I am going to use this blog to explore the theme of transitions in relation to the concept of Network Society.
The proliferation of speculative fiction that attempts to predict the future reflects the hope that society will progress through innovation and technological advancement. This march towards an unknown future is facilitated by the adaptive nature of the complex networks that provide an infrastructure to most of our daily activities and enable the exchange of information in increasingly sophisticated ways. Castells has stated that the network is particularly successful as an organisational model, as demonstrated by the growth of the Internet as a global communications medium (2001, p.2).
Castells identifies the limitations of our attempts to predict the future impact of the Internet due to the rapid pace of change. He states that these predictions have sometimes “been in the form of futurological prophecies based on the simplistic extrapolation of social consequences from the technological wonders emerging from science and engineering” (2001, p.3), seen below in several examples from media in the 1960s that looked optimistically to the capabilities of computing technology and the possibilities of the exploration of outer space:
The light entertainment of Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Jetsons…
…and the retro-futuristic fashion styles of the so-called ‘Space Age’:
Castells points out that at other times, “it appears as critical dystopias, denouncing the supposedly alienating effects of the Internet before even practicing it” (2001, p.3). This can be seen in films like The Matrix, in which the protagonist is alienated from society due to being perpetually plugged in to computing technologies.
The expected transitions to a society in which pervasive networks like the Internet have a significant impact on issues such as transport, communication and control by the state through surveillance, will continue to be explored through speculative fiction. The unknown factor inherent in these predictions is to see which of these will be akin to self-fulfilling prophecies, and which ideas will be relegated to the annals of popular culture nostalgia.
Castells, M. (2001) The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society. Oxford University Press: Oxford.