More than five decades ago Marshall McLuhan published his famous Gutenberg Galaxy. The book has been highly influential in a range of disciples from communication and media studies to sociology, management studies and many more. With the growing popularity in the late 1990s McLuhan became not only the Patron Saint of Wired Magazine but also again the centre of academic debate about the noticeable changes in the media ecology.
Already in 2001 Manuel Castells took it upon himself to examine concurrent technological developments and publish a book with the title “The Internet Galaxy. Reflections in the Internet, Business, and Society” (Oxford: OUP). Save for the title of the book though, there is very little similarity with McLuhan’s book. This is not a critique of the book but merely of the title. The book indeed provides interesting analyses of the relationship between technological and societal developments. In a way, Castells’ Internet Galaxy continues a discussion that he began with his trilogy on the Network Society published in the mid to late 1990s.
Castells thereby carefully avoids the technological determinism that characterises so many contemporary book about the internet and society. Instead he uses his sociological expertise to offer an analysis of how the Internet and related network technologies provide the basis for new opportunities and challenges for business and economy, politics, and culture. He devotes an entire chapter to a discussion of the digital divide, and emphasises that access to the Internet is not the only barrier to participation in the Network Society but it is a prerequisite for an involvement in societal processes.
In his chapter on “e-Business and the New Economy” Castells investigates the opportunities of new forms of production including changes in labor-relations. He also discusses the financial markets and highlights the fragility of financial markets that are subject to global communication via online networks. In some way that now can be seen as a prediction of the 2007/8 financial crisis, but Castells is not in the business of making prediction. Instead he sticks to an analysis of the present (2001) and recent past and from there on reveals possible directions for business, work and labor and the economy as a whole.
Although The Internet Galaxy was published in 2001 it still is a worthwhile read as it provides a well-founded analysis of networked organisation of society.