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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
It is part of the conventional wisdom that the Internet affects all of our lives, is a key element in development of the 'new economy', and is becoming a major factor in political development. At the same time, how the Internet interacts with other influences and what social and technological trends are going on under the surface is not well understood. It is, however, so central to the development of our economy and society that it is essential to understand it.
Manuel Castells has produced a brilliant analysis of these issues. The book is written for both an academic and a general readership and meets the needs of both excellently, although some parts of it are reasonably hard work for the generalist. The reward, at least for this reader, is a far clearer understanding of the dynamics of development of our networked society and the issues that need to be confronted. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with economic or political development at any level from local community to global issues.
In style the book belongs to what I think of as the European tradition of clear and careful analysis and exposition, rather than the common American approach to business books of heavy reliance on drawing conclusions from examples derived from 'great name' companies. The result is a book that requires serious concentration in order to follow the complex, sometimes contradictory and paradoxical influences that the author elucidates for us.
It is directed primarily to the reader as citizen, rather than specifically aiming to help business people toward profitable application of Internet technology. In consequence, as well as providing a valuable overview of the dynamics of development of our national and global economy and society, it contains useful reflections on ethics and governance at the business level and also on the potential benefits and risks to the development of civil society nationally and internationally.
The author's starting point is that (the dot points following are slightly modified quotations excerpted from the 'Opening' to the book):
* The technology of the Internet provides the means of bringing together reliance on networks, dominant in private interaction, with the capacity for coordination of tasks and management of complexity, for which organizations have historically relied on hierarchical command and control.
* The logic, language and constraints of the Internet are not well understood beyond technological matters. Popular understanding is driven by myth, ideology and gossip more than by a realistic assessment of the issues.
* People, institutions, companies and society at large, transform technology by modifying and experimenting with it. The Internet transforms the way we communicate and do things and, by doing many things with the Internet, we transform the Internet itself.
* It follows that the Internet is a particularly malleable technology, susceptible of being deeply modified by its social practice, and leading to a whole range of potential social outcomes - to be discovered by experience, not proclaimed beforehand. Neither utopia nor dystopia, the Internet is the expression of ourselves - through a specific code of communication, which we must understand if we want to change our reality.
The first two chapters offer lessons from the history of the Internet and a description of the culture that gave rise to, and sustains it. Chapters 3 through 6 discuss e-business, the new economy, the concepts of virtual communities and networked society and key political issues of civil society, privacy and liberty. Chapter 7 is concerned with multimedia, while Chapters 8 and 9 are concerned with the geography of the Internet and the digital divide. There is an 8 page conclusion on the challenges of the network society, in which the mask of the analyst slips somewhat to reveal the passionate advocate of what Soros in The Crisis of Global Capitalism called the open society and to echo Laszlo's call in Macroshift for a 'fundamental revolution of consciousness'. Castells argues:
"Until we rebuild, both from the bottom up and from the top down, our institutions of governance and democracy, we will not be able to stand up to the fundamental challenges we are facing. And if democratic, political institutions cannot do it, no one else will or can."