Blog 7 – Theories of Networks

The construct of a “public sphere” was presented by Habermas as the “nexus between public life and civil society,” whereby the sphere exists outside organized and institutional influence. Although disconnected from government or organized institutional influence, the public sphere is an integral component to a democratic society, whereby citizens can discuss, agree, or disagree with each other to illustrate their collective being, opinions, and ideals without influence from those that have been given the authority to govern. This process, though seemingly haphazard, is actually well organized, or needs to be well organized, in universally agreed upon terms that establish some type of platform for which these discussions can exist. In other words, debate needs to be freely accessible and organized in such a manner as to not oppress or limit anyone’s speech. Nevertheless, with the growth of public organizations rivaling those of organized government, Habermas worries that the public sphere of discourse is actually in decline, as these public organizations now harness and retain sufficient amounts of influence and power. In terms of what characteristics define the public sphere, there are, as those that came a long time before us, many purposely ambiguous and clear directives of free speech that, in some part, define the public sphere. In other words, the Constitution regards free speech likely in some way as a public sphere, whereby any speech can exist, be argued, and be freely expressed. Although this connection does not explicitly separate governmental control, it does in many ways limit governmental powers to limit speech of citizens and permits them the allowance therein.

Although the Constitution was written with no knowledge of or how our “network society” would evolve, it certainly has. That is, the network society now largely exists apart from face-to-face relationships and exists across both place and time, as they are now almost completely irrelevant (as Castells explained). In other words, online communication and social media allow us to transcend space and time because we can instantaneously connect with anyone at virtually any time across the globe. This has reshaped how we view the impact of social organizations, such as Facebook, political parties, conceptual movements that are important to people, and anyone that tends to favor or side with anyone else. The ease of connections has permitted the social organization to have much more influence in both positive and negative ways to how society “operates” as we know it. Barely a week goes by that we are not surprised at what is socially popular, has gained traction in the news, and what people are quickly becoming both experts at and very passionate about. This connectedness of the network society has come with enormous influential power, even reaching and influencing the highest components of organized government.

This has flipped the script completely in terms of how many have fought for a ‘public sphere’ to operate and exist outside the reach of governmental influence, as Habermas lamented, however, it has come with a surprising amount of power and influence that is shaping the landscape of our own society on a daily basis. Therefore, it is safe to say our society is becoming far more fluid, far more influenced by social movements that gain traction purely by ease of connection, and far more dramatic in how volatile things can get and in what time frame. Civil wars are often the culmination of decades of oppression that has gained steam and found a breaking point, as Castells explained, but what access to such information and connection has provided is a time shift. This time shift has enabled mini-civil wars to reach their boiling point much faster, which can be both gratifying and far less organized.

As can be expected, these rapid changes can have very dramatic influence to what we often rely upon in terms of socialized or organized functions like education and health care. Speaking towards education, we consistently see the institution itself flexing, bending, and being shaped by popularized movements that have provided ample progress to issues haunting education over the past thirty years, like equality, teacher pay, and the conditions of our schools. Despite these obvious goods, there also comes some things that tend to be more problematic, like keeping the collective voice well understood or standardized and keeping the organization in front of movements that move at the speed of light. For example, having access to bathrooms that relate one way or another to your gender/sex. When this first became a huge issue in social media and then the news, followed by ample social movements and organizational opinions, school systems had little time to collectively determine their route, opinion themselves, and their directives. Without time to become unified with a route forward they were marked as the problem themselves. Therefore, the speed at which the network society moves can be problematic, yet actually have fairly good intentions.

I try to be a fairly pragmatic person that looks towards making things better and that the future will likely be much better than what we have today. However, it is difficult to grasp our digital future as a society. It is far too volatile and variable to see very clearly. I do, however, believe it is our nature to seek the better, a society that is better today than yesterday, and to make things as good as we can. Therefore, I believe the future is promising, will help more tomorrow than today, and eventually enable more better to happen to all.

This is fascinating:

In short, it is a research overview of how social movement emerge through 4 stages: emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline.

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