Networks, society, and communication technology

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INFORMATIONALISM,

NETWORKS,

AND

THE

NETWORK

SOCIETY: A THEORETICAL BLUEPRINT. BY MANUEL CASTELLS

Text published in

Manuel Castells (editor)

The network society: a cross-cultural perspective,

Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004

Reproduction without permission from the publisher and author is forbidden

NETWORKS, SOCIETY, AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY

A networksociety is a society whose social structure is made of networks powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies. By social structure I understand the organizational arrangements of humans in relationships of production, consumption, reproduction, experience, and power expressed in meaningful communication coded by culture. A network is a set of interconnected nodes. Anode is the point where the curve intersects itself. A network has no center, just nodes. Nodes may be of varying relevance for the network. Nodes increase their importance for the network by absorbing more relevant information, and processing it more efficiently. The relative importance of a node does not stem from its specific features but from its ability to contribute to the network´s goals.However, all nodes of a network are necessary for the network´s performance. When nodes become redundant or useless, networks tend to reconfigurate themselves, deleting some nodes, and adding new ones. Nodes only exist and function as components of networks. The network is the unit, not the node. “Communication networks are the patterns of contact that are created by flows of messages amongcommunicators through time and space” (Monge and Contractor, 2003: 39 ) So, networks process flows. Flows are streams of information between nodes circulating through the channels of connection between nodes. A network is defined by the program that assigns the network its goals and its rules of performance. This program is made of codes that include valuation of performance and criteria for success orfailure. To alter the outcomes of the network a new program (a set of compatible codes) will have to be installed in the network – from outside the network. Networks cooperate

or compete with each other. Cooperation is based on the ability to communicate between networks. This ability depends on the existence of codes of translation and inter-operability between the networks (protocols ofcommunication), and on access to connection points (switches). Competition depends on the ability to outperform other networks by superior efficiency in performance or in cooperation capacity. Competition may also take a destructive form by disrupting the switchers of competing networks and/or interfering with their communication protocols. Networks work on a binary logic: inclusion/exclusion. Within thenetwork, distance between nodes tends to zero, as networks follow the logic of small worlds´ properties: they are able to connect to the entire network and communicated networks from any node in the network, on the condition of sharing protocols of communication. Between nodes in the network and outside the network, distance is infinite, since there is no access unless the program of the networkis changed. Thus, networks are self-reconfigurable, complex structures of communication that ensure at the same time the unity of the purpose and the flexibility of its execution, by the capacity to adapt to the operating environment.

Networks, however, are not specific to 21st century societies or, for that matter, to human organization. Networks constitute the fundamental pattern of life, ofall kinds of life. As Fritjof Capra writes “the network is a pattern that is common to all life. Wherever we see life, we see networks” (2002: 9). In social life, social networks analysts have investigated, for a long time, the dynamic of social networks at the heart of social interaction and the production of meaning, leading to the formulation of a systematic theory of communication networks...
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