When studying a phenomenon like social media en social networks, it might be insightful to also look at what the role of society is. Sociologist Manuel Castells has written some highly regarded books on the subject of the network society. In his trilogy ‘The Information Age’, which he has written after a study of 25 years in total, Castells discusses the development of a new kind of society. One which has risen from the development of networks (pushed by ICT) and focuses on flows of information. He describes this era as informative capitalism, whereby the cumulation of knowledge can be seen as the most important source of productivity and characterizes a new economy as well as a new society.
The roots of the informative era can be found in the seventies. After a period of capitalistic crisis, a restructuring occurred of capitalistic entrepreneurship. Castells characterizes this as the ‘informational mode of development’. This new form of capitalism uses informational networks to handle business from factory to worldwide marketing.
The rise of the network society cannot be attributed to globalisation alone, but also to the changing organizational structures. Castells describes how hierarchies are being overthrown and how power is shifting to information workers who operate on networks, which he calls the ‘de-bureaucratisation of affairs’. The big organization isn’t sufficient by just itself. It must derive its power to those with access to the network of self-programmed, self-directed units based on decentralization, participation and coordination.
One of the social consequences of the network society is the dependency on the network. “If you’re not in the network, you will not be able to fully be part of the network society ‘. Mentioning the ‘Space of Flows’, Castells puts the emphasis on information flows within the network society. Disparate and distant places can be integrated into international networks. Those networks connect their most dynamic sectors together. Even though regions are important, Castells stresses the geographical discontinuity that breaks down established relationships. Cities are not places, but processes through which information flows. Large cities are the nodes in a network.
The works of Manuel Castells are very insightful, when dealing with a subject like social media en social networks. He describes the impact on both personal lifes as also for companies.