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Aims of the Center

The Center will focus on six principal areas of activity:

Research - Development of a long-term research program that will encourage and facilitate interdisciplinary research on questions relating to the information society, as detailed below.

Information Archive - Accumulation and maintenance a collection of documents concerning the information society in Israel.

Publications - The Center will facilitate the publication of the research work of its staff, including public position papers on topics relevant to the information society.

Academic Conferences - Organization of conferences, seminars, and colloquia concerning the information society.

External Meetings - The Center will occasionally convene meetings between academic professionals and representatives in government, the legal establishment, industry, and commerce in order to reflect upon issues related to the information society.

International Ties - Given the potential of communication technologies to promote regional and global cooperation by lowering political and cultural barriers to peaceful communication between nations, the Center will cultivate and maintain cooperative relationships with internationally based researchers, scholars, and institutions, especially those located in the Middle East, that are engaged in similar lines of inquiry.

Foci of Research Activity

It is the interdisciplinary commitment of the Center that underlies the mapping of its research foci in terms of general themes, rather than specific domains. Five main subjects will comprise the broader foci of the Center's research work: community, power and control, the encounter of people and technology, planning and diffusion, and changing meanings in the information age.

1. Questions about Community

The formation of communities of unknown kinds and of unexpected sizes raises the need to re-evaluate the concept of "community," along with its idealized and critical connotations. The expression "virtual community" itself hints that it refers to something essentially different from our traditional understanding of "community"; and that community, in turn, continuously alters its form as the communication patterns on which it was based change, become obsolete, or acquire new meanings. On the topic of "community," the Center will propose research projects to explore the following:

  • What patterns of communication are characteristic of the formation of face-to-face communities, and how do mediated communities differ from such patterns?

  • How can we characterize the formation, organization, and maintenance of virtual communities and what uses and gratifications are reflected by these processes?

  • How can we conceptualize the boundaries, size, and density of virtual communities, and what is the nature of the space in which they exist?

  • How do different communication channels contribute to the development and maintenance of community identity in a multicultural society?

2. Questions about Policy, Power, and Regulation
Established, traditional social systems and regulating agencies currently face technological developments which challenge the normative and regulatory status quo. New communication technologies are perceived as potentially anarchic and egalitarian, yet at the same time most accessible to the economic and cultural elite. Whether or not these perceptions are accurate does not change the fact that the development of communication infrastructure, as well as the associated legislation and social policy, are largely manipulated by those with the power to establish "facts on the ground." The Center will address the following questions:

  • Which agencies are involved in the process of determining communication policy?

  • What types of legislation might be considered to regulate the ownership and operation of communication technologies?

  • What ramifications would different types of legislation and enforcement safeguarding information propriety have for various private and public interests?

  • How would various policies and legislation advance or hinder social and cultural priorities in this era of globalization?

  • What are the political, economic, and cultural ramifications of letting either market forces or legislation determine rights concerning information ownership and intellectual property? How should issues regarding intellectual property in cyberspace be conceptualized?

  • What kinds of trends can wsee in international communication flow, and how do these affect national and global power structures?

  • What are the ramifications of a capitalist information society upon social gaps? Must information richness necessarily be accompanied by material wealth?

  • How do new communication technologies shape relations of power across barriers of generation and gender, and how are these social relations defined by them?

3. Questions about the Encounter of People and Technology
At the interface, that imaginary line connecting but separating the person and the machine, people and tools come together in a way that makes each of them meaningless without the other. Precisely when the contours of space and time become blurred, the importance of the concrete here-and-now of this encounter grows; and particularly when the interface becomes simple and friendly for some yet complex and alienating for others, more profound understanding of the encounter between user and tool is required. Nowhere are the changes in the reciprocal roles of humans and machines more dynamic and critical than in educational arena and the workplace. In this context, the Center will address the following questions:

  • How is it possible to design virtual space, and its navigation, to be more amenable to human use and activity? What assumptions about human nature and functioning are reflected in the design of virtual space? What are the ramifications of these assumptions for different human contexts, especially that of the work force?

  • What new concepts regarding literacy and intelligence accompany new information technology development and adoption? In what ways might these technologies, in turn, influence modes of thinking?

  • Do "schools without walls" constitute a viable educational possibility? If so, can they be effective towards serving societal goals in education? Are there other societal or cultural ramifications which make this type of education undesirable? What is the significance to groups and individuals with special education needs?

  • How does exposure to global information networks affect the individual's network of identities in the information society? To what extent can "borrowed identity" or anonymity be considered "legitimate" in different discursive environments? In the age of inter-networked communication, how central is one's national identity compared with one's global identity or with one's community or local identities?

  • What forces encourage or inhibit the development of information and communication technologies and, locally, how can we better understand the processes that have been most important in Israel's rapid conversion into a "technocentric" society?

4. Questions about Planning and Diffusion
The entry of a new technology onto the stage of history is portrayed as a breathtaking moment, and a paradise for researchers; and yet the extent to which it is possible and proper to identify and isolate such a moment is problematic in itself. What is sometimes perceived as random and subversive, or as creative and spontaneous, is largely the fruit of initiative and planning from the phase of start-up businesses or technology transfer and up to the stage of consumer demand and consumption. From this perspective, the Center will address the following questions:

  • To what extent can communication technologies be distinguished from one another on the basis of their influence upon society? Are there instances when it is more useful to consider the cumulative effects of technology clusters rather than those of individual communication technologies?
  • How might we understand the factors behind the unprecedented, meteoric adoption of cellular communication in Israel, especially as it compares with adoption rates in other countries?
  • How have the attitudes toward telecommunication systems, on the parts of states, political movements, the press, and intelligentsia, changed since the first deployment of telecommunication systems over 160 years ago?

5. Questions about Changing Meanings
Existing ideas, words and concepts are used to create new technologies, and consequently undergo a shift in their meanings by the adoption and utilization of these same technologies. Designers, users, and researchers approach new communication technologies armed with lexica which are closely related to, and dependent upon, the processes in which these people take part. In effect, our words both shape reality and take its shape, establish existing dichotomies but also reflect them, articulate innovation and change yet seem to merely reflect it. Accordingly, the Center will seek to understand the following:

  • How do new communication technologies influence basic legal concepts, and what is the status of documents and texts, and the notion of an original, in the information society?

  • How are negotiations over the terms private/public, individual/group, and time/space conducted in the parallel contexts of mass-media and virtual space? To what extent will the introduction of new communication technologies into domestic space necessitate re-evaluation of the dualities work/leisure and male/female?

  • What kinds of linguistic artifacts, including languages and grammars, will be utilized and/or created by users of new communication technologies? What will be the status of marginal languages, and what is the significance of interpersonal communication in this environment?

  • What form or forms do technologies assume as they are presented in social discourse? What will be the conceptual worlds on which academia, industry, and popular culture draw as they deliberate and construct their attitudes toward new information technologies?