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.

Too Much Information?

Social critic Neil Postman contrasts the worlds of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He writes:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy (An advanced, consumerist form of tetherball played by the children in Aldous Huxley's novel).

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

In our class discussion we have mentioned the increasing amount of information available for us to "consume." Does the Networked society bring us closer to Huxley's fear that we would have so much information as to be reduced to passivity and irrelevance, or does it walk the fine line between these two contrasting, futuristic outlooks?

Post-Modernity and the Networked Society

In the 2nd half of our Castells reading there was a ton of material that was presented.  Castells brings up the concept of real virtuality which he defines as "a system in which reality itself (people’s material/symbolic existence) is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the screen though which experience is communicated, but they become the experience" (404).  This concept, in addition to the ideas of space of flows and timeless time, makes for  a number of questions.

I guess my question for class dips into my book review's concepts.  Streeter argues that "technologies are socially constructed" meaning that technology (including the networked society) are the direct result of deeply embedded social processes.  While one cannot argue with Castells's well supported contention that our networked society is shaped by the space of flows and the resulting in timeless time (495), how would Castells respond to the claim that the networked society is simply a result of our society and culture reacting to post-modernity?  Castells argues that "the emergence of a new electronic communication system is characterized by its global reach...[and] through this new communication system, mediated by social interests, governmental policies, and business strategies, a new culture is emerging: the culture of real virtuality.  (358)

Essentially, it is possible that the networked society has, and will have no, discernible effect on humanity; but rather that this "real virtuality" already existed and how we have chosen to utilize this new electronic communication has created the support, and effect, of which Castells speaks?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cutting Down to Size...

Literally.  With the current technological advancements in image/video editing, advertisers are finding more extreme ways to "cut women down to size." As a result, unrealistic images of women with unattainable characteristics are surfacing in mass medium channels across the globe. Our society's fascination with beauty is transferred from a flawless doll (Barbie) to the pages of fashion magazines.  Society's expectations physical beauty become even more apparent as young girls develop into young women. Our world is surrounded by the thought of image and unfortunately the media often play a large hand in pushing these unrealistic ideals into society's expectations of women.

The following ads were released by designer Ralph Lauren.  The images were quickly pulled from the media after mass outrage over the models' incredible distorted bodies. The model in the top photo, Fillipa Hamilton, claimed she was fired shortly after the ad ran for being too fat (she was a size 4).  See Video:

I thought you might also find the following interesting:

Question for class discussion

With the new economy being information based as opposed to production based, do you think that this will widen or lessen the chasm between the haves (the Western world) and the have-nots (everyone else)?