Manuel Castellis is one of the best-known internet sociologists. He has been employed as a consultant on telecom policy by around 20 national governments (though not the U.S.). His new book The Internet Galaxy was released in late 2002.
Follwoing are my notes on a talk Castellis gave at the University of Michigan on September 24th, 2002. Important points are in bold, my comments are in brackets, and direct quotes are in quotes.

Remember, this guy is very well-known and highly respected in government, business consulting, and academic research circles. You may not agree with everything he says (neither do I), but it's interesting to see what these bigshots are thinking about the internet right now.

The internet is a fixture of societies around the world, on the same level as the electrical grid.
However, it has attracted a tremendous amount of "hype, exaggeration, and fantasy."
Hype is not just a social phenomenon -- it led to great suffering during the tech crash of the 1990s, and also led to the devaluation of robust corps like Nokia and Cisco.

otoh, some researchers discount it entirely -- one calls it "just another telephone"

You can't extrapolate from technology to society -- an invention won't necessarily be used.
This error led to the tech boom and crash.

The net now has ~5X10^6 users. Expansion has been practically exponential, but now it's slowing.

Net access:
N. America: 60%
UK: 45%
Scandinavia: >> 60%
Latin America: 6%
China: 2%
Worldwide overall: 7%
How the internet is used

Central thesis: People have always adapted technology to their own values and cultures.
In this sense, the internet is typical. It's changed the how, but not the what.

A lot of research focuses on fake identities and fantasy role-play. This is very rare.
The people who explore identity are teenagers, who have always explored identity anyway!
Purely recreational chatting is also almost exclusively youth.
Usenet and other kinds of chat aren't, but these aren't free-form. They're mostly special-interest single-issue.

Email is overwhelmingly the most popular use of the net.

People use the net [presumably the web] for information: News, reference, health.

most bandwidth is used to download MP3s (and now, DVDs).
Decentralized filesharing has made this unstoppable. "No one is catching Gnutella"
(porn sites are dying; porn DVD downloads are up)

Online shopping is failing -- except for books. CDs were also big, before filesharing.

People don't accept the idea of paying for news and services, especially things that were once free.
One exception: Wall Street Journal (people consider it a business necessity)

"You cannot commercialize the internet. The internet is a space of social communication."

If it were commercialized, ppl wouldn't use it. BMG survey reveals that 2/3 of music DLers wouldn't use a pay service [he doesn't address the fact that current pay services 5UX0R]

"I know this is a very serious problem for record companies, but I'm not in a record company..." so I don't care.

Internet and socialization

"The Internet does not shape people's lives. People's lives shape the internet."

NO to technological determinism -- technology is always in a cultural context.
NO to social determinism -- technologies fundamentally do some things and not others.

The big question... Does the internet lead to sociability or isolation?

Net users have larger social networks and are more socially active.
(it drops when use exceeds 30 hours/week, but that would be true of any activity).

So, where does time for net use come from?

1. TV (youth today watch 25% less than youth 10 years ago)

"Virtual communities are real communities of a different kind."
Most net communities have some IRL component.

Strong vs. Weak personal ties:
Net bad for creating strong ties -- these usually require IRL contact.
Net good at creating and maintaining large numbers of weak ties.
BUT also good at maintaining strong ties.

ppl can stay in touch with family and distant friends. The big difference is that the net is "chosen time" [asynchronous].

"networked individualism". "The privatization of sociability". ppl form more idiosyncratic communities.
Society has been moving in this direction for a long time, but the net is PERFECT for it.

Some cultures like IRL contact more, and they've adopted cell phones instead.

The Net and social movements

1) Structured organizations are being replaced by loose movements and coalitions
2) Movements are increasingly around values and cultural codes, rather than directly around material demands
3) Don't fight directly -- use the media.

Ppl don't like the anti-globalization movement. BUT they know about the issues, and they agree with them! This wouldn't have happened if the anti-globalists hadn't raised some hell in the media.,

thanks to the media, local action has global import.

In the old days, a radical wing could disrupt a meeting and derail a movement. Now, you can just /ignore them.

The Zapatistas! Their organization just sort of appeared.

Net generally good for non-powerful and traditionally silenced. Women's rights, environmentalists, unions
[During Q&A, I said these all seemed like liberal causes, and asked if there were similar conservative grassroots net movements. He said they weren't all liberal at all. (??)]

"The only thing in the world the Chinese communist party is scared of is Falun Gong" because FG uses the internet and can affect the world.
Of course, there's also militias and nazis, but terrible things exist in the real world too.

"the internet isn't just a medium, it's a fundamental dimension of the dynamics of social movements today."

Net has changed NGOs, but it has not changed government.

Government databases and decision processes could be totally transparent and open, with very simple steps adequate to protect confidental information. But the gov does nothing. No government in the world does anything. They use the net as a "billboard."

Governments are "obsessed" with controlling the net. Clinton and Gore tried twice to pass the CDA. Ashcroft tried to fundamentally reconfigure the structure of the net.

"The internet attacks the very source of control and power throughout history: control of information."

No government can control the net too thoroughly, though -- they want the commerce!

1996 CDA decision: "The internet is chaos, but citizens have the right to chaos."

U.S. first amendment is very important, because if the U.S. is allowed to put something on the net, anyone in the world can get it. [and the converse too -- Kazaa in New Zealand and Olga in Russia]

China's firewall is easily circumvented -- if you're a chinese hacker. What they really want to suppress is "widespread net literacy and hacker power."

What we have to fear is big relational databases tracking everything we do on the net. Cookies, etc. "Not big brother but little sister. Thousands of little sisters."


Net systems -- including govt systems -- are always cracked at the weakest link. Almost always a careless employee working from home. Why not have all employees use strong crypto? Why not have everyone use strong crypto, incorporated into the deepest level of common operating systems?

Strong crypto means "really escaping control."

Microsoft and the government have made a CONSCIOUS DECISION to forego security for controllability.

Internet and Media

An old idea of the "magic box"-- one appliance for TV, radio, net.
Collapsed again and again. No one seems to want it, and current bandwidth doesn't support it.

People reject it for the same reason that they don't really want 500 channels -- it's 500 channels of the same damn thing!

AOL predicts no magic box til 2010 -- mostly because it will take that long to create enough content.

BUT -- ppl use the net to find the TV, radio, and public events they want.
horizontal networks. "my hypertext."
otoh, less universal cultural experience. Where are the codes of communication?

Internet and commerce

B2B has vastly changed the way businesses communicate with each other. Most net commerce is B2B.
Only around 20% is B2C.
Models of internet based on net retail all collapsed.

Amazon is "brick and click." only one purely online business:
People want to connect. The big thing isn't B2C, it's C2C!

ppl don't want to use net sales because of security concerns.
But... online banking is exploding. Why? Because ppl see banks as big, think they can take responsibility.

The Digital Divide

Sex and SES divide is almost gone in developed nations. Almost everyone can get access.
BUT there's a skills difference. Poorer ppl don't use the net much, because they don't know how to use it.
We must start teaching kids how to "combine information into knowledge."
EU used to think that net growth required business initiatives. But no, business wires itself. New focus is on teaching everyone -- especially schoolikds -- how the net can be useful.


The internet is changing the world. And The government is making a serious counteroffensive, trying to delink the internet from the culture of freedom. We're not going to let them.

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