Liveblogging the Innovation Reading Circle

I’m liveblogging this session on Manuel Castells’ book. Keep refreshing the page for updates 🙂

7:10pm Doing the introductions. Lots of people in design, technology companies and consultants in technology strategy and marketing.

7:15 Kathryn Corrick begins her analysis of the text. She begins with some background on the Network Society and Castells generally. Corrick says that Castells’ own history of underground political action influences his understanding of the machinations of power in a networked society.

7:20 Four kinds of power: network power, networking power, networked power and network-making power. Network-making power – the programmers and switchers – the ultimate power, even, and often especially driven by grassroots.

7:21 Castells says he is influenced by Anthony Giddens, but for Giddens power is enabling, where for Castells power is a dominating force.

7:23 Corrick believes that the is best summarised by considering the impact of the commons. She notes that there are only two references to mobile technology in the entire book and she feels that mobile technology is insufficiently considered as a vehicle for change.

7:24 Corrick says that Castells’ identification of Rupert Murdoch as a powerful force is not unique; several other media commentators are demonizing him. Yet as others have also noted, Murdoch is genrally a good businessman, and did not necessarily accrue power for his own benefit but for corporate gain.

7:26 Corrick is concerned that the chapter on neuroscience is too limited by a single theory.

7:28 Corrick notes that the recipes for achieving collaboration through grassroots communication that Castells cites in his conclusion is also the recipe for people who seek power.

7:30 Nico asks for all responses. Some feel that the text fills a gap in Castells’ own theories of power – which were absent from his earlier works.

7:32 Question is asked whether they feel if Castells’ views have changed over time. General feeling is that Castells was not previously more optimistic about the internet. Discussion turns to Castells’ prior work on researching cities and how modes of production are manifested in terms of geography. Castells moved to network theory as a means of articulating the interactions between players in terms of modes of production.

7:36 Growth of productivity depends on the efficient combination of the elements of production – this is a classic Marxist statement. It’s interesting to consider in terms of value of the networks and a connected society. There’s a lot of discussion about econonmic growth as an indicator of a healthy market. But perhaps we need to consider it in terms of a healthy society. Making more with less is the theory behind open source.

7:40 The technologies are providing the basis for cheaper, more efficient production. People are not consciously acting in a Marxist fashion; the open source movement and the makers of new technologies are naturally doing so, without necessarily having a political agenda.

7:43 Some of the discussion turns to the questions that Nico raised in preparation of this discussion. We focus on the question, ‘Why is this book important?’

7:45 Nico says his views have changed during the course of reading the book. He feels that Castells’ understanding of how networks work is not as sophisticated as he’d hoped. It’s a more political book than focused on innovation. Comment from the floor is that the strong political stance throughout sets up community versus corporate dichotomy, and this is not necessarily a conflict which exists. Corporates still haven’t found ways to make money from technology and communities don’t necessarily self-manage for either productivity gains or valuable outcomes.

7:47 Comment from the floor that Castells has a vision for the future. There is a big fish eats little fish reality in corporate entities. There’s a feeling that Castells is brave in moving away from traditional perspectives of power vested in authorities and hierarchires. He is positing that power has already moved on to media and technology channels and that new models of economic production will be based more on social contracts than on purely financial contracts.

7:53 Corrick notes that if you want to create a democracy mediated by technology, you cannot even do so in the UK where there is strong technology adoption. There are claims made that globalisation of communications is occurring but messages are still dominated by the few rather than many.

7:55 Networked power is power vested in the creation of communities, regardless of technology access and literacy. But if there isn’t observable effects then the value of the connectivity shouldn’t be assumed.

8:00 Ridiculously easy connectivity can inspire creation of a context for communication (eg: Ning), so when the opportunities for creation of a context for communication is extremely easy then you can build it, and they will come.

8:05 When you think about value and utility you need to consider who the value is for – the users, the providers, the community, or ideas. The loss of the local in favour of the global is not necessarily a bad thing if global interests (eg: climate change) should take precedence.

8:07 Nico feels that while Castells is clear on the opportunities to transform society, he is not clear on what we transform into.

8:10 Lizzy Jackson notes that regulators are losing power because the switchers have so much power and control that even if we do collaboratively create or execute, then it is likely that the good ideas will be acquired or mimicked by the mainstream players.

8:15 More and more brands are using consumers to advocate their products and services. is this necessarily a bad thing?

8:17 There may well be a cynicism about new technology and how it is used to effect change. We are comfortable with old broadcasting technology so we understand what can be achieved through it, but we doubt the effectiveness of new technology as an instrument of power.

8:25 The question is whether the audience is any good at being an active 5th estate. Currently professional media isn’t necessarily doing a good job of facilitating quality (and in the case of major corporates, it isn’t economically viable from a business perspective), but grassroots isn’t necesaarily any better.

8:35 Interesting discussion about whether Castells is positive or negative about the future, as he doesn’t actually articulate a future, but rather explores possibilities.

Joanne’s question: does the Dunbar number matter here?

8:37 How do you value the network? Should it be measured in terms of pure utilitarian opportunities for income generation (ie: page impressions and advertising space) or through social capital? What’s the exchange rate between social capital and financial capital? Should reputation be regarded as a form of capital? Can network connections and productive communications be measured? Will this generate a form of power which will outstrip financial power?

8:44 The fantasy of freedom that the network brings is dangerous because there is not yet the sophistication among users to distinguish between the peer knowledge and branded messages.

8:46 Key insights: communities are not societies. A sophisticated communication society is one which moves beyond the information society and the networked society, and which is actively engaging in productive and collaborative outputs for the benefit of many (rather than few).

8:51 Wrapping up here and considering the final ideas…. Feeling that it is a good academic primer on communication theory. Sense is that we are at a loss at describing social realities. Very helpful to make sense of these technologies and people using them. Sense is that many of the mainstream commentators are too general in their approach, and often evangelising rather than questioning the network infrastructure. Castells fills a very important gap there.

9:04 Nico was interested in the political history of Castells set against what he perceives as the distance of politics in which the book operates. Nico is concerned that the transformational power of grassroots politics is a possibility, rather than clear outcome. Where there is no clear understanding of the influences in a power relationship, transformation tends not to happen. Populace has not been the instrument of conversion of ideas, but often follows mainstream and political adoption of ideas. Much of the traditional theories of leftist politics are apparent throughout. There is a sense that some of the neuroscience sections are a little disingenuous. But there is also some feeling that it can be interesting as a point of divergence for other discussions.

Okay thanks for watching. Great discussion and thanks to Nico for organising this event!

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