Informationalism and the network society: a theoretical blueprint of Web 2.0

August 2, 2007

I have been working on my Wiki putting some notes about “Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint” written by Prof. Castells (Castells, M. (2004) The Network Society: a cross-cultural perspective. Edward Elgar, MA).

Prof. Castells defines Informationalism as “a technological paradigm based on the augmentation of the human capacity of information processing and communication made possible by the revolutions in microelectronics, software, and genetic engineering”. He proposes “that what specifies this paradigm in relationship to previous historical developments of information and communication technologies (such as printing, the telegraph or the non-digital telephone) are, in essence, three major, distinctive features of the technologies that are at the heart of the system”.

  1. Their self-expanding processing and communicating capacity in terms of volume, complexity, and speed.
  2. Their recombining ability on the basis of digitization and recurrent communication
  3. Their distributing flexibility through interactive, digitized networking.

If we focus on point 2 I think we have the key of Web 2.0 buzzword. I will reproduce the paragraph where Prof. Castells tackle this issue (bold is mine):

Secondly, digital technologies are also characterized by their ability to recombine information on the basis of recurrent, interactive communication. This is what I call the Hypertext, in the tradition of Ted Nelson and Tim Berners-Lee. One of the key contributions of the Internet is its potential ability to link up everything digital from everywhere and to recombine it. Indeed, the original design of the world wide web by Berners-Lee had two functions, as a browser and as an editor (Berners-Lee, 1999). The commercial and bureaucratic practice of the world wide web has largely reduced its use, for most people, to be a browser and information provider, connected to an email system. Yet, from shared art creation to the political agora of the anti-globalization movement , and to joint engineering of networked corporate labs, the Internet is quickly becoming a medium of interactive communication beyond the cute, but scarcely relevant practice of chat rooms (increasingly made obsolete by SMSs and other wireless, instant communication systems). The added value of the Internet over other communication media is its capacity to recombine in chosen time information products and information processes to generate a new output, that is immediately processed in the net, in an endless process of production of information, communication, and feedback in real time or chosen time (Castells, 2001). This is crucial because recombination is the source of innovation, and innovation is at the roots of economic productivity, cultural creativity, and political power making. Indeed, while the generation of new knowledge always required the application of theory to recombined information, the ability to experiment in real time with the results of the recombination, coming from a multiplicity of sources, considerably extends the realm of knowledge generation. It also allows increasing connections between different fields of knowledge and their applications – precisely the source of knowledge innovation in Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions.

So if the people start using the Internet as a browser and as an editor, will they become Web 2.0 users? will they innovate? will they generate new knowledge?. To answer those questions we have to focus on the third feature of new information and communication technologies: Flexibility.

That allows the distribution of processing power in various contexts and applications, such as business firms, military units, the media, public services (such as health or distant education), political activity, and personal interaction.

And I wonder if flexibility is a feature of the health field specially if we are talking about the relationship of consumption which is based on asymmetric information and knowledge. Is this a possible context for Web 2.0? or are health and the Internet still Web 1.0?