What Value – The Information Society?
This week most of my energy vis-à-vis new learning has been consumed with understanding the rudiments of wiki’s in general and our Wikipedia sandboxes in specific. This has been part of our exercises aimed at examining the information society in which we live. More about that experience in a minute.
I have also been reflecting further on Castells’ quote that I addressed in my last post: “…technology does not determine society: it is society.” He further states that technology has shaped our social order based on the “needs, values and interests of the people who use the technology” (Castells, 2005, p. 3). I felt that perhaps this sentiment reduced us to the sum of our technological development, made the human element less important, and drew some socio-economic inferences about global access to technology. At first blush, this felt like a negative to me.
However, over the course of the last week or so, I have been reading some of the blog posts of my classroom cohort, many of whom are viewing this statement through a very different lens. Take a look at the sentiment expressed by johnnygraham111: “This course. I finally took the time to stop and think about how incredible it is to be able to learn together in an engaging environment where none of us really know each other”. How true – and this digital connectivity that did not exist as little as 10-15 years ago is something that should be celebrated. The network society has gifted us with the possibility of virtual scholarship, and that has had a very personal benefit for me given the totality of my online degree completion. In fact, Robins and Webster (2002) argue that the virtual academe might be a democratizing influence as higher education becomes more accessible to the mass public.
@davcity is embracing the network society with the view to finding employment; “Obtaining a job now depends on networking and whom you have in your network on LinkedIn or other networking sites.” As Castells asserts, “digital networking technologies are the backbone of the network society” (2005, p. 4). For new job seekers, perhaps they are a mandatory tool. I have a job – but what if I didn’t? The network society would likely be my first tool of choice.
So, back to Wikipedia. On a purely technical level, this week has been a bit humbling as I struggled to manipulate the digital technology. It has not been an intuitive lesson – I needed cheat sheets and the written word as instructions, and some personal support from a colleague. Those of us engaged in academic study have been repeatedly cautioned to never use Wikipedia as a credible source, and I have religiously stuck to that mantra (the times that I took a peek at ideas and information as a thought starter, notwithstanding). But, I use Wikipedia for all kinds of other information on an almost daily basis. It astounds me the knowledge that I can obtain with the click of a key.
What has been really illuminating is my enhanced understanding of the role that Wikipedia plays in facilitating the network society. Here is what the site’s founder has written in his appeal for funding to maintain the integrity of the site as a resource; “It is a humanitarian project to bring a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet.” Overstated – maybe, but as a vision, how inclusive. Wikipedia is maintained by thousands and thousands of volunteer authors and editors and we can now number ourselves among them. In essence, Wikipedia is an information repository by the people, for the people. As Castells noted, social change is dependent on “where, by whom, for whom, and for what communication and information technologies are used” (2005, p.6). Does it get more democratic than Wikipedia?
So, the network society examined through the lens of others, as a facilitator of information tools like Wikipedia or as a vehicle for virtual education might just foster the “cultural and organizational conditions for creativity on which innovation, thus, power, wealth, and culture, are based” (Castells, 2005, p. 21).