Manuel Castells

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On July 10, I got to see Manuel Castells do a question and answer session as a way of promoting his new book Communication Power (I’ve got a copy and will write it up once I’ve read it). The event was sponsored by 4IP and run by Steve Moore at 1 Alfred Place near Goodge Street. The event was attended by a mix of the digital great and the good including Charlie Gower and Dan McQuillan. I also managed to catch up with media journalist Kate Bulkley who I hadn’t seen for a long time, since I had moved away from day-to-day media relations.

Manuel is an early pioneer in writing about networks in terms of sociology and economics. Castells’ views are essentially uptopian in nature. He viewed the financial crisis as being about organisational size and structural FAIL as much as sub-prime mortgages and the western world living life on credit.

Castells bases his thinking on that power is the driving force behind civilisation and the networks that make it up. No one actor has a monopoly on power and that is the basis of societal tension. Broadly speaking, Castells believes in two types of Power:

  • Physical power – the ability to coerce someone into doing your will, like the power that governments have
  • Influential power  – is the ability to ‘manipulate’ communications to persuade the audience to go along with your line of thinking

Much of influential power now happens within networks. As the communications environment change the nature of power changes. A symptom of this process has been the rise of scandal politics that led to a crisis in political legitimacy. Another aspect of this is the move from mass media to mass self communications driven by internet adoption.

There were 40m Internet users 1996, now the Internet population is over 1.6 billion and there are now 3.9 billion telephone numbers. By the end of the year cellular coverage will cover 90 per cent of the world’s population.

Castells described journalism as a last line of defense for public service orientated influential power, though they have now been usurped by the web community. On the flip side he sees a potential alliance for civil society.

With regimes dealing with a restive populace, they are now finding that you can kill the messenger, but the message will live on. SMS in particular, pulls together people when they have a shared sense of outrage.

Obama campaign was the first campaign where the internet worked. This was down to getting the youth on board due to issues rather than ‘organised politics’ and the fact that the campaign was decentralised rather than the traditional command and control structure of your usual political party. Obama’s success is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere as the majority of political parties aren’t willing to give up control need to unleash initiative.

Some of the audience had a more skeptical view than Castells, I video-ed it on my cell phone so you can see the subsequent question-and-answer session: