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Our global society and organizational systems have morphed into a dynamic, interconnected and abstract entity that is based on the flow of information created, processed, transmitted and then regenerated in new forms at incredible speeds and in a constant state of flux. At the heart of this social/global enterprise is information, a new form of power and an abstract force due to its state of state of constant change, instant transmission and immateriality which exists out of space and time. When we engage in our cyborg routines of checking emails, texting, using the internet, we exchange flows of information and interact in a new mode of existence. In experiencing this powerful exchange, new information technologies revolutionize our capacity for thinking, which becomes an expansion and augmentation of the brain and body to the whole world of production and communication.

Informationalism: A Technological Paradigm

At the base of this powerful global transformation and technological paradigm is referred by Manuel Castells as Informationalism, which is based on the augmentation of the human capacity for processing information and communication made possible by discoveries and implementations of microelectronics, software and genetic engineering. (Castells, 11) Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Information Technololgy Age is no longer based on the material goods produced in factories, but rather on services and knowledge work, trading and extracting value out of knowledge and disseminating information through our network society.

Information has become the key substance of all human activity and is directly integrated into culture, institutions and experience. Informationalism, according to Castells, has distinct features such as a Space of Flows, in which informational flows bring physical spaces closer through networks, Timeless Time in which technology is able to manipulate the natural sequence of events, and Real Virtuality based on a hypertext reality and global interconnection which bends space and time relations. Murphie and Potts expand this notion by emphasizing that in informationalism, the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself becomes the main source of productivity.(Murphie and Potts, 189-90)

Informationalism is completely distinct from industrialism, since it is oriented towards increasing levels of technological development, unlimited storage, production and accumulation of knowledge, and consistently higher levels of processing complexity. (Kozinets, Hemetsberger, and Jensen Schau, 54) In this paradigm, rules of creation and destruction are constantly and deliberately changed, based on interactions and adaptability. This has a powerful impact on notions of identity which become more abstract and lead to a new mode of collective life, or the Informational City.(Murphie and Potts, 192-193) Identity and culture are impacted greatly in this state of informational and societal flux, where the structure of the Network Society is reinforced through Information Capitalism, Globalism and policies of exclusion.

Culture of Real Virtuality

Castells refers to existence in Informationalism as the Culture of Real Virtuality, in which there is no separation between reality and symbolic representation. In Gerstener’s interview, Castell elaborates on this concept by pointing out that many of our ideas and beliefs now depend on images and sounds processed in hypertext.(Gerstner, 15) Even though the information is virtual, it becomes a substantial part of reality as we interact with that knowledge in thought, social expression and connection. Real Virtuality is a state of existence and culture based on energy flows and timeless time, reinforced by the global economy, social structures, new forms of life and the diffusion of urban spaces.( Durà-Guimerà, 372)

Since information and communication are the most fundamental dimension of human activity and organization, this will affect the entire realm of human activity, culture, identity and society.(Castells, 2004, 11)

The Problems of Identity

Informationalism leads to problems of identity as individuals adapt to the continuous state of flux of technological, social, economic and political organization of life. Barney’s The Network Society explores the relationship between social formation and technology, and its impact on identity, community and culture. Identity forms a crucial part of human subjectivity and the experience of human life during revolutionary times of change.(Gripenberg, 120) In the network society, there is increasing tension between the demands on the self made by globalization and the capacity to respond.

Personal identity is in a state of continual adaptation due to the realignment of the local and the global in timeless time.(Harding, 24) This impacts an identity in a state of flux into one that is based on legitimacy, residence, or projected personality that redefines the self in relationship with society. Lives are therefore shaped by conflicting trends of globalization and identity, the Network Society and a surge of collective identity and fundamentalism. For those members of the global community who are networked, their identity becomes based on their membership, for the excluded, extremism becomes the norm in religious, ecological, feminist or nationalist fundamentalism.

Information Capitalism and the New Class System

In its search for value, the network society excludes everything and everyone not of value. In what Sennett refers to as the hyper-responsive form of contemporary capitalism, survival depends on adaptability to market criteria; those who do not adapt become obsolete or excluded. (Harding 23-24) Society, according to Castells, has become characterized by the power embedded in information technology, and is built around microelectronics-based information and biological technologies. (Castells, 8) Informationalism is applied to everything, and even life forms can be decoded into bits of information, such as decoding the human genome.

Information Capitalism defines a new class system based on the level of use and interaction with information. The networked include those who are self-programmed labour, or those who are able to expand and maintain the network and the generic labourers. All others are excluded. This structural exclusion is referred to by Castells as The Fourth World, and is based upon the idea that ostracism is the penalty of a belated response to informational change.(Harding, 23) Thereby a large proportion of the world’s population is simultaneously marginalized, irrelevant and switched off and will inhabit territories of exclusion such as ghettoes and slums.

While Informationalism can be seen to increase flexibility for employment and new opportunities for combinations of work and private lives, the excluded have no voice and no value. Habermas’ vision of the public sphere as a place of interaction for the implementation of change is overshadowed by a vision of a black hole of Information Capitalism, where those who are networked survive through continuous adaptation to the forces of Informationalism and those who are excluded become obsolete and switched off.

See Also

Manuel Castells on Network Theories of Power YouTube Presentation[Network Theories of Power]

[Informationalism and the Individual]

Science Fiction has long dealt with the concepts of exclusion, particularly in the idea of "The Others": [Xenophobia in Science Fiction]

Manuel Castells

Network Society Lectures by Manuel Castells

Fantastic Flash website Intro Video With Informationalism Theme


Bendle, Mervin F.(2002). The crisis of 'identity' in high modernity, British Journal of Sociology, 53:1, 1 – 18. doi: 10.1080/00071310120109302

Castells, M. (2004). Informationalism, Networks, And The Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, M. (Ed.), The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Cooper, Marianne (2003). Theories of the Information Society, Qualitative Sociology,26:4, 563-566.

Durà-Guimerà, Antoni. (1999). The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture,European Urban and Regional Studies 1999; 6; 371. DOI: 10.1177/096977649900600413

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Harding, Robert (2006). Manuel Castells's Technocultural Epoch in "The Information Age", Science Fiction Studies, 33:1, Technoculture and Science Fiction, SF-TH Inc. Stable URL:

Kozinets,Robert V., Andrea Hemetsberger, Hope Jensen Schau (2008). The Wisdom of Consumer Crowds, Journal of Macromarketing, 28:4, 339-354. DOI: 10.1177/0276146708325382

Murphie, Andrew and John Potts (2003). Culture and Technology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Smart, Barry (2000). A Political Economy of New Times?: Critical Reflections on the Network Society and the Ethos of Informational Capitalism, European Journal of Social Theory 2000; 3; 51. DOI: 10.1177/13684310022224679

Stern, Mark J. (2000). Back to the Future? Manuel Castells' The Information Age and The Prospects for Social Welfare, Cultural Studies, 14:1, 99-116.