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The Information Society and Information Technology: A New Mode of Production?

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Introduction

THE INFORMATION SOCIETY AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: A NEW MODE OF PRODUCTION? ALWYNN C. JAVIER AB Development Studies Ateneo de Manila University 15 October 2001 A. Introduction The idea of an information society, which has emerged prominently from recent literature, is something that needs rigorous theorization and investigation in this age characterized by increasingly blurring national boundaries and identities. This paper wishes to provide a range of relevant literature about the implications of the technologies associated with the so-called information age, more commonly known as information technology (IT), on the capitalist mode of production. It is imperative for studies of this kind to consult the writings of Marx and subsequent Marxist/Marxian scholars. The framing of information technology literature under the mode of production framework necessitates a theoretical orientation that mainly draws from, but not limited to, this school. First, the paper shall survey the information society and the technologies and actors associated with it. Second, the debates on the issues of technological determinism and the existing social formation shall be discussed to represent the existing body of study that had been written on the role of technology in today's information age. Lastly, the paper shall cite the theorizations of Manuel Castells to place the study under the context of globalization. B. Review of Literature The Information Society Webster (1995) distinguishes five analytical definitions of the information society-economic, occupational, spatial, cultural, and technological-that have emerged out of earlier theories by other social scientists. The economic definition of the information society is characterized by a quantitative approach to the impact of so-called "information industries" on the economy. Machlup (1962) identified five industry groups under this classification: a) education (e.g., schools, libraries, colleges); b) media of communication (e.g. radio and television, advertising); c) information machines (e.g. computer equipment, musical instruments); d) information services (e.g. law, insurance, medicine); and e) other information activities (e.g. research and development, non-profit activities). ...read more.

Middle

This orientation is part of a larger body of post-industrialist literature that have assumed the power of machines and tools to relocate people to industrial centers, of automobiles to create suburbs, of computers to establish service industries based on knowledge rather than on mechanical skills, thereby making labor anachronistic. Similarly, information technologies are said to provide the means by which industrial society is transformed to one based on the production and distribution of information and knowledge (Sussman 1997). On the other hand, critical analysts argue that human agency must never be overlooked regardless of how functionally sophisticated technical instruments may be. They say that assigning autonomy to technology fails to take into account political power and economic interests, which have a predominant role in social formations, while concealing the existence of powerful corporations and how they conduct their activities according to their interests (Balabanian 1980, in Sussman 1997). Thus, leaving technological inquiry and decisions to apolitical technical experts means that their own or their sponsors' particular biases and interests will determine what kind of technology is created and for what purpose. Besides, their control over the creation of technology is seen in how they protect their expert status by designing technological systems that can only be understood by them, which makes them indispensable and gives them political power over their clientele (Shapiro 1981 in Sussman 1997). Armand Mattelart (1978, in Sussman 1997) points out that assigning creative social and historical agency to technology is an example of a commodity fetish. Thus: "The communication fetish hides the repressive and manipulative character of the dominant technological power of the diffusion of information (a veritable new productive force) and presents it to those dominated by it as a force of liberation and good will." Critical theory holds that an analysis of the role of technology should "consider the unequal distribution of control...and the wider pattern of inequality in the distribution of wealth and power...especially the class structure and the unequal exchange between advanced and developing nations" (White 1984, in Sussman 1997). ...read more.

Conclusion

Castells is explicit in saying that "modes of development evolve acoording to their own logic," and that the informational mode of developemnt is relatively autonomous from the capitalist mode of production. This means that social change may be determined, to an unspecified extent, by technology, and that however much capitalism may change, a certain technical realm will remain intact. Castell's theory is very much within the realm of the technological determinism debate. Statements such as "a technological information revolution as the backbone of all major structural transformations" readily lends him to the label of a technological deterrminist. He makes a more substantive argument, however, as he considers the role of the informational mode of development in the context of a crisis within advanced capitalism that developed in the early 1970s. He says that the combination of capitalist restructuring and informationalism, or the timely arrival of the informational mode of development at a time of capitalist crisis, has led to the revival of the capitalist enterprise. The massive increases in productivity, the creation of new and improved products, the flexibility of production, and internationalization of economic affairs, all brought about by information technology, have greatly helped restructure the capitalist economy (in Webster 1995). In this restructuring, the informational economy gained primary importance, as the development of IT networks around the globe shifted the concern of organizations to the management of and response to information flows. This has led to the expansion of production, distribution and sales systems, thereby causing the proliferation of transnational corporations, global networks, and international labor migration. Castells (2000) further argues that the global economy is characterized by the existence of information networks that connect corporate centers and financial markets. Thus, the actual operations of capital have come to take place in these information networks. This shows how great the impact of information technology has been on the management of production and distribution, and on the productive process itself. ...read more.

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