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
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
otoh, some researchers discount it entirely -- one calls it "just another
You can't extrapolate from technology to society -- an invention
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.
N. America: 60%
How the internet is used
Central thesis: People have always adapted technology to their own
values and cultures.
Scandinavia: >> 60%
Latin America: 6%
Worldwide overall: 7%
In this sense, the internet is typical. It's changed the how, but not the
A lot of research focuses on fake identities and fantasy role-play
is very rare
The people who explore identity
s, who have always explored
Purely recreational chatting is also almost exclusively youth.
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,
is used to download MP3
s (and now, DVD
has made this unstoppable. "No one is catching
sites are dying; porn DVD downloads are up)
Online shopping is failing
-- except for books. CDs were also big,
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
"You cannot commercialize the internet. The internet is a space of
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
NO to technological determinism
-- technology is always in a cultural
NO to social determinism -- technologies fundamentally do some things and
The big question... Does the internet lead to sociability
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
So, where does time for net use come from?
(youth today watch 25% less than youth 10 years ago)
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]
". "The privatization
of sociability". ppl form
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 phone
The Net and social movements
1) Structured organizations are being replaced by loose movements and
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
! 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 militia
s 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 NGO
s, 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
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
1996 CDA decision: "The internet is chaos
, but citizens have the right to
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
China's firewall is easily circumvented -- if you're a chinese hacker.
What they really want to suppress is "widespread net literacy and hacker
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
The solution? PUBLIC KEY ENCRYPTION
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!
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
networks. "my hypertext
otoh, less universal
cultural experience. Where are the codes of
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
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
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
. We're not going to let them.