The restructuring and reorganisation of industry, associated changes in occupational structure, and related innovations in technology since the end of World War II, signify a radical transformation of 'industrial society' into 'post-industrial society'. Daniel Bell introduced the concept of a 'post- industrial society' (1973: 9) to refer to changes taking place in the sphere of production as a result of developments in science and technology. For Bell the increasing significance of theoretical knowledge is the most important aspect of these changes because they constitute the axial principle of post-industrial society. Whereas industrial society revolved around the co-ordination of workers and machines for the production of goods, post-industrial society is organised around the production of knowledge for the purpose of social control and the directing of innovation and change. (Bell 1973: 20) A shift of power away from controlling the 'means of production' to controlling what Bell terms the 'technostructure' has thus occurred.
Figure 5: Prof.dr. J. Weizenbaum, 1983.
The context out of which this technostructure grew was that of the military-industrial complex. The deployment of armed forces around the world and the increasing internationalism of corporate operations from the end of World War II, created large logistical, communication, and control problems for the American military and industrial apparatuses. The elements to resolve these logistical problems, namely electronics, servo mechanisms 4 and computers, were already in existence having been developed under military sponsorship during the course of the war. Consequently these technological developments, orientated in the first instance towards the war effort, converged in recent years to create the new technologies of control and communication which formed the basis of the information society in which we live today. As Weizenbaum puts it: 'The computer in its modern form was born from the womb of the military. As with so much other modern technology of the same parentage, almost every technological advance in the computer field, including those motivated by the demands of the military, has had its residual payoff / fallout in the civilian sector.'(Weizenbaum 1979: 455) [Figure 5]
The symbiotic relationship between the military, science and industry, out of which this information age grew, is important because underlying it is a sense of power - of organised control and indoctrination. These underlying elements constitute the concept of cybernetics and, as such, they form an interesting metaphor for unpacking the ways in which power is dispersed in an information age.
Figure 6: Robert Wiener, 1949. (Heims 1980:224)
Cybernetics comprises all systems, mechanical, electronic and biological, in which the flow of information plays a role. Robert Wiener, an American mathematician, coined the word 'cybernetics' in 1947. [Figure 6] The term has its origin in Ancient Greek. Its early form was kybernetic , meaning steersman. For Plato in The Republic the term described the prudent aspects of the art of government. The Latin word gubernator was derived from the Greek, and from it the English word governor . These early sources illustrate the range of cybernetics: it is concerned with governance or control in social and mechanical systems.
Wiener used 'cybernetic' to describe the concept of machines that can handle information, make decisions, and control the operation of other machines. Because the concept of information plays such a central role, cybernetics is also known as 'information theory' or 'communication theory'. Information is quantified by cybernetics in a formula that is analogous to the formula given by Gibbs for thermodynamic entropy.5 The aim of cybernetic analysis is to define and isolate which particular piece of information passing between parts of a system motivates which action, or alters which states in the communicants. In its most basic form, the cybernetic system is made up of a receptor receiving information as input from the outside. This information is processed and sent to an effector or sender which then responds to the initial information with output. The output, however, alters the original conditions on the outside, thus leading to new information being sent in the form of input back into the system, establishing what is called a 'feedback loop'. [Figure 7]
Figure 7: A graphic description of a feedback loop.
I - input instruction; E - initial execution;
D - outside influence; F - feedback from outside influence;
O - actual execution.
(Gérardin 1968: 48)
By extension, cybernetics can be applied to the study of any communication system. These include information processing mechanisms such as computers, self governing machines and automata, and communication systems inherent within the human body such as the relationship between brain and behaviour. Because of these applications, cybernetics is an appropriate metaphor for conceptualising society: the notion that the brain functions like a computer, that a person is like a machine, that society is like a feedback mechanism, allows for an investigation into the ways in which information functions in a post-industrial age.
The application of cybernetics to communication systems created by advanced technology forms the central theme of my practical body of work. It is a reflection on the era of networks, contact, feedback and generalised interface that functions in and alongside the universe of communication. Reflecting on the ways the National Party had used information for indoctrination purposes, I expanded the theme so as to question the freedom of individuals in the configuration of the mass media and state apparatuses that form the 'neocapitalist cybernetic order.'(Baudrillard 1983: 111) As data banks and information-processing systems in governmental agencies are able to process more information, so bureaucracies expand. As network television bring us more information about each other, privacy diminishes. As technological innovation progresses, so the artificial environment which governs our interaction with the world becomes more incomprehensible. As virtual reality becomes an ever-present part of our present, nature becomes more and more absent.