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.
Culture can be considered as the circulation of meanings within a community. A culture can be considered through the nature of its community (members and connections), through the way meanings circulate and through the nature of its meanings (as manifest in ideas and behaviours). Community, connection and meaning are so interconnected that they have to be considered holistically – each defined through the others and each shaped through the others.
Memetics is a powerful theory with which to explore how meaning develops and evolves. In Memetics there is a “unit” of culture called the Meme – an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices. In Memetics memes are analogous to genes in biology – memetics considers how memes develop and evolve through natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution through variation, mutation, competition and inheritance.
Connectivism considers meaning as emergent from the connections and associations in a network – it could be considered as the application of neuro-psychology associative memory and learning ideas to culture. For connectivism learning and the development of meaning are “the process of creating connections and developing a network”.
For me, Memetics alone doesn’t go quite far enough in considering the holistic connected nature of culture and meaning - the way meaning, culture and the network (the medium) are one.
Connectivism sees the holistic nature of culture, meaning and the network but connectivism alone doesn’t go far enough in considering how they evolve.
A connectivist perspective on memetics would view the meme as a network connection configuration – something emergent from the connectivity pattern in a network and something I would describe as a ceme (connectivist meme).
A Memetic perspective on connectivism would view the network through evolutionary terms – seeing variations and mutations competing for selection and inheritance – something I would describe as Cemetics.
What I am proposing is a concept that combines the memetic view with the connectivist view to get a holistic perspective on culture, connection and meaning – the ceme.
Ceme: connected emergent meaning evolution (Connectivist Meme) – a unit of culture which has evolved through the natural selection of emergent variations and mutations in network connectivity configurations.
Cemetics considers how cemes develop and evolve through the natural selection and inheritance of emergent variations and mutations in network connectivity configurations.
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.
Music has become one of the important indicators of cultural shift – In the last week I’ve come across several events which, whilst interesting separately, coincidentally suggests a fundamental shift is underway in media.
Much music activity is still of the traditional create and consume push model albeit mediated in various ways these days. The Foo fighters stream was particularly interesting as it presented an “intimate” and interactive studio based setting to millions of people who could interact via facebook and twitter with each other and to a limited extend with the band as well.
The next step as I see it is a more dynamic “mash” of media – performing out to a live audience and the Net with increasing opportunities to pull in from the audience and the Net.
I’m imagining how artists could use Augmented reality to overlay new dimensions to their performances – While performing in the studio The Foos could overlay a concert venue or other action scenes – indeed they could augment a performance anywhere. I’m imagining how artists could augment other performers and performances in their shows for example when doing a cover track.
With audience smart camera phones I’m imagining how you could view a performance from various points of view.
I’m wondering whether, like in original Shakespeare plays, members of the audience could say “I can do that part better”, get up on the “stage” and play the part. Consider Youtube performances and their video responses for example Steve Vai Tender Surrender and some of the amazing responses.
We are only a few weeks into the year and it already seems clear that one of the major trends will be integration activity to “orchestrate” information sources – to create lenses to MASH and focus information for our Personal Information Environments.
Activity Stream integration
Social networks were a big factor in 2008 and social networkers were among the first off the blocks in 2009 to catch my attention with a meeting on January 9th at the offices of Six Apart to discuss standards for activity streams. People belong to different social networks but cannot easily (if at all) communicate between these networks – solving this problem will be like the day when email users on different email systems could email each other.
News Stream Integration
Another early set of activities that caught my attention were the discussions about RSS overload and the need to deal with this somehow. RSS is an essential tool for pulling information into your environment but with the dramatic growth of the web even RSS has trouble coping. Michael Kowalchik describes how our feed readers and our use of them are based on the older email paradigm of inboxes and a must read all items attitude. Kowalchik says that both feed readers and our attitudes to information need to change - ” people will increasingly want to experience information, not be slaves to it”. Kowalchik describes Mike Winner’s the “River of News Concept” which informed many news aggregators including Grazr – “the name “grazr” comes from, grazing information, not drowning in it.”
Activity and News Stream MASHING
Another item that caught my attention was the way the way on-line social media responded to the Hudson River Plane Crash. There have been many stories of the way news breaks first on social networks and about how the major news corporations make use of material from people camera phones but what caught my attention this time was the way in which social media itself could offer coverage. Kevin Sablan’s Almighty Link used storytlr to gather feeds from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo to create an aggregated “real-time “story”. He describes “the hard part was editing, or what Tim Windsor calls curating, the approximately 700 bits of information into some semblance of a disjointed story”. The result was “a stream of moments captured by individual storytellers, the ”lifestream” not of a person, but an event.” There was also a Hudsonplane Friendfeed room which could be regarded as a “web2.0 viralism mashup” equivalent of a newsroom of the event.
Beyond Google – The Real Time Web
Writing for RWW Bernard Lunn uses the web 2.0 response to the Hudson Plane Crash to illustrate the way in which the web has moved from IBM (mainframe) to Microsoft (client-server) to Google (on-line) and is now moving beyond Google’s grasp and into real time. He argues that “It’s the Real-Time Web that will unseat Google. This idea has been percolating for a while, but it took a plane landing in the Hudson River to make it obvious. Google cannot be real-time. It indexes the historical web, and it does it better and faster than anyone else.”
PIE and MASH a Lens For a Semantic Web
With all the activity and news streams flooding into my on-line environment I feel my river of news is more like a rapid – I want something to pre-process the streams and present me a river instead of a torrent. I want to be able to search and define sources; aggregate them and sort their presentation according to my own criteria. For example, I would like to input items on Cloud Computing from Twitter; Youtube; blogs and traditional news sources and web sites. The part that I think will develop this year is the difficult next step of pre-processing the information sources. Quantitative pre-processing tools exist – tools like Postrank will exam social bookmarking statistics, blog hits, referrals and comment quantities to rank feeds but what I would like is some form of qualitative pre-processing – this is the difficult part – for what do I mean by Qualitative. At the moment my qualitative assessment of information is associated with people and recommendations. To find news I check Twitter first and see what my network is talking about, then I check the RWW and Mashable etc for RSS feeds. In terms of Quality I would need a way to weight feeds according to mentions of sources and people – not just numbers of hits.
In order to apply qualitative criteria to information sources either the information sources must carry additional information (meta data like tags,statistics, Microformats and RDFa) or a tool must be able to extract data from the context of the information source – how it is associated in the web – how richly it is associated and with what. I seem to be talking about the semantic web and this is not surprising as semantics (meaning) is largely about associations and relationships between things – the more meaningful something is the more deeply and richly it is associated with other things and meanings.
People are getting used to Personal Information Environments (PIE) – systems like iGoogle or Netvibes where you can suck in various information and display it in various ways.However, PIE tools look set for a revolution in 2009 if
Marc Canter’s DiSo Dashboard proposal gains traction. By implementing DiSo dashboard proposals popular PIEs could extend and integrate across social networks and Lifestream activity as well as RSS mega aggregation.
I’m hoping that tools will become smarter in 2009 and help me manage my information sources more meaningfully – I will be keeping an eye on the DiSo project in general and the DiSo Dashboard idea in particular,
Many comment that in our on-line activities will leave little past, however it is certainly true that our recent past is better documented that ever before. You can access my twitter activity from this time last year here is my first tweet for example and you can see all my past blogs including my Predictions for 2008 to see how good, bad or ugly they were.
William Gibson’s quote “The Future is Already Here – It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed” is a powerful and practical idea for working out what is going to happen in the short term – extrapolate the current edge and current trends. Things usually get smaller, lighter, easier, cheaper and more functional and common place – computers and telephones are good examples of this. We must also beware of technological determinism – we have to consider the complex interaction of contextual factors (economy, culture etc) that can change the “trajectory” of any extrapolation.
Using my crystal ball to throw the light of the recent past into the near future – it all seems quite cloudy to me and everything I see is on-line. The big theme for the year will be on-line everything and as more go on line network effects will cause more to go on-line resulting in an explosive growth in on-line activity. Despite of (or maybe even due to) economic problems 2009 could be a significant year for the information age – when many 20th century physical industrial activities are moved on-line.
Let’s try to focus some of this.
The industrial processes of the 20th century to represent, distribute and consume information will continue to disappear – information is intangible anyway and so is ideal for on-line virtualisation.
Audio: Audio set the example of how information can move away from the physical the stories of Napster and iTunes are now history and the Nokia music service of 12 months unlimited free perpetual but protected downloads takes this model almost as far as it can go. With music content “infinitely” copy-able and accessible monetization has to move to an incidental model of distribution deals and sponsorship. The SeeqPod service indicates that on-line streaming/access could be a significant development. It will always be useful to have off-line copies of your favourite music but the advantages of streaming are there for everyone. For consumers there can be an “infinite” range to listen to on-demand without management – just search. For the industry on-line listens can be instrumented (pun intended) and monetised with “incidental” and direct marketing. There is of course better control – music can be published free at source (e.g. from Sony), with the publisher monetising through “incidental” services but also allowing 3rd party API and streaming access for downstream services. I like the concept of on-line downstream “radio stations” such as Blip.fm, Lastfm and Pandora. Indeed Pandora offers an excellent example of the benefits of the on-line model in driving further interest by what could be described as audio surfing.
Video: Youtube and the iPlayer provides good examples of what we might expect in video. iPlayer has many advantages (on-demand view) especially with the BBC “transmitting” live on the net via iPlayer. Youtube in particular has become such a mainstream distribution method – standard TV channels, organisations, political parties and of course individuals are all there (e.g. BBC, Channel 4, Obama, Google and have a look at the Governator).
Words: Newspapers and magazines all have good on-line presence and for many their on-line activity is increasingly necessary and important. Pew research finds that the Internet has overtaken newspaper as a source of news for many people and for young people the Net is the main source of news. All the newspapers now offer excellent RSS feeds and various incidental services such as reader and journalist blogs, podcasts and various systems interfaces for systems such as Facebook and Twitter for example. The New York Times indicates how “newspapers” may develop – with the news of their API development program to “make the NYT programmable. To start 2009 the NYT release Represent – it mashes geographical information with various web data to present information about the politicians who represent geographical areas in New York. Books I feel will also succumb eventually – the physicality of a book (cover, typeface etc) are much like the physicality of old vinyl records. During 2008 e-book readers became a lot better and the advantages for industry and consumers over paper became tangible. Although the e-book reader really is useable now it is another purchase and item to carry around and look after – I would prefer to access an books on my smartphone or laptop/netbook. I think that e-books will break the market in for consolidation onto standard equipment – a prediction for 2010 I recon.
I can’t resist it but in 2009 “the medium is the message” (sorry). Possibly the biggest development in media will be the way it all gets mixed up – once they all share the same medium then they can mix and match. 2008 has seen the start of this and it is becoming increasingly common – 2009 will see a lot more of this. Already in 2008 we see newspapers with plenty of additional media content – the Guardian tech weekly for example has audio, video, blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc and text – the Bivings Report indicates just how active Newspapers are on the web – e.g. all have RSS feeds, 75% accept comments on articles and most now have free access. Cross platform media outlet Current indicate how media may develop – in their US Election coverage they have been combining video coverage with input from Twitter, Digg and 12seconds.TV.
All this and I haven’t even covered how Youtube is going live and HD.
The message is – if you want media you need to get on-line.