Networks are central to meaning, culture and evolution. They define the community and the circulation of meaning within a community – from a connectivist perspective they define knowledge and meaning, from a memetic perspective they are the means through which memes are transmitted and from a cemetic perspective networks are culture – they are community, meaning and evolution.
However we look at it networks are vital to culture and never before have people been so connected as with the Internet. In terms of numbers 2.3 billion people were online at the end of 2011(33% of all humanity) and by 2020 it is expected that 5 billion people will be connected – 66% of all humanity. While the scale of internet connectivity is important it is the nature of this connectivity that is even more important – web 2, social media and social networks mean that anyone who is connected can be heard globally and contribute their ideas. In the next decade 3 billion new minds will become connected and most of these will be from developing countries – introducing new voices into our global networks.
The number and diversity of connections and inputs into the network is important. From a memetic view this increases the variety and mutation of memes available for selection and inheritance. When considering the problems of genetic inbreeding then memetic diversity and a large meme pool can only be healthy for humanity. From a connectivist view the number and diversity of connections and inputs into the network increases the richness of meaning, the strength of weak ties and opportunities for tipping points.
Marshall McLuhan wrote about how a communications medium affects society and as digital networks play an increasing role in mediating our culture then the power law behaviours of digital technology and social networks increasingly affect our culture such that culture itself becomes subject to the same self-reinforcing social and technology power laws of the network that mediates it. As the speed, scale and scope of networks increases so does the the speed, scale and scope of the culture these networks mediate.
Kevin Kelly describes the intersection of humanity with technology as a Technium – an integral view of technology and humanity in which technology is a natural and inherent dimension of what it means to be human .. integral to human existence and evolution”
Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle’s concept of Web Squared describes the Intersection of Web 2.0 with the world and explores what becomes possible when the building blocks of Web 2.0 (such as participation, collective intelligence and so on) increase by orders of magnitude.
Ray Kurzweil focuses specifically on technological exponential rates of change and argues that the Accelerating Returns of exponential growth will eventually create a tipping point to what he calls The Singularity – a time when the change graph over time is vertical change and we reach an era of unpredictability, apparent chaos and uncertainty that only our machines will understand. Kurzweil makes a compelling case – “It took the printing press 400 years to reach a large audience, it took the telephone 50 years, the mobile phone seven years, and social networks only three. The pace of innovation will only continue to accelerate, he says, because exponential evolution is built into the very nature of technology”
While we are still a long way from Kurzweil’s singularity the Genie is out of the bottle and “Too Big To Know” , Ruining Everything and helping a “generation to find its voice”. We are approaching a point of no return – a network Event horizon – a Web Squared Technium where scale, scope and the self-reinforcing social and technology power laws of a technology mediated connectivist memetic (Cemetic) culture generate a cambrian explosion of diversity, uncertainty and non-linear emergent viral exponential change.
While all this sounds like the the beginning of the end of civilisation and pretty apocalyptic (and many believe there will be apocalypse in 2012) Douglas Adams urges us to “Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet” and that:
1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.