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The Internet as a Self-Organizing Socio-Technological System

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The Internet is generally considered as a global technological system of networked computer networks, as the network of networks working with TCP/IP. Such definitions see the Internet as a purely technological system, they forget that knowledgeable human activities make the Internet work, the technological structure can't be separated from its human use and the permanent creation and communication of meaningful information through the Internet. The technical process of data transmission in the Internet known as routing is a mechanistic one. Self-organizing systems involve certain degrees of freedom, chance, irreducibility, unpredictability, and indeterminacy, hence when considering the Internet a purely technological system, it can't be characterized as self-organizing. Social self-organization is a self-referential, mutual process where structural media and human actions produce each other. The Internet is a global socio-technological system that is based on a technological structure consisting of networked computer networks that works with the help of the TCP/IP protocol and stores objectified human knowledge, human actors permanently re-create this global knowledge storage mechanism by producing new informational content, communicating in the system, and consuming existing informational content in the system; the technological infrastructure enables and constrains human communication. The Internet consists of both a technological infrastructure and communicating human actors. Together these two parts form a socio-technological system, the technological structure functions as a structural mass medium that produces and reproduces networked communicative actions and is itself produced and reproduced by communicative actions. The technical structure is medium and outcome of human agency, it enables and constrains human activity and thinking and is the result of productive social communication processes. Important qualities that are connected with the Internet as a sociotechnological system are Open Source, Virtual Reality, globalization, and many-to-many dialogue. Traditional mass media have been based on one-to-many-communication, whereas the Internet is based on many-to-many-communication. Hence the Internet has a large intrinsic democratic potential. In the terminology of Vilem Flusser it can be said that it could support a shift from discursive media society to dialogic media society.
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Keywords: Cyberspace; Internet; Virtual Reality; World Wide Web (WWW); social self-organization; society

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Design and Technology Assessment, Vienna University of Technology, Favoritenstr. 9-11/187,A- 1040 Vienna, Austria ., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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