Habermas and Castells present two very interesting perspectives related to the field of social network analysis. According to Habermas, the public sphere is the connection between public life and civil society emerging as a neutral space when individuals can discuss their concerns freely and democratically to form public opinion (Habermas, 1974). Ideally, the public sphere is available to everyone and it is an integral part of democracy. Success is dependent upon rational-critical debate which is accessible by all members of the public. In the past, not all members of the public were a part of the public sphere. At many points in history, certain ethic, racial, and gender groups were not allowed to be a part of the public sphere.
Unfortunately, the public sphere is being threatened by the media. Through a shift in reporting, the media now has an influence over the discourse. Instead of the goal of the media being the dissemination of information, it is now focused on how much commerce it can generate through it’s reporting.
According to Castells, network society has led to decentralized networks that are highly efficient because they are better at managing complexity. Increases in technology have made networks increasingly available to more and more people. As a result, space and time are becoming more and more irrelevant. The sharing of information with in these decentralized networks is driven by micro-electronic devices such as smartphones.
These new forms of social organizations have and will have a major impact of the work around us. In the field of education, classes at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels are now offered online. I took a course last semester online where the professor lived in Oregon. Due to the time and geographic differences, we were able to schedule times that we could meet with her online to discuss any questions or concerns that we had during the course. I have even had professors who live here in the Richmond area who are willing to schedule video chats if you are not able to physically meet them during their on-campus office hours. Education has become more available to people no matter where they are. In the field of healthcare, technology has made it easy and convenient to speak with healthcare providers. I listen to a number of podcasts who are sponsored by a company called Talkspace. Talkspace is an online counseling and therapy company that allows individuals to talk with licensed counselors by phone, text, or video chats. Many primary care practices are shifting to online applications to communicate with patients. For example, instead of having to wait for my blood test results through the mail, I can now view them online once they have been processed. In addition, if I need to schedule an appointment or have a specific question for my doctor, I can just use the online application instead of calling the office. Finally, the new forms of social organizations have had an impact on the economy. In this Information Age, both public sector and private sector companies have moved jobs that were traditionally in the office to the field. More and more people are able to work remotely instead of working in an office. Teleworking costs less for the government and businesses. This means that companies and the government could hire more individuals because they would be saving money on rented office space, and each new individual who enters the work force adds to the economy.
I believe that these changes within the network are both good and bad. They are good in the sense that more people are able to obtain and disseminate information to a larger number of individuals. Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to benefit from this. Low-income countries and individuals will be left behind until they are able to obtain advanced technology and have an equal voice. I think the changes are good for those who are able to actively benefit from them but bad for those who are not. The individuals who are not will continue to be left behind with very little voice.
Habermas, J. (1974). The public sphere: An encyclopedia article (1964). New German Critique, (3), 49-55