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.
With our lives increasingly mediated by technology and with that technology radically evolving this blog outlines the case that in 2012 we should expect more “real world” effects and disruption from our technology as the gravitational force from the not too distant singularity pulls us into a Web Squared Technium.
The Genie Escapes The Bottle
Computers are shaking off their mortal coils – we are letting them out of the fixed, high maintenance boxes we have kept them in all these years and giving the finger to the mouse. Computers need not be WIMPs. There is new creativity and imagination in the development of more natural computer interfaces and forms – many of these are growing from Apple seeds.
I think that in 2012 we will see the start of quickening radical shift in the way we interact with computers – near past predictions are already looking wildly conservative – e.g. Gartners prediction that 50% of computers bought for those under 15 years of age will be touch , Read Write Web’s predication that gestural interfaces for your living room are five years away.and Augmented Planet’s predication that Augmented reality glasses are 20 years away
The combination of natural interfaces and new computer forms are revolutionising what we think of as computers and their impact – here are some of the major developments
Using a finger to point to something is one of our earliest actions – no wonder there are plenty of examples of babies using iPads and even with other species – Orangutans take easily to iPads as well. Today’s children are the “touch generation” – Haptic interfaces are so natural that development is bound to be exponential and they will develop as these children grow up
“A picture paints a thousand words” and in many cases its just so difficult to describe an action in words. In his TED video Chris Anderson describes how web video powers global innovation by empowering everyone both literate and non literate. I’ve also noticed how many people are using Skype and Facetime and how useful Google video chat and G+ Video hangouts are for meetings – I’m sure that we will see an explosion in the use of video and visual communications and interfaces in 2012 and one of the most exciting maybe video glasses – Lumus are expected to show their glasses at CES in January for OEM production later in the year.
Things get really interesting when our computers start to “understand” what they are “seeing”. Facial recognition is scareably accurate and Google and Apple dveloping facial recognition for their smartphones. Things get even more interesting when our computers understand our gestures – Microsoft’s Kinect has ushered in a new interface era and the race is on to augment our technology interfaces with gesture – expect to see gesture appearing everywhere from games (of course) to TVs computers and smartphones.
Voice interfaces have been developed over a very, very long time but failed to go mainstream. As is often the case Apple have seeded a revolution and with Siri Apple has breathed new life into voice. Some consider this to be “The invisible interface of the future” and has of course kick started competition – Google are expected to release their answer to Siri ,“Majel” early in 2012
Computers come to their senses (and our senses)
Traditional desktop computers suffer terrible sensory deprivation compared with mobiles which are bristling with sensors and connectivity. New technology can see us, hear us and understand our gestures. Putting all this together means 2012 may mark a change in our relationship with technology we will really start to be able to interact more naturally with our technology - much like we interact with people and animals.
In 2010 Google’s Reto Meier predicted The Future of Mobile: Invisible, connected devices with infinite screens but his time frames look conservative now. I won’t attempt to say when but below are some of the what – all this may happen quicker than we think.
Technology and Social Powers
Dion Hinchcliffe lists and describes most of the well known power “laws” in Digital technology and social theory in his post Twenty-two power laws of the emerging social economy – here are a few of the main ones taken from Dion’s list
The processing power of a microchip doubles every 18 months such that computers become faster and the price of a given level of computing power halves every 18 months.
The total bandwidth of communication systems triples every 12 months.
The potential value of a network grows exponentially according to its size so that as a network grows, the value of being connected to it grows exponentially, while the cost per user remains the same or even reduces.
The network effect of social systems is much higher than would otherwise be expected such that The Utility of a (social) network scales exponentially with the overall size of a network.
Reflexivity (social theory)
Describes how social systems are often self reinforcing, how social actions influence the fundamental behavior of social systems and how social systems can tend towards disequilibrium.
The Pareto Principle
Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes – the famous “80:20” rule.
Principle of Least Effort
People basically vote with their feet to the easiest solution in the least exacting way available.
Everything Goes Square
While some believe there will be apocalypse in 2012 I think there are signs of major a transformation in human affairs facilitated and catalysed by technology.
With our lives increasing mediated by technology and with that technology radically changing the signs are set for a period of significant and fast (even exponential) change from self-reinforcing social and technology power laws.
Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle describe this era as Web Squared – an era of exponential technology and real world change from the combination of Web 2.0 technology and philosophies with social, mobile, real-time and sensors.
It’s as if technology has its own irresistible momentum – something which Kevin Kelly describes in “What Technology Wants” – a Technium with “its own inherent agenda and urges”. Kelly’s Technium describes the intersection of humanity with technology:
“The technium may be described as an integral view of technology and humanity in which technology is a natural and inherent dimension of what it means to be human .. the technium is integral to human existence and evolution”
Ray Kurzweil argues that Accelerating Returns on 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 a long way from the type of rapid change Kurzweil predicts, O’Reilly and Battelle’s Web Squared is already being felt. Time’s 2011 person of the year (The Protester) is symbolic of the changes in which technology is implicated when web meets world – helping a “generation to find its voice”. David Weinberger doesn’t hold back in “Too Big To Know” and describes how the Internet Is Ruining Everything. If 2011 is anything to go by we should expect more “real world” effects and disruption from our technology as the gravitational force from the not too distant singularity pulls us into a Web Squared Technium.
Technology, culture and society are intricately connected and in the 20th century these relationships constructed a period of cheap, disposable, large scale mass production and consumption. The early business:cultural construct is symbolised by the 1908 Ford Model T car, its production methods and the famous phrase “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”. Business:culture refined this industrial production:consumption model over the century to what might be regarded as peek saturation in the early noughties and culminating in serious environmental, resource and social pressures and parodied in the Little Britain “computer says no” comedy sketches. For 20th century business:culture there is a “line on the horizon” – an event horizon of environmental and social stress from which there may be no escape.
Through the 20th century business:culture organised itself in the image of its creations and industrial production processes: hard, machine efficient, cheap (costs driven) and disposable (short term) often resulting in effective but dehumanised, rationalist, machine-like, fixed, tightly integrated, command and control organisations on iterative cycles of ever diminishing returns. Perceiving the spirit in the machine as “evil” inefficiency 20th century business:culture exorcised spirits in the machine with a litany of pseudo-scientific, “rationalist” management techniques that externalises people’s motivation resulting in lifeless zombie organisations with forms of organisational learned helplessness . Organisations became increasingly efficient, industrial and machine like – driving out variation through ever tighter process and quality control systems. “Machine organisations” produce standardised products as efficiently as possible on a large scale and like machines they are dedicated to purpose. “Machine organisations” like machines are dedicated to purpose and designed for equilibrium around a purpose and direction – process and quality systems work as buffers providing negative feedback loops to maintain equilibrium, direction and purpose.
20th century business:culture was highly effective.
The environment changed.
Communications technologies accelerated cultural change – from the Model T and car travel in the early 20th century through air travel, radio, TV, telephones through to the Internet and to the web 2.0 revolution. 20th century business:culture connected into these communications revolutions to spin production:consumption at an ever increasing speed – centrifugal forces have started to stress and separate many organisations as they try to meet the problem of producing greater diversity at faster speeds.
The 21st century environment is becoming faster, more diverse and complex – people want greater choice, customisation and speed. 20th century “Machine organisation” is not suited to fast, flexible and complex responses and cannot thrive in an environment of speed, choice and customisation. “Machine organisation” cannot easily cope with complex environments that change ever faster.
While technology, culture and social changes have stressed 20th century “machine organisation” they have at the same time provided the models and tools that can save them. Just as 20th century organisations used tools and techniques from their environments to create environmentally adapted “machine organisations” then 21st century organisations need to use the tools and techniques of their environments to create environmentally adapted systems.
21st century culture:technology is information-communications rich, symbolised by the Internet and most potently by web 2.0 and the emerging real world, real time, exponential change ideas of web squared. This culture:technology is distributed, decentralised, networked, interactive and collaborative. Organisations operating within information-communications rich environments need become environmentally adapted and become information-communications rich – they need to use web 2.0 type tools and ideas to become loosely coupled, distributed, decentralised, networked, interactive and collaborative. I would describe these organisations as live “organic organisations” – connected to; interactive with, and part of their environment. Their boundaries are soft and “porous”, the separations between employees, customers and competitors are increasingly blurred. Rather than exorcising human spirit “organic organisations” call back life and spirit by recognising people rather than suppliers, customers and “human resources”.
The ultimate organic organisation we know of is the human brain. Constructed from small and simple parts, intelligence and consciousness emerge from its complex and highly networked organisation. Not only should organisations allow people to use their brains they should also consider organising themselves like brains. A major feature of brains are their plasticity – the ability to re-organise. Plasticity allows the brain to change, learn and be resilient and “according to the theory of neuroplasticity, thinking, learning, and acting actually change both the brain’s physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology) from top to bottom.” The idea is that through the exercise of rich interconnections an organisation learns, changes and adapts to its environment by networked feedback from itself and its environment.
“Organic organisations” are complex, variable and non-deterministic – this gives them the agility to cope with a similarly complex, variable and non-deterministic environment but at the same time this makes them so different to the “machine organisations” we have grown up with and within that the change needed is just too scary. However, change is a journey and not a destination and the first step on the journey from “machine organisation” to “organic organisation” starts with the brain – think soft and richly networked.
Life is becoming increasingly faster and more complex – the scale, scope and inter-connectedness of things in unprecedented Although IT hardware and software provide both causes and solutions the most important factor to life in the 21st century is within ourselves – “wetware” or the way we think.
I’ve identified 2 “dimensions” of thinking which I think are important, one dimension is Hard Vs Soft thinking while the other dimension is Reductionist Vs Holistic thinking.
You could almost call this concrete thinking – it’s a bounded, engineering style characterised by the application of existing definable, quantifiable, specific concepts and processes. In a nutshell it is thinking “inside the box” and applying known rules and procedures.
You could almost call this abstract thinking – it’s an unbounded, integrative and creative style characterised by insight and judgement. In a nutshell it’s “Wicked” thinking “outside the box”.
This is characterised the use of analysis to simplify, predict and control. It’s a mechanistic approach and application of rules and procedures. In a nutshell it is thinking about the details.
This is characterised by the use of intuition and interpretation to see patterns, connections and relationships. In a nutshell in is thinking about the big picture.
People are naturally more comfortable with different styles of thinking and can apply different styles or mix of styles in different contexts. Different contexts and problems are better suited to different styles of thinking – use the right one and things can fit into place – use the wrong one and things seem like hard going and can result in stress, anxiety and dysfunction at both personal and organisational level.
The current UK MPs expenses news could be used to illustrate styles of thinking. Administration of expenses claims should have used hard reductionist thinking – analysis and application of procedures without creativity. The MPs in question seemed to be applying soft reductionist thinking – creative “accounting” and application of procedures to claim they did nothing wrong and it was all within the rules. It’s not easy to find hard holistic thinking but you could argue that those like Ed Milliband who argue parliamentary reform in terms of changing procedures are using hard holistic thinking. Those who argue for more radical political changes from proportional representation through to Government 2.0 ideas in the Us Now film would seem to be thinking in a soft holistic way.
As events, organisations and individuals become ever more interconnected (networked) then hard, reductionist ways of thinking become increasingly out of tune, inappropriate, unable to cope and even dysfunctional and damaging. Most often hard reductionist thinking just doesn’t see the rich bigger picture, opportunities and emergent properties of new systems until they are run over by them or left stranded.
Soft thinking is essential to cope with life in the 21st century with its increasingly Unthinkable , interconnected, fast, complex, chaotic, emergent, and unpredictable behaviour.
Soft thinking is essential to thrive in the 21st century – soft reductionist thinking is essential for innovation (to find the application of existing things in new ways) and soft holistic thinking is essential for invention (to create entirely new things).
Later in this series I hope to explore “soft” in education, technology and business.
The noughties are a new decade, century and millennium – the changes happening with technology and their impact on identity, culture and society really are this momentous.
One way to see these changes is with a straight historical contrast and you can see my rough work on twitter here.
The 20th century can be seen as the peek of traditional ways of doing things that really do stretch back to the dawn of humanity – familiar things extrapolated to the extreme with mechanisation and automation and with extreme consequences to the environment we have now come to understand. I covered much of this in 20th Century Industrial Processes: Culture, Identity and Information
I characterise the past era as one of “concrete” thinking” – thinking and activity that is rooted in and characterised by a predominance of physical objects and events. Thinking that books are literature, newspapers are journalism and CDs are music. Thinking that schools and colleges are education. Thinking that the office is the workplace.
“Concrete” thinking goes deeper though – I also describe the past era as the era of “pyramids” – the design and construction of hierarchical, elitist and stable structures – the standard organisational model often manifest and symbolised by top floor executive offices.
I characterise the 20th century as an era of super large scale manufactured production and personal consumption – the extreme end of the application of tools from the stone axe to the modern production line.
I characterise the 20th century as an era of mediation, privacy, secrecy and obfuscation – a consequence of the elitist pyramid model to maintain stability and equilibrium and a Marxian interpretation of culture.
Technology developments are for the first time I think providing the opportunity to transcend traditional “concrete” ways of thinking and acting – my main focus is on Information technology but radical developments are taking place in all the sciences, leading new applications of technology and “unthinkable” effects and opportunities for humanity, culture identity and society.
I characterise the 21st century as an era of “networks”, indeed the internet symbolises and facilitates “network thinking”. It’s an era of flat, integrated, dynamic, and emergent structures. The 21st century is already and will be increasingly fast, complex, chaotic, uncertain and “organic”.
The 21st century will be increasingly open, public and participatory – it will be an era of personal production where large organisations may consume the output of individuals but there will be increasing disintermediation and scope with individuals transacting directly.
In a nutshell I see the 21st century as an era of software.
This blog is intended as the basis of a series exploring associated ideas, technology, cultural, educational themes etc.
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