Conversation with Manuel Castells

Link here.

Castells Professor of Sociology at Cal Berkeley is one of the fathers (and likely best theorist) of network society.

Network society rather than post-industrial or informational economy is the best descriptor of the culture surrounding the tech-enabled 21st century system. [I’ve been reading Castells for work on church building in light of his views on network-ization].

The network society for Castells is not simply social networks (which have always existed from clans on) but social networks built around digitized information and ultra-fast processing capacity.

The interview is worth a read. After I finish my final papers this week I hope to get his books out of the library (3 vol trilogy on network and identity).

In the meantime, this quotation (from this interview also worth the read):

MC: The glut-of-information idea is simply a primitive, misleading, cheap shot of neo-Luddites. There can never be enough information. We ignore so many important things. And on a planet largely illiterate, and ignorant (including widespread ignorance in a large segment of the American people – for instance, who knows what DNA does?), to speak of information glut is simply an insult to intelligence. The issue is the relevance of information for each one of us, how to find it, how to process it, how to understand it. For this we need more information technology, not less. We need much better browsers, we need more sophisticated design of web sites, we need user-friendly, mobile devices. We need a quantum leap in information/communication technologies, information storage/retrieval systems, and education systems. The technology part of this is coming fast. The educational part, which is essential, is lagging way behind.

As is clear from his descriptions of identity, he understands deeply that the technological mainframe is empty of consciousness (“the message is lagging behind the medium” as he says). He refers to this as instrumentality (technology/networks structurally) and meaning (culture, consciousness).

Moreover, he is deeply cognizant (as a sociologist) that all consciousness, all minds (as well as all brains) are embedded in social groupings, language, and culture.

The connection between information and consciousness is so crucial and one I would like to explore. Without exploring it this reality intrudes upon us:

The fruits of the technology revolution will never trickle down by themselves. The inherent logic of the system is exclusionary, and the gap is increasing. This is not an opinion; it’s an empirical observation. But this is not the fault of technology, it is the way we use it. Technologies are so powerful that they amplify social effects of our institutions. Democratic, egalitarian societies may do wonders with new information technology [e.g., Finland]. Unequal, undemocratic, exclusionary societies, on the contrary, will see the power of technology dramatically increase social exclusion. We need, more than ever, socially oriented government policies, and social responsibility for business and institutions, working together to reverse the trends toward an unsustainably unequal world beyond the wonderland of Silicon Valley. This is particularly true of Africa, a continent ravaged by AIDS, famine, atrocious and absurd civil wars, corrupt politicians, rapacious companies.

I saw Obama last night in the Compassion Forum answer a question from Jim Wallis (of Sojourners) about a goal to cut US poverty in half.  And Obama gave the clearest answer I’ve ever heard from a politician distinguishing between the needs of the middle class (renewed social compact) and the poor and how both are failing/struggling in many regards and both need to be addressed but in different ways.

The technology will do what it will do if we just simply run on their momentum.  It is humans who have to decide what/how is an equitable (not equal) access, return (in terms of taxation), and policy proposals.

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 11:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: