Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Castells and Dyson

Castells introduces the idea of a Network society, which is very much our reality today. The global economy transforms work into a “unit in real time on a planetary scale.” This is a big shift, even if we’ve been traded and exchanging globally for hundreds of years – not like this. As he notes, “labour tends to be local, capital is by and large globalized.” Thus labor is sought out where less capital can be spent. A big focus of this article is the exclusion of people from globalization – even as it connects the world, many are left out. What’s not valuable to it, is out. Calls it a Fourth World (Jack Kirby’s comics?) of exclusion – from Africa to the South Bronx.

He calls the linking structure of globalization “Network enterprise” cleverly different than a “network of enterprises.” It’s a specific set of linkages organized for a specific project that dissolves/reforms after project is complete… Transformation of power relationships between capital and labour in favour of capital. Again, capital flows where it can get labor cheapest, the flow of information and materials (air travel, etc.) make it unnecessary to centralize labor. People fall behind into inescapable “black holes” in the midst of others thriving like gangbusters. “The information Age does not have to be the age of stepped-up inequality, polarization and social exclusion. But for the moment it is.” I like this phrase – “Instead of a global village we are moving towards mass production of customized cottages.” We’re uniform in our individuality. He calls it “culture of real virtuality.”

The media plays an important role in politics and behavior of public – it simplifies messages, turns issues into soap operas, distracts from thinking about how our lives are being warped.

Information age ushering in new forms of time. We’ve moved from biological time to clock time in the industrial age. An aside on the time of industrial age from a past document of mine:

Even time got conscripted into the service of work and money, for “time is money” in today’s economy. People have observed the passage of time ever since they could pause and reflect on their environment and its seasonal changes. Within our own bodies we can detect the rhythm of our heartbeat, the alternation of our breath and in women, the menstrual cycle. The seasons, phases of the moon, and movements of the stars were all incorporated into early human calendars. Agriculture required a thorough knowledge of the seasons in order to plant and harvest at the proper time of year. The mechanical clock was first constructed in the eighth century in China to precisely calculate the actions of the emperor. Europeans later adopted this invention and perfected their own version, used at sea to calculated longitude. The mechanical clock made possible and then necessary the ability to mark off precise amounts of time that could not have been measured before. Time no longer needed to be thought of in terms of human responses or of the movement of the sun, but instead as the movement of a wheeled gear. Lewis Mumford states, “The automation of time, in the clock, is the pattern of all larger systems of automation.”[i] Newton conceived of the universe as a mechanical clockwork; ever since, human lives have been marked off and fit into the clicks of a ticking clock.

The clock became far more than just a useful tool, but a change in how humans interacted with the world. Things have to be done on time, not according to a human’s life and behavior, but of the arbitrary ratio of gears to one another. Mumford noted that “Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it.”[ii] He also stated the influence of the clock on the modern industrial age was more important than the steam engine because it was “not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.”[iii] People, conceived the mechanical clock to track the motions of their world. In turn, the clock gave rise to the idea of a mechanized society.

[i] Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, 286.
[ii] Arthur O. Lewis, Jr., ed., Of Men and Machines (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1963), 63.
[iii] Ibid., 60.

Castells suggests that today with the information age and network society we have timeless time, where the sequence of time is eliminated altogether. These redefinitions of time have a tremendous effect on us as a species – whose biology can’t keep up with what technology has wrought. Castells next moves to Space, and the Space of Flows. Even place is beginning to have a different meaning. In discussion group, Cindy talked about someone listening to Satellite radio while driving and hence unaware of a tornado bearing down. We lose our sense of place and I’d think a sense of community associated with it. Structured around networks our sense of community is fragile and unstable and constantly being reordered. We’ll return to this again, but Castells talks about globalization as switching on valuable people and territories, while devalued ones are switched off. The flow of wealth bypasses whatever it doesn’t need and thus even as it grows doesn’t benefit all, but a specific few.

All of this loss of time and place, speaks to loss of identity. Our cultural codes and communities are dismantled, thus meaning we either are out or we have to fight to preserve and reconstruct our identity…

Castells Information City

Internet is vehicle of new economy, just as electricity was vehicle – neither is the economy itself. Our new mobility (rapid air transit etc.) is part of this economy – linking digital and material.

3 features of new economy: Productivity – derived from application of knowledge and practice of innovation. 2) Competitiveness in global environment. We are in a globally interdependent system. As in previous article, idea of work today as a unit in real time on a planetary scale – this is new, even if trading around the world is old. It’s the “real time” that changes everything. Scary thought – we’ve created globalization but can’t control it. This is a big idea running throughout all these pieces. The systems we’ve put in place, the ideas of them, take off and we fit into them or try to. But it’s more than a runaway train, it’s a runaway train picking up steam, reinventing itself to be bigger and faster. Let’s come to the 3rd feature – Networking – assembling resources in a very flexible, adaptable way around projects – which are then done and network is dissolved to be reformed around another project. Can’t network? Can’t survive. Another scary sentence – “the only thing that counts, ultimately, is what this global financial market thinks of you.” If the runaway train wants to pick you up, it will, or it will run you down…

Information turbulences – a lovely phrase. The complexity of the systems means that small factors, moods almost, can swing and bring down the value of something. Nokia example – of company doing well but a little tremor of fear about it, and bam – trouble for the company. And it’s near instantaneous.

Emphasis on “products” – as result of innovation. None of this speaks to ability for people to live better – this seems the failure of what we’ve created and of the analysis of futurists.

Vertical organization giving way to territorially based networks – example of Boston and Silicon Valley.

Key idea: The social fabric of society is being transformed into networks, which is good for the individuals who feel great, but it’s not so good for those who cannot afford being individuals.
True – those who can game the system, play it well, can and do thrive. Others drop off the map – out of network. “The digital divide is a cultural and educational divide.” Absolutely.

Coming to cities as it’s the best environment to network to connect to others with ideas. Here we are in New York. In part, this is why I left Detroit – desire to see what other people are doing, and perhaps more cynically, this is where capital flow is. I might have the greatest idea in the world, but West of the Hudson – who’s going to plug me into the flow? It’s not that people are necessarily smarter here, but the flow IS here and that matters.

Concerning this geographical importance of cities, even when we could be decentralizing, speaks to Richard Florida’s “Rise of the Creative Class” and “cool cities” movements around the country.
Castells points out how social, educational, and health services are underdeveloped technological – points out where are emphasis is – on making products, not making life better. The launch of the new IPod merits more than a better classroom…

“A society of individualism is a society which is extraordinarily dynamic, but at the same time a society of potential isolation in terms of cultural meaning that could be shared by society.” We have shared meaning, but not shared influence or power. Again, we’re leaving people farther out.
I like this: local governments are better placed than national governments to rebuild trust and legitimacy between people and their governments.
Nation article from 2004, talked about how the key to change was at the local level, local governments. Again, think global, act local. Speaks to our discussion group conversation about media monopolies and the necessity of local media. It was not our initial intent, but it became more of our mission at to be a voice for our community in the face of global attempts to marginalize what was happening right here. We need more voices like this….

Dyson, et al.

A lot of “shoulds,” and predictions that haven’t borne fruit. But plenty of ideas to chew on I suppose.

“The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter.” This is huge. True. Then, cyberspace “is more ecosystem than machine.” True too – it’s not simply a tool, it’s a paradigm changing way of connecting one another. Not simply faster, but squashing time and space as Castells suggested.

Are information technologies really driving costs down toward zero? I suppose, but maybe quality of products is heading towards zero too…. I do see how this is all leading to decentralization of governments, etc. But perhaps there is a need to see them grow stronger, as a means of protecting people from dehumanization of globalization….

Dynamic competition vs. static. Static is making things cheaper, dynamic is making something novel. Again though, this is all about viewing things as products, not about life…

Do we celebrate individuality over conformity, reward achievement over consensus? Yes and no. We make idols of some, but refuse to value individuality of others less in the spotlight. If we can truly listen to the voices of all around us, praise their individuality, that changes things. “We all have a voice, something to offer….” I don’t hear that sort of thing often.

Is this really the end of an old civilization and start of a new? Or just another wave of change that’s nothing like our biology, that we bend and twist to fit into? Again, will governments be smaller? Not so sure – may need them ever more as protectors, regulators.

Tying all of these articles together – individualism in the face of the collective. No doubt we are being networked closer together as a result of our technology. But perhaps we have the choice to say what we value and operate from that place first, rather than the onslaught of technology. The network will keep growing and it’s up to us, as individuals collectively to define what its values are.

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