Workshop presentation - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

Workshop presentation

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Internet and changing social behavior (european proposal)

- Human culture has always integrated networks of inter-individual or inter-group relations to change and/or dynamically share knowledge and practices. The network principal lies at the very heart of the social dynamic, whether it be at the basic level of the family, that of village communities, cities or states. The development of such networks conforms to forms and rules which vary substantially through time and space. While remaining linked to their own goals, they rely on the available tools to exist.

- A network of individuals within a given timeframe is a living community sharing at least one common center of interest and using a minimum of one tool or vector of change. Such a tool can be oral or written language, iconography or architecture, all of which rely on means or techniques including printing, individual or collective transit and the technologies of communication or data processing. That is to say, there is a strong iteration or dialectic between the will of Man to organize himself in networks and the means which he has implemented throughout history to assure this end.

- A network is thus a living organism made up of living individuals, no matter what the rules or “laws” imagined to control its functioning. It has a beginning and an end with a period of development which is more or less complex depending on its goal. It has its rules and means which ensure its functioning. A network is not dynamic through its means, but rather through its actors. The means can, however, represent fantastic catalysts for the network dynamic. The impact of printing on the diffusion and sharing of knowledge is incalculable – knowledge could move and spread geographically without people having to move. The transport revolution, with first trains then cars and planes, supplied the actors with a time-saving network and the possibility of expanding their space. “New technologies” like the telephone and its collection of derivative technologies have granted people new means of creating, joining or animating networks.

- Internet, born of the marriage between the technologies of telecommunications and digital data processing, offers a family of services apt to satisfy numerous needs of people in a network. In less than fifteen years these services have multiplied and this movement should accelerate over the next few years. We call it the “web,” using reference to the image of a spiderweb as a metaphor for the network. It is also call the “network of networks.” Due to the noise emitted by the vast numbers of actors struggling to their own ends within this burgeoning industry, none of these different names totally covers the complex internet reality. Technologists or marketeers, whether or not on purpose, often emphasize the internet “means,” the “Network.” When they speak of “social networks,” we are never really sure if they are talking about the technologies or the people who use them. Such confusion hinders understanding of the real impact of these technologies on society.

- If the new technologies impact the relational modes linking individuals and/or groups by supplying new means of transmission and sharing, they are in turn totally dependent on the actors who assume or relinquish control of them, who deviate or pervert the use, and who in the final count implement the tools. The history of the internet, still short, permanently displays this reality through the iteration between users and designers of technology producing new relational modes at the same time as new tools.

- Do these tools possess specific features which make it possible to better understand their impact on social behavior? Can forms of predictive logic be developed to try and imagine the future of such technologies and the social changes they will cause? No matter what our practices and culture, many such questions emerge. These questions will be the subject of our experience sharing and common reflections.

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