Monday, April 11, 2011

Cultural groundings, networked society, locational specificity...and bears, oh my!

One of the conclusions that Castells's claims is that culture is defined by networks. He argues that, "infinite social distance is crated between this meta-network and most individuals, activities, and locales around the world. Not that people, locales, or activities disappear. But their structural meaning does, subsumed in the unseen logic of the meta-network where value is produced, cultural codes created, and power is decided" (p. 508). The implication of this has me reeling and left with a ton of questions. How would one delineate different cultural groups in such a society? Would the groups be organized around interest? If so, what would happen when a given social interest ceased to exist? Say, for example, that there was a culture that developed around the "Tarzanian" peace movement. The culture existed in the interactions of those involved by their personal interest and "connectivity" to the nodes of discussion and action for the Tarzanian peace movement. What would happen if peace fell over Tarzania and the need for such a culture disappeared?

I could wrap my head around this idea a lot easier until the extension of this line of argument comes into existence saying, "because of the convergence of historical evolution and technological change we have entered a purely cultural pattern of social interaction and social organization. This is why information is the key ingredient of our social organization and why flows of messages and images between networks constitute the basic thread of our social structure" (p. 508). Here the claim seems to be that social interaction and organization are the only thing that produces culture within a networked society. Not only is that a huge claim, but one that seems to have gaping chasms in between the logic. I find it hard to imagine a world in which people are not somehow socialized based on their locality. People learn from their parents and the people who surround them early in life, during the formative years, before the interact with the potential for networks that go beyond location. In that way, some of people's culture is still grounded in where they come from and grow up. I can imagine that later in life, they can be greatly influenced by the networked society that Castells points out, but to claim that information is the key ingredient to social structure feels a bit overstated. We are not ready to jack into the matrix and let our cultures be wholly consumed by information flow. I agree with a slightly less drastic claim, that we are moving toward a truly networked society in which information flow allows new cultural norms to be learned and practiced, but I do not agree that this transition has either occurred yet or subsumes traditional senses of location and development. Still, the many questions that I spawned above show the heuristic value in the claims being advanced. Fun stuff.

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