LIS 694
Discussion Questions for Castells, Chapter 5

  1. On page 356 Castells writes of the "social hierarchy between literate culture and audiovisual expression" and of the present-day "potential integration of various modes of communication into an interactive network."

    In 1990 Majid Tehranian wrote in Technologies of power: information machines and democratic prospects that:

    "The Toronto school (Innis, 1950, 1951; McLuhan 1962, 1964) has argued that the introduction of each new technology of communication in history has brought about new sets of cognitive styles and belief systems characteristic of that technology's epoch of history. To use Innis's formulation, the media 'bias' human communication. To use McLuhan's metaphor, the media 'massage' the message. The Age of Orality favors the immediacy and participatory power of tribalism. The Age of Print distantiates communication and imposes a linear rationality on the mind. The Age of Electronic Media partially brings back the tribalism of the Age of Orality." (Tehranian 1990, 35)

    In the United States when public library budgets have been cut some affected libraries have continued to lend books free of charge but instituted charges for video loans. Thus a high school student from a poor family can readily get access to the written version of Shakespeare's Hamlet but may not be able to get access to the 1948 film version of Hamlet directed by and featuring the acting of Sir Laurence Olivier. How does this reflect Castell's hierarchy and Tehranian's statement? In your view is this lending policy appropriate? Why or why not?

    As a side note: How did Shakespeare intend Hamlet to be experienced? When human beings first experienced Shakespeare's play how many of the senses would have been engaged?

  2. Tehranian also wrote that:

    "Media realities are by their very nature distorted realities. Telecommunication provides the opportunity for the senders of messages to reconstruct reality to suit their own persuasive purposes. Genuine democracy, however, is fully interactive. it begins at the community level. But decentralized, direct democracy is threatened everywhere by the increasingly centralized bureaucracies—including the mass media bureaucracies. Mass communication is a contradiction in terms. It imposes a cognitive tyranny by the senders of uniform messages to be hypothesized, undifferentiated, and inert mass audiences. The ultimate form of this hidden tyranny is an Orwellian nightmare—a totalitarian system of mind control." (Tehranian 1990, 13)

    How does this compare to Castells's views in this chapter?

  3. Castells wrote on page 366 that "In many countries, from Andalusia to southern India, local community video technology allowed for the blossoming of rudimentary local broadcasting which mixed diffusion of video films with local events and announcements, often on the fringes of telecommunication regulations." How would this relate to Tehranian's observations regarding telecommunication tyranny?

  4. On page 388 Castells writes: "The advantage of the Net is that it allows the forging of weak ties with strangers, in an egalitarian pattern of interaction where social characteristics are less influential in framing, or even blocking, communication." Egalitarian is a recurring theme. The Web has been seen to empower minorities who are not at the top of the social strata. However, there is another side to this. The Web has also been used to legitimize potentially fatal psychological problems such as anorexia as desired lifestyles and terrorism as a "righteous" response to the moral ills of the world. What role, if any, do you see for information providers that would promote the free flow of information, protect civil liberties, yet acknowledge the dangers of some communication activities to individuals and to society as a whole? (Note: There is no easy answer to this.)

  5. On page 393 Castell's references a study done by Claude Fischer, concluding that the telephone (a "new" technology in Fischer's study) was used to reinforce people's "deep-rooted social habits." Regarding the new technology of computer-mediated communication, Castells opines that:

    " spite of their potential usefulness for social movements, the influence of electronic networks at large in the cultural realm may well be to reinforce the cosmopolitanism of the new professional and managerial classes...."

    In your experience, would either Fischer's or Castell's conclusions apply to social network sites like YouTube?

  6. We are reading the 2010 edition of Castell's work. Yet it appears that the author did not update some sections of his book. Looking at the features of multimedia described by Castells on pages 401 through 403, how would you update his observations given the advent of Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and Twitter?

Innis, H. 1950. Empire and communications. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Innis, H. 1951. The bias of communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding media: the extensions of man. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Tehranian, Majid. 1990. Technologies of power: information machines and democratic prospects. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Company.