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He does not consider by which processes the media will be transformed and controlled by individuals or by what means an underfunded school system will be furnished with the latest available technology and supplied with the experts who could educate teachers and pupils alike in its use. In reality in , steps have recently been taken in the United States which will concentrate their media in the hands of yet fewer controllers and at the same time budget crisis is forcing schools to close and teaching complements to be cut, across this vast country.

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The work of both Kelly and Negroponte, however, has gained common currency and has been incorporated into much popular understanding of the information age. These writers, and the early information society theorists before them, betray an often crude technological determinism, espousing as they do the view that the development and application of new technologies and the different ways in which people relate to and adapt technologies to their own needs, are transforming the very fabric of society. Their writings have given to technology a highly specific and influential role in driving forward social change.

Much technological forecasting betrays an obvious vested interest in taking up the technologies themselves and their prospective markets. Much speculation, for example, emanates from the corporations involved in selling a message to the potential consumer. Technological artefacts are now viewed by many as a key component of Globalisation, Technology and Community 11 contemporary leisure and employment opportunities. As will be discussed later in this book, people who are given access to technology are expected to use it to their advantage, even without the training, education and continuous support which is vital to their endeavours.

The very real and the fascinating possibilities which these new technologies open up for users are often discussed without any reference to the social context within which they might be applied. Apart from the speculative nature of much of this writing, there is an assumption that because something is technically possible it will happen. Information society: the dawning of a new era? This talk of the revolutionary impact of information technology is based both on the speed of technological advance in the last half of the twentieth century in particular and on the pervasiveness of information technology in contemporary society which has penetrated: all domains of human activity, not as an exogenous source of impact, but as the fabric in which such activity is woven.

Castells 31 The information society then, has its economic, social and cultural aspects. While different authors explore particular aspects of the information age, there is general agreement that major social and cultural changes have taken place alongside the widespread application of technology in society. In the first instance, information and technology have been perceived as great social levellers.

It has been suggested that the information age moves society into a more democratic and less hierarchical economic and political environment. In this world, which is ordered according to who has information and who is able to use it to effect change, everyone wins. The American Dream can finally take effect in a meritocratic environment in which we are all valued according to our intelligence, and how we choose to use it, rather than our inherited wealth. In this world, even those who do not rise to the top are empowered in their work and domestic lives by their ability to use the knowledge that they have to their best advantage, where the skills and tools operated in education and work environments can be utilised to make the most of leisure and personal lives and where each person therefore feels a little bit more in control of their present conditions and of their 12 Maintaining Community in the Information Age future destiny.

It is therefore unsurprising that these ideas have surfaced and gained credibility at the same time as the rise of neo-liberal ideologies across the West and particularly in the United States and Britain under the leadership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. This ideology places responsibility for current behaviours and future prospects firmly at the feet of the individual.

A new economy? According to information society theorists: contemporary fundamental technological innovations are related particularly to the development of a new economic sector. This particular perspective develops from the premise that the wealth on which modern capitalist economies rely has been, and continues to be, created by new technologies and information industries. Continued economic prosperity and the social benefits which this brings, are therefore attributed to the success of these industries.

Toffler famously identified three waves of social development of which the information society was said to be the third, agriculture and industry being the first two stages. However, he uncritically allied movement along these stages of development with the idea of progress, suggesting not only that advancement along this path was desirable, but that it was also inevitable and should not be resisted Toffler As the production process became more knowledge-driven, production techniques would increasingly become tailored to individualised and specialised markets in which the needs of the ultimate consumer would be incorporated into the material goods produced Touraine , Miles and Gershuny The increasing application of computerisation to the production process, and the development of automated production techniques in particular, was not only seen as ushering in the end of the mass production techniques of industrial capitalism as it was then constituted, but also as signalling the end of the monotonous, alienating Globalisation, Technology and Community 13 and backbreaking assembly line work which had come to symbolise the Fordist era Gorz According to Bell — , the post-industrial information society, although retaining the principle of division of labour, has gone some way to rehumanising work relations and restoring an individually held knowledge base — Industrial society, Bell argues, being productive enough to free the surplus gained from mass production to finance a growing service sector, liberated workers from the atomised working processes which were necessary to industrial production and required them to move instead into employment which allowed them to develop their mental capacities within a less fractured and more holistic work environment.

He sees this change in the nature of work as resulting in a different set of social values as this, more widely educated, workforce learns to think strategically, to plan for the future and to value intellectual rather than physical power, both inside and outside their work environment. In addition, this development opens the job market to more diverse groups, for example to women and to the physically less able, who might not possess the strength needed to operate heavy machinery. In addition, as capitalism upgrades the skills of its workforce, production workers become in effect information employees, and as the use of information technologies become more widespread in the workplace, workers learn to be more proactive, to understand system failure and to intervene and reflect on their work practices Zuboff , Piore and Sabel It values the power of the brain over the power of the body, it opens up employment to more diverse social groups and it encourages employees to use their full potential at work rather than coercing them into closely defined and monitored actions.

It unleashes human potential rather than restricts it. Few of their predictions have come true for the majority of workers in the West. The crisis of profitability in the West has not been resolved in the long term and work has not become a source of empowerment for most employees. Although more women have entered the formal labour market, their previous contribution to the economy in the informal economic sector, which often involved quite heavy domestic labour, was never fully taken into account.

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In addition, the work which many women pursue is far from personally liberating and still in is paid at approximately three-quarters of the male wage in most advanced economies. Another major theme of information society theorists maintains that the information age has spawned a more planned and rational society than previous political systems. The laissez-faire, high-risk, high-reward capitalism of prior periods is replaced by a more stable, low-risk economy as social actors become more knowledgeable and their decisions are better informed.

A more rational economy takes only what it needs from its workforce in order to increase productivity and profits and uses the surplus generated to release more services and leisure opportunities for its workers.

As the service sector expands, more of the workforce focus in their daily employment practices on fulfilling the needs of individuals. In this environment, personal relationships prevail above the purely commercial resulting in a more caring and participatory society overall. Furthermore, a more informed electorate with time to read and consider different viewpoints, will make clearer decisions and be more inclined to vote, to be politically active and to strive for what they believe is fair and just.

So, many early information society theorists believed that the state would become increasingly unnecessary to society as individuals gained the time and inclination to participate fully in civic affairs. Indeed, May has argued that many writers on the information society are actually driven in their discussion of political change by a form of libertarian politics prevalent in the United States which perceives the state as a threat to personal liberty and seeks to promote individual responsibility for all types of welfare provision May Work experience looms large in theorising around the information age.

The new work practices of the information age were hailed as having an effect in the political arena and as contributing towards a flatter, more egalitarian society. Management practices, it was argued, changed to recognise and value the importance of individual self-esteem within the workplace and collective working in small peer groups.

So collaborative working and team support became normative practices in most workplaces. These changed work practices are believed to have altered relations outside the sphere of work as individuals who have become used to rising to challenges and confronting old power relations inside their workplace, use these newly developed skills in other arenas. As the Globalisation, Technology and Community 15 workplace becomes less homogenous and more diverse and decentralised, so the political arena is transformed as it mirrors these changes, so it is said that: In societies more dependent on weak power structures.

Change can no longer be conceived of as something that can be imposed by a government outside society, nor as something that can be achieved through imposing a structure, whether democratic or technocratic, onto society. Sparks 38—39 The intelligence and reflexivity required by new technologies if they are to be operated successfully, once let out of the box, will not return quietly and the skills so developed are applied to all areas of life.

Additionally, autonomy, once experienced, is difficult to relinquish. Information-driven work practices therefore are said to have an important influence on the way that the whole of society operates Gill This position leads to a conclusion, firmly embedded in what Frankel dubs post-industrial utopianism, that: The shift toward a productive capacity based upon new technological developments, particularly those associated with information technology, will lead to a progressive weakening of the power structures that have so obviously been characteristic of industrial capitalism both at work and in government.


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In their place will be flexibility, equality, empowerment of the powerless, and no end of other good things. Sparks 39 The inherently global nature of information society is also believed to have had an effect upon the political arena. Cultural differences would be overcome, borders between territories would become less important and national governments would eventually wither away.

Post-modernist scholars investigating the construction of knowledge pointed to the demise of the expert4 in post-industrial societies suggesting the growing importance of differing interpretations of history and the key role of lay knowledge in information-rich societies Lyotard , Lefebvre In , the iron curtain finally collapsed. Images of great swathes of people celebrating the downfall of communism by taking over the public spaces and streets over which they had previously been denied control, filled the media.

Commentators struggled to make sense of this phenomenon and for those writing about the new information age, their theories seemed to help them to understand the shift of power away from previously dominant political cadres.

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Mulgan quoted in Sparks 38 The old struggles between the East and West, capital and labour, management and trade unions appeared to be breaking down across the globe and power was fracturing along different dimensions. No longer was it necessary to wait for elite institutions and government bodies to decide the fate of the many, but alliances could be made, person to person and interest group to interest group.

The formerly powerless could build their influence together, challenging traditional structures of control, strengthening each other through an exchange of information, ideas and experiences and acting together both globally and locally to interrogate and confront the system together.

In this endeavour, as will be discussed in the later chapters, the Internet was perceived as a powerful weapon. A new culture? The late s and the s saw yet more writing on the cultural aspects of the emerging information age. As we have seen in the preceding two sections, technological advances were perceived as changing the economic and political base of society and impacting on the social structures which they underpinned. In the technology saturated late twentieth century, consumption is no longer all about purchasing the necessities for survival, which are to a large extent met for the majority of people in the west, but becomes a way to satisfy increasingly individualised desires.

Exactly how a person consumes comes to affirm their particular identity, to set them apart from the majority.

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Which designer labels are chosen, the quality of goods which can be afforded and where vacations are taken, for example, all say something to the outside world about the type of individual that consumer professes to be. Consumer goods become the symbolic signifiers of cultural capital and consumption patterns are no longer the means by which only the prosperous in society can demonstrate their wealth to others. Other, more marginal groups also begin to display their allegiances through their patterns of consumption; gangs display affiliation by the colours they wear, teenagers choose certain street styles to demonstrate their particular take on life, to parade their social and cultural values and to demonstrate with which groups and interests they identify.

The increasingly savvy corporate world hires individuals who understand these signifiers and who can play with them in advertising and marketing in order to capture brand loyalty and build an iconic status for their products among consumers Klein In the information age, all consumption is conspicuous, as consumer goods transmit information and messages about their user to others in the know. Innovative business tools and entertainment devices, developed from digital technologies, have come to signify an engagement with novel and innovative ways of living and working.

They have been produced for mass markets and have proved popular consumer goods as they have become increasingly affordable.