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ICTs – Instrumentum or locus of transformation?

ICTs – Instrumentum or locus of transformation?

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Published by Yanuar Nugroho
unpublished essay, Univ Manchester 2006
unpublished essay, Univ Manchester 2006

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Yanuar Nugroho on Aug 01, 2008
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ICTs – Instrumentum or locus of transformation?
 Yanuar Nugroho
Outsider Theory 
1
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” 
(George Bernard Shaw, 1903)
1. Introduction
 The scale and speed at which the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have gone throughordinary life in almost all aspects is very striking. Civil society organisations (CSOs) as social entities have thisunprecedented opportunity to use the technology to support their quest for a better, more just and peace world. But, although the tools are in their hands, most of them have not decided yet how to do so. Clearly,despite the popularity and the rate at which ICTs use has broadened, it is still relatively new to allow much inthe way of retrospective reflection on its nature and impact to society (Graham, 1999), particularly in thecontext of social transformation. The review covers three areas of literatures and their overlapping, i.e. ICTs, CSOs and social transformation.
Fig1. What the paper covers 
Civil SocietyOrganisationICTs &SocietyAppropriation ofICT in CSO fortransformationSocialTransformation
1
Outsider Theory, from Habermas-Gadamer debate page, available online athttp://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/habermas07.htm 
1
 
 
ICTs – Instrumentum or locus of transformation? 
 As an analytical means and approach, Giddens’
Structuration Theory 
(1984) is used to portray these areas andunderstand how they interrelate one to another.Firstly, in the area of ICT and society, this paper sees the dynamics between the two from Internet CMC viewpoint which reflect the immense power of communication technology (Thurlow, et al., 2004; Graham,1999), and the emergence of ‘information age’ (Castells 1996, 1997) and ‘modernity’ (Giddens, 1999). Then,the paper looks closely at CSOs and their roles, as the third social actor after the state and ‘economy, in socialdynamics. Being explanatory, the review exposes the way in understanding society and civil society (Eldridge,1971; Danermark, et al., 2002) and evaluates the role of CSO as an agent of social transformation (Held andMc Grew, 2000) in the context of modern Information Society (Miles, 1996). Further, this review investigatesthe landscape for ICTs appropriation by understanding the path from access to appropriation (Surman &Reilly, 2003) and examines the role of ICT as convivial medium (Illich, 1973) for civil society to fosterdemocracy and social justice (Riker, 2001; McConnel, 2000). And finally, before reaching conclusion, thepaper offers a closer look at Miles’ ‘
competing perspectives 
’ which shapes information societies (Miles, 1996) and acomplementary view from Giddens’ ‘
structuration theory 
’ to explain societal changes (Giddens, 1984) in theInformation Society.
2. Rethinking ICTs and Society What interaction?
“Instantaneous electronic communication is not just a way in which news and information is conveyed more quickly. Its existence alters the very texture of our lives.” (Giddens, 1999:3)
 The dynamics between technology and society has long been acknowledged as eminent topic in science andtechnology study. It started from the ‘technological determinism’, which saw technology as the only driving force behind much of history and was gleaned from an underlying physical reality, to the classic question whether technology is socially shaped (MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1985) or is socially constructed (Bijker, et al.,1989), which recognises the ‘push and pull’ between technology and society and that technology is a‘collective product’ of society.Particularly today, with the emergence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) especially the Internet, this issue has become more important for communication –which is central in human life—hasbeen broadly mediated by computer. As Thurlow (et al., 2004) suggests, although most of theories anddebates on the Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and society come from Western scholars, it isimportant to explore beyond what have been in existence since social and cultural transformations arebrought about by the Internet, specifically CMC, which has ability to change and influence identities,relationships and communities. He says, furthermore, “…
whether you own a computer or not –and billions of people 
 
 
ICTs – Instrumentum or locus of transformation? 
don’t—these days everyone’s lives are transformed by new media like the internet, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
(p. 2). To my mind, opinions about the cultural and social impact of new technologies is initially polarised intoextreme positions. On the one hand, it is those who create a lot of 
hype 
about the wonderful, uniqueadvantages of the technology –this view is referred to as
technophilia 
. On the other hand there are those whoappear more
hysterical 
about the terrible effects they foresee –known as
luddites 
or
technophobics 
.Following Postman’s conception (1993) about
technopoly 
, a world whose advancement is characterised only by technological innovation
2
, Graham (1999) addresses this tension very clearly,
“At the same time, to declare all doubts and questions about the Internet to be luddite, is to run the dangerof falling victim to the other extreme, an extreme we might call ‘the ideology of technology’. The ‘ideologyof technology’ is most evident in Technophiles: those who believe that technological innovation is acornucopia which will remedy all ills… Their motivation lay … in the fact that they were intrigued by thetechnical problems. This is one aspect of the ‘ideology of technology’– technological problem-solvingbecomes an end in, and of, itself irrespective of larger considerations. To say more accurately, thequestion of means is the dominant (even sole) consideration and the question of the value of ends towhich they are the means is left to take care of itself. A second important aspect of the ideology oftechnology is its assumption that the most technologically advanced is the best. This might be taken as thedefining characteristic of technophilia, in fact. It is also the belief that has ushered in ‘Technopoly’ a worldruled by technological innovation (Graham, 1999:pp.9-10)
In this light, Kling (1996) defines what he sees as the basic beliefs of the ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’ visionspeople tend to have regarding the effects of ‘computerisation’ on human interaction and social life. Theutopian vision emphasises the life-enhancing, exciting possibilities of CMC with claims for globalconnectivity, democratisation and the opening of the frontiers of human experience and relationship. Theanti-utopian vision concerns itself with people’s enslavement to digital technology, their growing dependency as well as the relentless, unstoppable growth of technology which brings with it information overload and thebreakdown of social structure
3
. So too, this may suppose with ICT. The world is indeed being altered by it and will continue to be. But thescale and depth of the alteration will not be of the sort that either optimists or pessimists predict, and the task is to explore the perennial issues which need to be understood if we are to make a reasonable assessment of its value and significance. To my mind, steering a reasoned middle course between luddism and technophiliarequires the following: that we are not swayed by technological innovation for no better reason than that it is
2
Postman (1999) contrasts the modern world, especially in America, with earlier ‘tool using’ societies, when technology was the servant of otherindependent purposes and regulated by them. Technopoly, by contrast “
eliminates alternatives to itself 
” (p.48). Although criticised as puttingtoo much generalisation, Postman identifies an important assumption that all that went before is redundant and to be discarded becauseinferior. With this, also comes another assumption, that countries and individuals who want to increase or preserve their prosperity must investheavily in hi-tech.
3
With reference to the Internet, Berland (2000) in similar way refers to ‘cyberutopianism’ to explain what she observes as the ‘overly optimisticbelief’ often held in society that technology necessarily means progress and, therefore, what is new is always good and always better thanwhat went before. This also assumes that progress is always a good thing, which may explain why many people rush out to buy the latestversion of everything.Sometimes people forget that the new product may not be better but that we are told it is in order to satisfy the interests of hard corecommerce. This view, supported by the current practice of neoliberal economy, changes entirely the way society perform. If Descartes werearound, he might say “
Emo ergo sum 
” (I shop, therefore I am) instead of “
Cogito ergo sum 
” (I think, therefore I am). This is my personal note tothis issue, which is published in an English newspaper in Indonesia. See: Nugroho (2002)
 

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