Over the past century, vast resources, including human effort and funding, have been invested in the research and development of advanced technologies to help us transfer, store, and process information. The fruits of this investment are evident in every domain of our public and private lives. The cellular telephone, multi-channel television, and computer-mediated communication, are thought to re-shape various sites of social and cultural practice. The rapid and wide-spread deployment of information technologies, in Israel particularly, make them a frequent and prominent topic of public discourse; but what tools are at the disposal of this public discussion? What are the conceptual, theoretical and empirical bases that may serve as the point of departure for such public discussions? The Center for Information Society Research (CISR) seeks to contribute to this discourse by focusing systematic research on the individuals and the communities that interact with advanced communication technologies.
Issues of law and ethics, history and geography, communication and economics, politics and language, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, are currently pushed to the margins because technology is perceived as a given, inexorable force that shapes its surroundings. The Center regards these issues as being of first-order importance, conceiving of technological development as situated within the social and cultural environment on which it draws and in which it grows, and whose landscape it in turn designs. Acknowledging the interdependence of the technologies and those who design and use them, the CISR will seek to supplement the investment in technological R & D with studies of the encounters between the people and the technologies available to them.
In this spirit, the CISR was formed at the University of Haifa by a group of researchers who propose an inter-disciplinary study of the linkages between communication technologies and the communities within which they are created and shaped, and which they affect. The researchers wish to bring historical, geographical, economical, political, legal, linguistic, ethnographic, and communication perspectives to basic, theoretical, and applied research, and to build the foundations for an enlightened debate and informed, coherent, and effective policy decisions in Israel.
Contemporary communication technologies are characterized by a blurring of long-standing categorical divisions and definitions: The Internet is based on the principle that all forms of information - sound, image, text are convertible into similar digital signals; the cellular telephone allows communication that is not anchored in any known and fixed physical place. In doing so, these technologies alter the most basic attributes traditionally associated with forms of social communication, and raise very fundamental and practical questions about the future of communication industries and their social roles. Among other issues, then, the Center will address questions related to centralized and privatized control, rights and privacy legislation, widening and closing of social gaps, localization as against globalization of culture, as well as the changing conceptions of time and space, individual and society, alienation and community, language, and power.