Knowledge Dynamics

Knowledge is a key asset in the twenty-first century.

In the agrarian world the main value was attributed to the land. In the industrial world and still today – to the capital. In the emerging information society, development will be mostly driven by knowledge and intellect.

Knowledge here not only means an arithmetic sum of acquired theories from formal education. It also means a set of working skills, qualifications, personal attributes – anything that makes one competitive on the world market.

There is one issue here though.

We live in such a fast-changing world, that once you lean something new, i.e. acquire knowledge, it is already becoming outdated!

For example, I had to rewrite my PhD research proposal more than once in two years as life was constantly presenting new evidence, and new social developments were taking place that challenged my ideas. Today I understand that my research proposal is not entirely up-to-date, as political, social and economic landscapes have changed again!

So how to keep up with this “pace of the world”?

I am afraid – or should I say happy? – that there is no easy answer. Though it may sound simple:

Never. Ever. Stop. Learning.

From my experience (personal and by no means exclusive) this means:

1) Always staying up-to-date with the current trends in your field. RIDE THE WAVE or it will smash you.

2) Being open to conflicting opinions. FRESH PERSPECTIVE is a pre-requisite to keep your ideas and practices original.

3) Using every free moment to read. Less social media, MORE BOOKS.

And last but not least, we must keep in mind a well-known saying:

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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Black Mirror: An Anti-Technological Manifesto

I have recently come across Black Mirror – a scandalous TV series depicting human addiction to modern technologies, gadgets and digital devices. Here are just a few sketches and reflections on the relationship between mankind and the technological world portrayed by the film creators.

In the first episode the Princess of England is taken hostage by the unknown. According to the ultimatum proposed, the British Prime-Minister must .. have sex with a pig LIVE on all TV channels. After a painful dilemma and under tremendous public pressure the PM does what is requested. As it turns out, the Princess was set free half an hour before the ultimatum expired. However, no one even noticed her walking in downtown London as everyone’s gaze was glued to the TV screen.

The next episode presents a futuristic picture of an ultra-technological digital society where you either have to pedal in a gym for earning points (salary) or can break through to the Talents Show where you are used in all senses. The main hero gives away all his points to buy a gift ticket to the Show for a girl he hardly knows. Eventually they both end up working in the entertainment and porn industries despite their sincere aspirations for the beautiful. Thus post-industrial technological mode co-exists with the New Middle Ages in human relationships.

And so on, and so forth.

In my opinion, the main idea set by the film directors is that technological progress is neither good nor bad. The point is for which purposes it’s used by the mankind.

In this regard, it would be also great to see White Mirror as continuation of the series. After all, for every black there is a white, like for every yin there is a yang.

Verdict: definitely to be watched, discussed and comprehended.

Social networks: from national to network identities

In one of the previous posts I mentioned that social networks, among many benefits, have a negative impact on our lives too. However, every cloud has a silver lining. It is a fact that the influence of Facebook, as the brightest and most popular social network, brings a lot of skepticism and doubt. Still, there are many more benefits in using it rather than simply rejecting.

I don’t want to list all of the ‘goodies’ offered by Facebook, starting from the opportunity to stay connected with friends all over the world, to revolutionary changes in business and political awakening. What I would like to highlight is something that is not mentioned so often, or is rather confined to academic discussions and research. Social networks help construct a new form of personal identity – network, politary, or arbitrary identity.

We have lived all life in the industrial phase and that’s why we consider the current social systems and ideologies as constants. But this is not so. Nationalism and patriotism are examples of concepts not adequate for the agrarian phase (where vassalage and unity in faith dominated) and especially for the archaic one. Nor will they be relevant for the post-industrial phase. Every epoch brings its own understanding of a person’s identity. In addition to self-identification as an individual, man is inclined to identify himself with certain communities. This desire to structure the world is embedded in the human nature. Whether somebody likes it or not, man consciously and subconsciously divides everyone into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. This cannot be helped as this is a powerful instinct-based program. Properly speaking, identity is a part of human consciousness that is formed through the feeling of affiliation to different social groups.

We are now witnessing signs of the end of the Modern epoch that has lasted for about five hundred years. During this phase of historical development nations have been an important part of social classification and identification, in contrast to kinship, tribal, religious and ethnic forms of self-identification in the Pre-Modern epoch. Similarly and naturally, national identities – a common way of self-identification in the modern or industrial phase – will transform in the post-modern or post-industrial epoch we are gradually entering.

The signs of the next system of identity can be seen throughout the world. These are cosmopolitans or citizens of the world who think globally and are not bound by national ties, at least in the common understanding of organic and institutional identities. They choose themselves whom to be and in which country (nation-state) to live. Such people feel affiliation first of all with those who share their ideas and interests. They do not have a problem, like their predecessors of the earlier epoch, choosing a language to communicate. If my community lives in California, I will live and speak English, even though I am a Russian Ukrainian. Differentiation goes hand in hand with individualization, the process of distinguishing oneself from the traditional social groups followed by creation of new groups. And this is where social networks step in: they play a tremendous role to construct identity based on arbitrary interpersonal relationships that becomes more and more varied.

To make a conclusion, we are inclined to overemphasize our own system of identities by considering it as a unique and everlasting one. Nationality did not always exist, nor will it be important in future. Even today this word may mean nothing for someone, while bear completely different meanings for others. More important, however, is that in the present-day world social networks facilitate the construction and implantation of the new type of network identity not bound by a territory or language.

This does not mean that nationality will fade away completely. Rather, the new identity will co-exist with the national one, like national identities co-exists with religious ones. Every new system of identification is more complex than the preceding one. This is natural as every new paradigm leads to a higher degree of structure. There will be more and more people with complex identity systems. This process is normal and needs to be accepted as given.

In the 2010 movie “The Social Network” Sean Parker, the co-founder of Facebook, proclaimed: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!”. We all live in a unique historical epoch, the time of transition from the modern industrial society to post-industrial information one. Being able to use the technological benefits the new era offers means being on the top of the wave. After all, technology is neither good or bad itself. It’s up to us whether we use it in the pursuit of power or a positive change in the world.

Antisocial networks

Top 3 facts about social networks:

1) Every minute 100 000 people become friends on Facebook.

2) Every 8 seconds someone on the planet joins a social network.

3) With the population of 1 billion, Facebook would be the 3rd largest country in the world after China and India.

Do social networks change our lives? They surely do. What is the nature of this impact?

There are many amazing benefits that social networks –  like Facebook, for example – bring to people. I will cover them in the next post. Here I would like to mention a few other aspects.

Let me point to them via a few rhetorical questions.

With how many Facebook friends do you meet more often in person than online? With how many of them do you meet at all?

How often do you check your Facebook account daily? How much time do you spend on an average browsing others’ posts?

What is your reaction to getting likes? How often do you ‘like’ others?

Do you feel as at ease communicating with someone in person as online?

The answers to these questions might reveal that we live in the age of antisocial networks, in fact. Can this be an exaggeration? Well, research shows that using social networks increases the chances of committing suicide, as it detaches man from reality by minimizing contacts with the environment.

This does not mean that social networks should be banned as something bad and evil. Social networks are neither good nor bad. A knife can be used for killing, but also for saving lives in a surgeon’s hands. Yet like with any other thing, there should be a “golden middle” in using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to avoid addiction and, even worse, distortion of reality.

 

 

 

 

 

Information wars in the post-modern world (Part 4)

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Information society

Back in 1980 an American futurist Alan Toffler published his famous book The Third Wave, in which the author distinguished three large distinct periods in the human history: primitive (pre-traditional), agrarian (traditional) and industrial (modern). Today we are entering a new phase of development – “the third wave” (with the count starting from traditional society) – which has its peculiar social, economic, and technological characteristics. This new era has been labeled as the Information Age by A. Toffler and others, following the Industrial Age and Agricultural Age. Other names suggested are the post-industrial society and the post-modern society.

The world has indeed irrevocably changed over the past few decades, with information and knowledge becoming major resources, in contrast to land in the agrarian society and capital in the industrial one. Every resource is by definition an object of struggle and a target for ownership. In this regard, the concept of war has also evolved in the post-modern world. Namely, the information age is transforming the notion of classical wars into information wars that can be described as an extreme form of informational confrontation manifested in the attacks on a population via disinformation and propaganda in order to achieve certain political or military objectives.

Understanding information wars

While researchers and military experts distinguish several types of information warfare (IW) and IW weapons, it is essential to understand the concept of the information war in its broader meaning as defined above, which in this sense can be also referred to as a type of “soft war”. Information wars are closely linked to psychological wars which target, via various techniques, a population’s values and belief systems, as well as emotions and reasoning. With the two concepts combined, we can talk about information-psychological wars that are becoming an integral part of post-modern geopolitics, in additional to traditional warfare.

Another approach to define the notion of information war is to distinguish its two dimensions: humanitarian (social) and technical. In its humanitarian understanding, information war is “a set of active methods of transforming the infosphere by imposing different models of the world in order to induce the required types of behavior.” An example of IW in this regard is disinformation and propaganda. As for the technical understanding, information war equals the usage of special technology that targets the destruction of computer hardware, program software, communication networks, etc. Critical data deletion is such an example of IW.

Finally, a comprehensive understanding and classification of information wars was offered by Martin Libicki. Coupled with the humanitarian-technical approach above, this can be summarized in the following table.

Dimension Type of warfare Description
Humanitarian Command-and-Control (C2W) Attacks on ability to generate and communicate commands
Psychological Impact on perceptions, intentions, and orientations of decision makers
Economic Information blockade and information imperialism
Technical Intelligence-based (IBW) Integration of sensors, emitters, etc. into reconnaissance and surveillance
Electronic (EW) and hacker Technics to enhance, degrade, or intercept flows of information
Cyber warfare The use of information systems against  virtual individuals or groups

Understanding information wars

Conclusion: “the battle off the battlefield”

Among many benefits, the onrush of technology has brought about the challenge of information wars. Information war as a phenomenon of the post-modern world is truly a battle off the battlefield, as it can be waged without a single shot. While traditional warfare aimed to physically eliminate an opponent, information warfare leads to disruption of financial, transport and communication networks and systems, destabilization of the economic infrastructure, changing the mindset of the population, and triggering doubt in the necessity of managing an independent and sovereign state.

Still, the recent political disruptions of the Arab Spring, the war against Lybia, the civil war in Syria, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to name only a few, all highlight an important trend: organizing and implementing effective information and psychological operations is a key element in winning a post-modern war, and ensuring the information security of the state or any other polity.

Information wars in the post-modern world (Part 3)

The concept of war has irrevocably changed in the post-modern world. Unlike the industrial and traditional societies, today it’s not only important to know the number of tanks, aircrafts, soldiers, but also the target audience of the local and global media in a country, the public opinion in it, and the presence of opinion leaders, etc. The propaganda disseminated by Russia’s central information agency ITAR-TASS showed that a team of dedicated reporters and cameramen can have a considerable impact on the outcome of a war.

The lessons of Russia’s information war against Ukraine

Russia’s war against Ukraine has several components – trade war, technological war, and information war. While the trade and technological wars lead to economic losses, the information war has much wider consequences.

Firstly, this information war, which intensified since Euromaidan, reached its peak during the Crimean conflict, and continues today, has highlighted the role of propaganda. The Ukrainian revolution from the very beginning has been seen through a haze of propaganda. Russian media have claimed that Ukrainian protesters were right-wing extremists and that their victory was a “fascist coup”. The incursion into Crimea is another proof that a team of clever journalists and cameramen can make a bigger influence than military weaponry and personnel. All in all, propaganda has been important to Putin’s regime in order to prepare the way for war. As pointed out by Timothy Snyder: “An excellent propaganda apparatus, such as the Russian one, can find ways to repeat its message over and over again in slightly different ways and formats.”

Secondly, the information war against Ukraine has exposed the fact that the world is still created by TV news and press, even though the Internet and social networks are becoming more and more important. In this regard, how is something said is more important than what is said, with made-up stories creating real motivations that may lead to a radical change of reality. Thus, Putin has manufactured a version of reality to create the discourse he needs to destabilize Ukraine. The concept of the information war entails that the virtual reality affects and even replaces actual reality.

Finally,the Ukrainian case has demonstrated that a side that is preparing for an “old-type-war” will likely lose as it needs to operate within the narrative propagated by an opponent. As pointed in the article by Washington Post on the subject: “Putin is no longer bound by the constraints of nation-state warfare. Years of confrontations with separatists, militants, terrorists and stateless actors influenced his thinking. In Crimea, Putin debuted a pop-up war — nimble and covert — that is likely to be the design of the future.” While Putin has been “redefining 21st-century warfare”, the Ukrainian state has failed to provide an adequate response and ensure its information security.

Conclusion

The events of the Arab Spring, the defeat of Muammar Gaddafi, the crisis in Syria, the “white stripe” movement in Russia and, most recently, the invasion of Ukraine highlight the following trend: a key element to gain a victory in the present-day wars is the ability to work with people’s beliefs. Beliefs create motivations; motivations create actions; actions change social and political landscapes. What is more important, virtual reality creates real motivations that ultimately bring real changes. As formulated by Milton Friedman:

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

Information wars in the post-modern world (Part 2)

There were three large distinct periods or waves in the human history: primitive, agrarian and industrial. Today we are entering a post-modern, or post-industrial, phase, and like any other phase the new one will have its peculiar social, economic, and technological characteristics. Applied to the concept of war, this means the following. In the traditional (agrarian) society wars were waged by trained warriors. The modern society saw development of all sorts of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, brought about by the industrial revolution. Today, however, the information age transforms the whole notion of classical wars into information wars. Some of the unique features of information wars as compared to traditional wars are the following.

Wave Physical Security by War Characterized by Destructive Capability
Agrarian Warrior class, mercenaries Representational conflict Gunpowder
Industrial Professional citizens Mass armies, high casualties Mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, etc.)
Information Information knowledgeable leaders Information attacks, minimal casualties Disinformation, critical data deletion

The three waves of warfare

A distinctive characteristic of contemporary geopolitics is thus waging information wars in support of the traditional warfare. Information wars do not completely replace traditional warfare, like the post-industrial society does not completely replace the industrial one, but it is rather constructed on top of it (not to mention that different parts of the world are at the different stages of development). Still, in the new times the use of raw military power and weaponry will be limited. Cleaning up the grounds will be (and already is) carried out by financial, economic, and information-psychological technologies with the participation of weak and corrupted governments.

A paradigmatic example of an information war was made by the 2012 war in Libya, where each real combat was accompanied by a powerful wave of disinformation generated by mass media. The most recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia originated from the civil protest known as Euromaidan is another excellent case study proving that a powerful disinformation and propaganda campaign can be rather effective in the pursuit of certain military and political objectives.