Definition of Network Society
Still being defined, the Network Society is characterized (based on an interpretation of the concept’s author, Manuel Castells) by a sociability founded on a virtual dimension, which has been made possible and driven by the new technologies, transcending time and space (Castells, 2002). It is possible today to assume that network socialization is the correct term to define many of the social interactions that take place in the western world and other developed countries, since the advent of the Internet.
The Network Society, based on a digital infrastructure, is bound to our daily lives and our interactions with the world. We read newspapers on the Internet (being able to interact and comment on the news), communicate through the social media, research information, share knowledge, and anything taking place in any part of the world can be reported immediately in real time. Through these routines and habits we are socializing with people that we may or may not know personally, sometimes without even noticing it.
Thus we can therefore say that the Network Society unveils a different social experience, taking advantage of the communication potential that the Internet (or, in other words, the possibility of permanent Connectivity through it) offers to the sharing of feelings, ideas, knowledge, information and concepts, among others, with the main advantage being the decrease of distance and time, making the world smaller and reachable with a simple “click”.
In a networked society, it is increasingly more unusual to act alone: in any area and anywhere in the world we can collaborate on projects, ideas or comments. According to Levy, “The researchers and students from around the world exchange ideas, articles, pictures, experiences or observations in electronic conferences organized according to specific interests” (Levy, 1999, p.29). The world is increasingly interconnected and collaborative. People are working together without necessarily being together.
As for Johnson, he opposes an aspect of the thought about technology and culture that we are used to having when he says “There’s a funny thing about the fusion of technology and culture. She was part of the human experience since the first cave painter, but we have had great difficulty to see it until now “(Johnson, 2001, p.11). It is worthwhile to emphasize that we are talking about a Network Society and not about a new society linked to technology, since our society has always been immersed in technology, be it a stone or the silicon.
Many are the synonyms (or concepts) that are confused with and assigned to the Network Society, including:
- Information Society: “The Information Society is a concept used to describe a society and an economy that makes the best use of Information Technology and Communication in the sense of dealing with information, and that makes this a central element of all human activity (Castells, 2001). “(Borges, 2004, p.2).
“The information society is a society that is currently building up, in which technologies for storing and transmitting data and information at low cost are widely used.” (Meirinhos, 2000, p.2).
- Knowledge society: “Since Knowledge is largely the result of collective sharing meanings, it is necessarily constructed in society, promoting values such as cooperation, sharing and interaction.” (Borges, 2004, p.3).
On the other hand, the knowledge society is also where the possession of knowledge takes such a dimension and relevance that it determines performances in all other areas, raising conflicts that lead to the need of creating agreements and legislation to protect intellectual property rights (Tedesco, 1999).
“The striking feature of these societies is that the theoretical knowledge and knowledge-based services become the core components of any economic activity.” (EULAKS, s/d).
- Information and Knowledge Society: on the relationship between Information Society and Knowledge Society, “… deputy director general of UNESCO for Communication and Information Abdul Waheed Khan states: Information Society is the brick used to build the Knowledge Societies building. “(EULAKS, s/d).
Despite these convergences, Manuel Castells’s disagreement must be mentioned: “The emerging society has often been characterized as the information society or knowledge society. I do not agree with this terminology. Not because knowledge and information are not central in our society. But because they were always central, in all historically known societies. What is new is that they are based on microelectronics, through technological networks that provide new capabilities to an old form of social organization: networks.” (M. Castells, G. Cardoso, 2005, p.17).
The Network Society is an entity that transcends and traverses any of the categorizations assigned to the Information Society, Knowledge Society or Information and Knowledge Society.
Individuals, by organizing themselves into more or less hierarchical groups, establish a set of relations, forming networks of varying complexity. In the Network Society we can find a set of connected elements, which have been acquiring a dimension that goes beyond the conventional physical space, thus leading to the need of introducing a new concept of space – the virtual space or cyberspace. Physical boundaries or barriers are no longer a decisive factor in the spread of events, news, customs, habits, leading to the creation of what Marshall McLuhan dubbed as a village at a global scale.
This gave start to a number of changes taking place at a very fast speed compared to past periods of our history, rendering a sense of insecurity/fear/exclusion into different elements of society, which cuts across all organizations (from the State to the Family). It can only be overcome if, among others aspects, individuals have the right tools and resources to allow the inclusion of all those who don’t have them.
Considered as the higher stage of human development, understanding the Network Society while a particular type of social structure, leaves open “the evaluative judgment of the significance of the network society for the welfare of humanity.” (M. Castells, G. Cardoso, 2005, p.18).
The network society requires from human beings a brand new way of behaving and facing society. For instance,the crisis of patriarchy in traditional families requires radical changes in the educational system, but also in the content and organization of the learning process. Companies that are not able to deal with this and other aspects will face major economic and social problems in a world dipped in a process of structural change.
The Network Society can then be seen as a “social web” that will multiply and densify through complex and diffuse interactions, in a world where the boundaries between interior and exterior vanish and the private and public spaces are overlapping.
In this sense, the Network Society becomes more inaccessible and difficult to observe, carrying within a mix of instability, uncertainty and disorientation. Hence the urgency (in a contradictory but also so human manner) of new appropriations and delimitations such as, for example, the “reframing” of the individual (namely in cybercommunities), through the revision of identities, the review of their roots, the reconstruction of culture (cyberculture), the Netiquette (communication and relationship ethics on the Internet), among others.
In short, it may be said that the Network Society, made of an awkward inevitability and irreversability, is marked by the coexistence, overlapping and connection between fundamental binomials that affect and are recognizable in all of its various dimensions (social, political, financial, geographical, …) and fields (Education, Science, Communication …). These binomials, which are transverse, can be grouped as:
- Decentralization vs. Centering (which, in turn, can be particularized into other binomials such as Horizontality vs. Verticality, Hierarchy vs. Distribution);
- Global vs. Local (in a dynamic that is transposed into such binomials as Individual vs. Group, Active vs. Passive, Aperture vs. Closing, Inclusion vs. Exclusion);
- Virtual vs. Physical (which redefines the notions of Time and Space, themselves composed of binomials such as Flexible vs. Inflexible or Instantaneous vs. Deferred);
- Public vs Private (related to the binomial Connectivity vs. Isolation and also with the notions of Space and Time)
- Technology vs Humanization (in a constant and symbiotic flow).
These binomials, rather than antagonistic, create synergies through complex interactions (among themselves and with each other) made possible by the absence of borders in cyberspace. We must then abandon the notion that these are opposing concepts, to reconfigure the way which Man defines itself and its social relations.
Opposites give rise to notions (and realities) as Rhizome and Connectivity, justifying the fact that this society made possible (but not limited to) by the emergence and spread of microelectronics has been coined as the Network Society.
- Borges, L. (Novembro de 2004). Sociedade da Informação. Porto: Universidade Fernando Pessoa. Retrieved from:http://www2.ufp.pt/~lmbg/reserva/lbg_socinformacao04.pdf
- Castells, M. (2002). A Sociedade em Rede. A Era da Informação: Economia, Sociedade e Cultura – Volume I. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
- Castells, M.,Cardoso, G. (2005). A Sociedade em Rede: Do Conhecimento à Acção Política. Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda. Retrieved from: http://www.cies.iscte.pt/destaques/documents/Sociedade_em_Rede_CC.pdf
- EULAKS. (s.d.). Sociedade da Informação versus Sociedade do Conhecimento. Retrieved from:http://www.eulaks.eu/concept.html?_lang=pt
- Johnson,S. (2001). Cultura da Interface – Como o computador transforma nossa maneira de criar e comunicar. Rio de Janeiro: Zarzar Editora
- Lévy,P. (1999). Cibercultura. São Paulo: Editora 34
- Meirinhos, M. (2000). A Escola Perante os Desafios da Sociedade de Informação, Encontro As Novas Tecnologias e a Educação – Instituto Politécnico de Bragança
- Tedesco, J. C. (1999). O Novo Pacto Educativo: Educação, competitividade e cidadania na sociedade moderna. Porto: Fundação Manuel Leão