Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How IT Came to Rule the World: Four Methodological Concerns

This is the fifth post in the mini-series How IT Came to Rule the World ©

Four methodological concerns that shaped this project are worth noting.

The first has to do with technology and its transformative relationship with society and institutions, in particular, the reciprocal effects between technology and power. The term “technostructuralist”, coined by Majid Tehranian, in his Technologies of Power (1989) is useful in that it referred to how information technology needed to be viewed within the context of institutions and power in general. Tehranian often compared this stance to a techno-neutralist position – the position that technologies are essentially neutral and their consequences are a result of human agency.

The second concern is the importance of using political economy to frame the general discussion. This includes classic issues like the price system, labor and corporations as well as the significance of peer production and gift economies. Economists like Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Fredrick von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Jeffery Sachs are also important as their ideas have been consequential in shaping the modern world.

The third is the relationship between information technologies and the production of meaning. Technologies are part of a set of practices that frame information and meaning. The spreadsheet, for example, combines the power of lists and tables with other calculative abilities that “in-form” meaning and organize sets of knowledge that run organizations and structure lives.

Lastly, an inquiry into the state of democracy in the age of IT dominance is important. Can IT contribute to a social structure that allows and empowers people to participate in the conditions of their lives?

How IT Came to Rule the World: Three Regimes

This is the fourth post in the mini-series on How IT Came to Rule the World ©

This project is organized to analyze and articulate three historical regimes that shaped the computer and telecommunications systems leading to the Internet and a proliferation of IT and digital media. Regimes are historically unique configurations of commercial, military and political power that carve out particular paths of social organization and technological development. To help articulate their dynamics, I have named them: containment capitalism, digital monetarism and global e-commerce and security. At times intentionally and at times inadvertently, each of these regimes contributed significantly to the development of IT, the Internet, and its World Wide Web of e-commerce and social media.

Over time, these regimes shaped an informational and technological environment that was sequentially dedicated to:

1) a military real-time hemispheric radar defense system to protect against a nuclear attack;

2) an international regime of capital decontrols, electronic money and financial news flows, and;

3) an electronic environment for social networking, surveillance, and global business to business (B2B), business to government (B2G), business to consumer (B2C), and consumer to consumer (C2C) transactions.

These three regimes at times overlapped, often conflicted, and frequently worked in conjunction with one another. However, the overall result was an unsteady yet unwavering trajectory towards a realization of computer codified information and calculative ability as well as the transformation of the telegraph and telephone system into a device for communicating digital information. It was a path with no sure outcome, no clear sense of its heading, but one that was disciplined by political and economic forces into slowly emerging national, then global, webs of digitalistic communications.