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The information society as mega-machine : the continuing relevance of Lewis Mumford.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2000
JournalInformation, Communication and Society
Journal number2
Volume3
Number of pages25
Pages241-265
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Too often the history of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is wrenched out of the history of technology and presented as something altogether separate and therefore different, rendering previous analyses irrelevant. However, there are sufficient analytical tools to hand without the continual invention of new paradigms to understand the current stage of technological advance. To support this contention, in this article, the continuing relevance of Lewis Mumford is explored. Mumford's discussion of the megalopolis and the emergence of the invisible city as its most developed state make a direct link with the networked information society, establishing a link between the information society and Mumford'sanalysis of the previous history of technology.At the centre of Mumford'sdiscussion of this history is the dialectic interaction of authoritarian and democratic technics. Mumford's notion of technics stresses that technologies can not be divided from the social relations in which they appear. In the information society,this dialectical pair map onto the twin dynamics of enclosure and disclosure. The former dynamic represents the control of information through commodification and marketization, the latter the recognition of the empowering and emancipatory qualities of ICTs. Up until now,discussions of the information society have regarded only one or other dynamic as normal, whereas utilizing Mumford'sinsight, the contradictory character of the information society can be theorized without rendering the second dynamic abnormal. Thus, the article concludes that recourse to Mumford's ideas, to re-embed ICTs in the history of technology, allows a more nuanced and fruitful treatment of current developments in information society.