Habermas defines the public sphere as the nexus between public life and civil society. It is a neutral social space where private citizens can engage in debate with issues important in social life. It should also be separate from the highly political domains of state and economy, which allow for democratic freedoms such as expressing one’s personal opinions freely. In a democracy, public opinion is generated through the public sphere, which can support, challenge, or influence the operations of the state or governing body.
The main ideal behind the public sphere is that everyone should have equal access, autonomy, and opportunity to it. At first, this was not the case due to social norms such as inequalities of race and gender having a stake in the grounds of America. Fortunately, movements around the 1960s helped amend this negative social norm, thus making the public sphere true to its name and open for all. But its open doors allowed the once innocent ideal of media to grow roots.
Originally, media outlets such as newspapers were meant to communicate the debates in the public sphere with everyone. Fast-forwarding to today, media outlets have evolved into news channels (ex. Fox News) that have taken the form of highly political and biased channels. Instead of communicating the public sphere, they exert their influence on the public sphere, thus influencing public opinion and diminishing the true ideal of the public sphere.
Castells identifies the network society as a decentralized system that manages information within social networks using micro-electronic based technologies (ex. Internet, smartphones). The rise of the network society reshaping the public sphere thanks to societies no longer being attached to the same geographic space. Individuals can now communicate and exchange information with each other instantaneously through social platforms like Facebook, Skype, and Instant Messaging. Castells rolls these technological advancements into his network theory as ‘timeless time and the space that flows’ based on new forms of time and space that are not geographically bound.
These new forms of social organization can impact education in many ways. For one, college-level courses are now available online that transcend the limitations of a person dreaming of earning a degree who is working full time and does not have transportation to the college they wish to attend. Personally, this SNA course is a great example because of the video chatting and instant messaging capabilities of asking our professors for help. It is also changing the political landscape of government officials who wish to have better campaign results by being more engaged with the public. Health care has also moved towards this, as more services such as self-care are now available for one to check their blood pressure or sugar levels and upload them online for their physician to see. This beats the alternative of a disadvantaged individual trying to take work off to go to the hospital for something that can be checked at home. As for the economy, the stocks of different businesses are constantly being updated for the public to keep track of their investments.
Do I believe network society changes will improve the lives of people? I’m kind of on the fence on this… Castells does an excellent job defining the network society with such optimism, but there are many adversative variables. A agree with his opposers: Zygmut Bauman, who says there are numerous social and political complications for it to work, and Frank Webster, who says that there is a lack of importance of how individuals can reshape these networks. And the fact that network societies are not available to low-income countries is a definite con to the ideals of Habermas and Castells. I believe the public sphere and the network society need to be worked on to adjust for real-world situations and media outlet influence infecting the public sphere.