Network Societies: Understanding the Transition

The information revolution is often identified as the most profound driver of change in our world today enabling an ongoing disruptive transformation in the deep structure to our Industrial Age social institutions as we move further into the 21st century. Information technology has unleashed the most radical force of our time, hyperconnectivity, that is reshaping all areas of our technology, economy and social institutions according to a new set of rules, those of access, network structure, information, and knowledge. While the original revolution in technology may be behind us the social impact is still largely ahead of us, as in many countries there remains a deep contradiction between the existing institutional structures and those that would be adapted to their underlying information and knowledge economy.

Within such a context many people believe that we are on the cusp of a fundamental transformation in our political-economy, in how we choose to organize society in respect to industry, organizations, and communities. This is essentially the shift from the Industrial Age bureaucratic form of organization – that we all know very well, the hierarchical, stable, predictable organization which is formal and rule-bound, to social organizational structures that are better adapted and more characteristic of the Information Age, that is to say a post-bureaucratic form of organization which is much flatter, much leaner, much more network-based, much more informal, dynamic, open in scope, one that is really all about knowledge as opposed to execution and efficiency. What emerges out of this transformation is what has been called the network society.

The network society is a social structure based on networks operated by information and communication technologies based on microelectronics and digital computer networks that generate, process and distribute information via the nodes of the networks. The network society can be defined as a social formation with an infrastructure of social and media networks enabling its prime mode of organization at all levels (individual, organizational and societal). Increasingly, these networks link all units on all scales of society.

This working paper looks at some of the most salient features to this transformation in our social institutions which are engendered in the move into a network society. We talk about the evolution of communications technology that has brought us to the age of hyperconnectivity. How the pervasive, nonlinear and networked nature of communications in contemporary society works to erode traditional organizations based upon a linear flow to information. We look at the process of unbundling as the monolithic institutions of the Industrial Age become disaggregated and distributed out into modular and granular components that are then reaggregated through dynamic networks. Finally, we talk about the important role that knowledge comes to play in a post-industrial networked society as it becomes a central element to the makeup of organizations and the critical resource flowing through networks.

  • Publish Date: 2-3-2017

  • Length: 25 pages

  • Type: Society Insight

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