The informational dimension of society constitutes a great axis of political-economic activity, conflict, and transformation. The Information Observatory (IO) proposes to document and clarify this profound, open-ended process. We will do so not by recycling the latest report of a new operating system or app, but by identifying the structural forces that underpin change. We will pose searching questions, present benchmark indicators, explicate long-term trends, and underline turning-points. Our endeavor is radical, international, and historical.
Radical: Only by situating information systems and services in reference to the political economy is it possible to make sense of today’s reality. Exploitation and power imbalances, conflict, and crisis are vital features of digital capitalism – alongside efforts to resist and reorganize this dominative system.
International: Ruled for many decades by the United States, information today is increasingly riven by inter-capitalist competition and interstate conflict. Who will define and appropriate high-profit industries and nodes of growth, and on what terms? What portions of the information system persist outside the range of commodity relations? The profit strategies of Silicon Valley and the policies of Washington need to be studied in light of conditions in and responses by other countries and other peoples.
Historical: Our conception of information engages heterogeneous forms and practices: It may include everything from Web applications to telecommunications networks, from government information to bioinformatics, from libraries to corporate communications and from corporate profit-strategies to anti-commodification campaigns and vernacular culture. Across this broad range, historical analysis enables us to look for commonalities and distinctions.