The late 50’s Digital Revolution and the beginning of the Information Age have set the scene for major changes in society. Using Internet as the fundamental agent of change, technology has triggered a social metamorphosis that gave birth to the network society. As explained by Manuel Castells in “Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society”, the new social structure is made of decentralized networks operating on the digital realm and whose spatio-temporal arrangement determines cultures. Media disseminates these systems of beliefs and audiences adopt them.
Castells states the members of the network society speak “the common language of hypertext”. They use ITC (Information and Communication Technologies) to conduct, moderate and participate to the discourse; anyone can contribute. However, “anyone” doesn’t mean “everyone”. Money, time, Internet access and technological skills are factors determining who engages in the virtual conversations of the society. It comes naturally for people living in developed countries to tick these boxes and maintain their power within the new social order. But this doesn’t apply to every country.
For instance, the latest internet usage statistics indicate that in Eritrea or Timor-Leste only 1.1% of the population uses the internet compared to 98% in Norway or 96.3% in Denmark. These data show how certain cultural realms, Occidental in this case, monopolises the global society, while others such as the African realm, are underrepresented online. This affects the way media addresses its audiences. Since there is a small percentage of people online that advocate for the African cultural heritage, magazines, for instance, disregard them as their readers. This is a clue that suggest the dynamics of the network society as pointed out by Castell: ‘what doesn’t exist in the network, doesn’t exist and must be ignored’.
As suggested by the author, the network society is a ‘space of flows’ with a ‘timeless time’. This means the society has a technological infrastructure that relies on few physical centres to establish a virtual connection between people. With its activity shifted online, the social practices become simultaneous and geographically unrestricted. Thus, the network society encloses a mixture of cultures whose collision can cause acculturation, cultural assimilation, and unfortunately cultural appropriation to happen. Media frames and perpetuates these cultures, which are then leant by the audience. Individuals construct their identities based on what they see in media. Therefore, media is diversified and fulfils all the needs of its miscellaneous audience.
For example, there are magazines targeting women (Elle), men (GQ), African-Americans (Upscale), Hispanic (Latina), and so on. They usually focus on a certain need or interest such as science (Discover), business (Fortune), hobbies (Fine Woodworking), etc. The content of a magazine depends on the consumption patterns of the masses, as well as the specifics of the targeted audiences: age, social and financial status, etc. Castell remarked that within the network ‘who does what determines who gets what’, and the same principle is valid for media as well.
As already noticed, the network society has direct implications on the magazine production. Magazines are themselves ‘centres of flows’ within the media apparatus, and influence people. They compete but also support each other with the statements they make. Castell said that ‘the power of flows is more important than the flows of power’. Thus, individually taken, a magazine has a limited power. However, when considered with other magazines with similar views, they all become more influential – people believe in a magazine because the rest of the media reinforces its ideas. IN this context, magazines become repetitive. But if they don’t abide by this “rule”, they won’t survive – unless their stance is powerful enough and can create a new niche. This is probably a positive aspect of the society network – you’ll read the best from the best and nothing less.