Thursday, October 2, 2014

Critique on Social Structure by Van Dijk

The reading “Social Structure” for my web blog assignment this week is from the book The Network Society by Jan A.G.M. van Dijk. Van Dijk is professor of communication science at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. He is chair of The Sociology of the Information Society and has been investigating the social aspects of information and communication technology since 1985. His book was published in the Netherlands in 1999 with two more editions made in 2006 and 2012, respectively. His intended audience is people researching the social aspects of new media in the areas of sociology and communication and media studies.
 In this chapter, he focuses on the infrastructure of society and it’s many dimensions. Van Dijk argues that the new communication networks of modern time influence changes in the infrastructure of society, however, this infrastructure is responsible for shaping communication technology as well. This circular process is the basis for the global network society framework. Two of the dimensions of the infrastructure of society are space and time. The process that these dimensions together affect the infrastructure of society is called time-space distantiation. This process looks at how societies stretch information and communication under constraints of time and space. Traditional societies were based on direct interaction between people living close together so their information was constrained to only those it could reach by word of mouth and could be preserved for as long as that information would be passed along to the next person. Modern society stretches much further across time and space. The increasing reach of communication and transportation of our societies information globally break barriers of space. Information stored in these new technologies to be passed on to future generations break barriers of time.  Van Dijk argues tat the technological capabilities of bridging space and time have enabled people to be more selective in choosing coordinates of time and space than ever before in history. For example, broadcasters of programs and commercials target very specific audiences based upon the region they’re in and what time they know they’re most likely watching television.

This network-driven infrastructure is shaped by fundamental social changes taking place in modern society at the beginning of the 21st century such as privatization, individualization, and socialization. He points out that the privatization of local units to become smaller units has been enabled by means of large-scale infrastructures for communication and information flows by media networks because of the development of four dimensions of privatization; decreased, housing density, more individual rooms in a single house, decreased household size, and people spending more time at home with families.  Individualization has become the most important node in the network society and not a particular place, group, or organization and Van Dijk coined this term network individualization. Networks are the social counterpart of individualization because they create anonymity between the individual and those on the network. These networks feed our societies drive to socialize. Some argue that networks, such as the internet, reduces sociability, but Van Dijk argues that people are capable of maintaining and extending their social networks while others see these networks crumble if they cannot compensate for the increasing difficulties of maintaining offline social relationships in an individualizing and urbanized society, a problem known as the digital divide.

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