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The Network Theory: Timeless Time and Placeless Space

Written by: on November 1, 2016

“Why do I care?” When The Theoretical Meets The Practical

Anthony Elliot discusses various social theories in his book Contemporary Social Theory.  When thinking about social theories one could ask the question”Why do I care?”. Elliott provides a simple answer “The present for us is always filtered through certain social-theoretical assumptions, precepts and ideas—however basic or elementary—of the social realities all around us. Thus we cannot choose to live non-theoretically: social life, its regulations, orderings and structurings, is quite as much theoretical as practical” (Elliott,11). Our “social life” is shaped by the world we live in and how we engage in that world is based on how we view it. Social theories provide us with a different way to see the world and gain understanding as to how our connection as human beings is socially constructed. By no means will we fully agree with any one school of thought; however, if we look at them as puzzle pieces in a complex puzzle then we can piece them together and see a more interconnected social picture.

The NetManuel_Castellswork Theory [1]

One of the social theories that is posed in Elliot’s book is the Network theory. This theory is held by Dr. Manuel Castells, a sociologist and university professor. Castells work and research has been in the area of information society, networks, communication and globalization.  In 1996 Castells wrote a three part series  entitled  The Rise of the Network Society. In volume one ,The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture,  he explains how our society has changed as a result of the information age. He talks about how the Information Technology Revolution has paved the way for “networking logic” and its ability to transform the way in which we communicate and connect in the world.  “Castells argues that communication, computers and information technology are at the centre of global production networks” (Elliott,274).  “Networks”,in his theory, are made up of what he calls “nodes”. “Nodes are thus shorthand for the uprooting of human action and social relations from local contexts and cultures when organizations become interwoven with information and communication technologies” (Elliott, 276).  Because of the innovation of information and communication technologies, these networks are able to spread throughout the world and there by allowing for decentralization of locations. “Networks” enable fluid processes and structures.  For example, businesses no longer have to have linear relationships in there business processes like in the Industrial Revolution.  The IT Revolution allows for real time connection and enables fluidity of  time and space.  Therefore, removing the rigidness of linear thinking about time and space creating what he refers to as a “timeless time and placeless space” (Elliot,275). The global financial market has transformed greatly since the industrial revolution.  With technological advancement it has become a virtual market where multiple transactions can take place within a matter of seconds. Financial information is now instant and decisions can be made quickly on whether to buy or sell.

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The Machines Are Taking Over The World [2]

It is true that from the use of  hieroglyphics to mobile phones humans have quickly adapted to changes in technology and adopted new ways to communicate. Despite the connectivity of the world through these networks, Castells sees the global network as a possible societal threat as the financial system becomes more automated. “Global networks for him are now a medium of domination, and thus threaten to uproot the world from human control. ‘Humankind’s nightmare of seeing our machines taking control of our world,’ writes Castells (2000:56), ‘seems on the edge of becoming reality—not in the form of robots that eliminate jobs or government computers that police our lives, but as an electronically based system of financial transactions” (Elliott, 279).

 

Connecting The World [3]

Mortimer Adler wrote “Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it“[4].  In light of that, I am aware that there are many critics of Castells theory. I am not going to rehash all of them but I will provide my reflections on the practical application of his theory. Although, Elliott says that Castells’ Network theory is criticized for being exaggerated, I can see how Castells Network theory would apply in developed and highly technical societies. These societies have the technology and resources(nodes) to create the networks and benefit from the decentralization. Where this theory falls apart is in countries or areas where information technology is not available or accessible. In this case while communication and “networks” do exist  they are more linear  and are not driven by technological infrastructures and mediums.  Yes when he wrote this book back in 1996 who would have perceived how rapid the growth of technological advances would be 20 years later. The good news is that now these advances are helping to close that gap in third and fourth world countries. facebook-connectivity-labMark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, stated that in an “effort to connect the whole world …our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world” [5]. As a result, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is working to build  drones to provide internet to places where it does not currently exist. Imagine a world fully connected all across the globe. The world we live in is constantly evolving because of technology and soon we will be connected to the world in a way we have never been before. Leaders like Mark and his Connectivity Lab team truly embody the very principle of Ingenuity that Chris Lowney wrote about'”Leaders make themselves and others comfortable in a changing world. They eagerly explore new ideas, approaches, and cultures rather than shrink defensively from what lurks around life’s next corner. Anchored by nonnegotiable principles and values, they cultivate the “indifference” that allows them to adapt confidently “[6].

 

 

  1. “Manuel Castells.” Digital image. Buscia Biografias. Accessed November 1, 2016. http://www.buscabiografias.com/biografia/verDetalle/6488/Manuel Castells.
  2. Michael Marks, “Robots,” Digital image, One Man Creative Team, May 28, 2012, accessed November 1, 2016, https://onemancreativeteam.wordpress.com/tag/storyboard/
  3. Trewe, Marti. “Facebook Drone.” Digital image. The American Genius. March 28, 2014. Accessed November 1, 2016. https://theamericangenius.com/tech-news/facebook-wants-bring-internet-everywhere-drones-lasers/.
  4. Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and Van Doren Charles Lincoln. How to Read a Book. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Kindle. Location,262.
  5. Zuckerberg, Mark. Facebook (post), March 27, 2014. Accessed November 1, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101322049893211.
  6. Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-year-old Company That Changed the World (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003). Kindle. Location,242.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

11 responses to “The Network Theory: Timeless Time and Placeless Space”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Wow, Christal! You can say more in a small space than anyone I know!! I would just like to reflect on two things right now:
    “Imagine a world fully connected all across the globe.” Yes!! I am not one of those who are afraid of the “one world government and the mark of the beast” and all that. I am excited about the times we live in. Jesus told us He would come back when the Gospel was preached to the whole world. (Mt. 24:14) Anyway I have been to China and So. America and Europe and a few other places and I love people!! We really are more alike than different. It thrills me to be able to keep in touch with my Chinese friends.
    “Global networks for him are now a medium of domination, and thus threaten to uproot the world from human control.” I really liked your explanation and assessment. (Linear vs. horizontal.) However, I would really like to know whether or not you think that technology can control, in and of itself, or will there still be human agency? GIGO
    What might the limits be in your opinion? And more importantly, how can we make use of this to make the world a better place as Christians?

    • Thanks Mary! Here are my responses to your questions 🙂

      However, I would really like to know whether or not you think that technology can control, in and of itself, or will there still be human agency? What might the limits be in your opinion?

      I personally think automation has simplified the need for many manual processes that humans once controlled. Many companies today like IBM, GOOGLE, Amazon, etc. are researching technology around self sufficient human intelligent “robots” or machines. For example the IBM Watson or the Amazon Alexa is a voice powered command control like technology that uses natural language posed questions or commands for interaction with humans. You speak to her with simple command i.e. “Alexa what is the weather in Raleigh?” and within seconds she will respond or you can ask her to turn on the lights in a specific room or check updates in the news etc.

      have seen YouTube clips of other organizations working with both the technology developers and cognitive Psychologists to not just automate human behavior but create a machine that would be able to interpret feelings or other human patterns and respond to them. It is very interesting.

      For now I think human agency is key to how we interact with technology. I know the future is still unknown but new technological advances pave the way for innovation. Who knows what the future holds 🙂

      And more importantly, how can we make use of this to make the world a better place as Christians? Mary I think Jim’s post is a great example of how technology can make the world more connected and a better place. To go beyond that example I would say that technology has helped us be better stewards of our environment. We are able to reuse and recycle instead of just filling a landfill and have better ways of testing and preventing problems and issues that could negatively affect everyone.
      Furthermore technology has helped the medical industry tremendously and has allowed doctors to better assist others in third world countries with low cost medicine and needed surgical procedures that otherwise would not be possible.

      So in short I believe that when we as Christians work to take care of our environment, those who are sick, those who are systematically stricken by poverty, etc. then we are doing what Christ has commanded and therefore we are making the world a better place 🙂

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    It is interesting that Castells’ version of a machine apocalypse is more of a John Grisholm vision than a Robert Heinlein one.

    I recently heard about Google’s artificial intelligence research. The computer / smart phone / marketing world is extremely aggressive. I wonder if that might be the most likely source of our “terminators?”

    http://research.google.com/pubs/MachineIntelligence.html

    • Stu! Yes they have put a lot of money and resources behind understanding artificial intelligence and producing products that will have a huge influence in the world. I have always liked the “Open Source” culture of Google. They continue to share their knowledge with the world and allow for others to participate in what they are doing.

      It will be interesting to see what new products they create next based on the results of their iterative research.

  3. All I can say is, “Wow! You sure do know your IT stuff!” That was really interesting about Facebook and how they are getting drones to increase connectedness. Amazing how technology continues to evolve and adapt at light speeds. I don’t know how you can keep up with the rapid-fire changes. It was enjoyable to see how you interfaced the theories and comments from the book with current issues today. Well-done! ‘Course, I was already impressed with your IT knowledge and ability before I read this because you fixed my phone in London like a real boss. Now I’m in awe.

    • Thanks Jen! LOL about the phone. I totally forgot about that! Yes technology is growing rapidly. What excites me about the new advances is that there is a much stronger interweaving of technology and cognitive research. How does this shape how we think? Interact with others? What are the ways in which our human behavior is influenced by technology? Etc. In addition to those questions companies are looking to psychologist to help us understand pattern in human behavior that can help close the gaps between how I interact with technology on a daily basis. By this they are hoping to create technology that can understand how we think and behave so that it can respond more efficiently and effectively to our needs. I know the initial thought of that can be alarming but I think it is great in finding solutions to many challenging issues we have in our world today.

  4. Thanks for the deep dive here…. as you talk about Zuckerberg’s promise to bring the internet to the whole world, you say ‘Imagine a world fully connected across all the globe.’ – my first thought was that this is exactly what Castells is imagining when he talks about machines taking over the world!

    As the beloved children of a relational God, we all know the power and importance of relationship and connection, but those relationships and connections also come with increased vulnerability – I can’t truly be connected in relationship with you unless I am open to you and that openness creates space to be hurt or exploited.
    This is true in our relationships as people, but it is also true of any network – you know better than all of us that the only way to have information completely secure is to keep it on a machine that isn’t connected to any network at all…….
    There are almost unlimited possibilities that come from our increased contentedness, many of them are wonderful and exciting – but, undoubtedly, some of them are terrifying as well.
    Is the real criticism of Castells not that he exaggerates the dangers of our ‘networks’, but that he minimizes their value and potential?

    • Chip great reflections. Yes vulnerability is key no matter what type of relationship we engage in. Security can be a double edge sword. The question could be posed “who is truly in control of our information?” While we definitely want to be our own 1st line of defense, have we unknowingly somehow forfeited those rights? That is a question that is being asked every day from the Supreme Court to the tech giants to the lay individuals like us who simple want to engage in the world we live in using the tools and resources we have been given.

      I like your question/point about Castells minimizing the value and potential of networks. I have read other reviews on Castells and some would say that question may be hard to answer since he has such a broad definition of networks. It is as if he broadened it to try to emphasis its value and wide spread fluidity in time and space but yet it lessens its value when it can be applied to pretty much anything. If I had more time to dive into more of his work I would love to toy with that question on a deeper level.

      Another thought is that I do not believe he gives humans enough credit. It is like he is saying we are not intelligent enough to make provisions for our future as we continue to automate and innovate. I strongly disagree with that notion. Although technology is advancing at an aggressive pace, it is also being driven by us. While yes we can all agree that we are fallible beings, I do think we are capable of making sure our need for fluidity in how we interact will not be fundamentally detrimental to our society overall. Will it have its drawbacks absolutely, everything man made to some degree has or can be used for “evil” but I am optimistic that the “good” will out way the bad and we will reap great benefits from it.

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks Christal. Interesting point on networking and connectivity. Our mission was heavily involved assisting in the refugee migration into Europe, especially on the Greece/Macedonia border. When the refugees began to pour through this border by about 10,000 a day, our personnel realized that many of them had smart phones. We immediately set up wireless nodes where they could connect and get information about health, various forms, locations of help centers etc. It was a powerful tool to that helped thousands of people. Great post!

    • Yes Jim! Such a great practical example of how networks are formed and used to connect the world together. The great thing about this is that you all had the financial means and the resources to be able to quick respond to your observation using readily available nodes that could be optimized to provide support to those in needs. I would love to talk to you more about that! These are the types of “case studies” that I would like to capture in my research.

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