Saturday, May 06, 2006

Information capitalism

I'm thinking about Marx and I am also thinking about a book i read a while back called Linked: How everything is connected to everything else and what it means, by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.

Barabasi says that - scientifically speaking - everything we thought we knew about networks is wrong.

How do we know? The internet is the first real man-made network that functions like an organic one. It's possible to study it because every aspect of it can be quantified and measured, and all its functions are known. Exploration and analysis of the Internet has overturned many network theories of which, admittedly, I knew nothing.

Barabasi's writing style is highly entertaining and readable, and the story fascinating.The book ranges from six degrees of separation to Hollywood to cellular dynamics and why we haven't cured cancer yet. It talks about the long tail, the 80/20 rule, social networking and many other topics of interest for the Wannabe 2.0 crowd.

But let's get deeper - into the areas of the social sciences that - for complex reasons - have developed a strange amnesia about the functioning of capitalism. I want to suggest that if one examines the wider panorama - of which mainstream sociology and its interface with cultural
and developmental studies is but a small part - it is not difficult to locate works on ICTs that have escaped this amnesia and are thus more likely to be of an enduring value in sustaining the sociological imagination in the Information Age.

In particular, the emerging 'spatial turn' in the social sciences has the potential to offer materialist, empirically grounded and theoretically engaging analytic resources that should appeal to critically orientated sociologists with an interest in ICTs in an age of informational capitalism.

If we focus on the impact that social media is having at the interface of sociology and social geography - especially, work in the area of contemporary 'Urban Studies' – I think we begin to find analyses of social technology better able to provide the sorts of sociostructural and contexts that for the normal Joe - actually make sense.

Corporate blogging is one example but the the base improvement is in decision-making transparency or discriminations made on the pemise of social norms (in the case, the social norms of the workplace).

The 'cultural turn' that preceded much of the contemporary interest in social media or in general, ICTs, led to a widespread antipathy towards the funding of small technology projects in the developing world. Look at the Middle East and Korea for polar examples.

Local projects is but a small part - it is not difficult to locate works on ICTs that have escaped this amnesia and are thus more likely to be of an enduring value in sustaining the sociological imagination in the Information Age.

In particular, the emerging 'spatial turn' in the social sciences has the potential to offer materialist, empirically grounded and theoretically engaging analytic resources that should appeal to critical nay-sayers with an interest in ICTs in an age of informational capitalism.

The problem and concern now are that cultural analyses derived more from the humanities than the focus on issues of the body, the virtual, connected identity, AI and so on.

What had happened was a failure on the part of western society to respond to the demise of Marxist social theory and the emergence of a virulent informational capitalism.

What might a critical economic model look like in today's informationalized, yet ever more capitalist, world order?

If Marxism served pre-eminently as an arme de critique in a previous class-structured, nationally bounded manufacturing society, then what might instead replace Marxism in an era where axial principles of class, nation and industry have ostensibly yielded those of virtual identities, a global re-ordering and the production, circulation and consumption of communications?

Hmmm


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