A new blog is born every minute or thereabouts...You know the statistics better than I. What does this blogging explosion really mean to us? What can it mean to this living planet, this breathing network of plants animals and minerals of which we are a part and upon which we depend?
“As a society, we have become obsessed with connectedness,” said Steven Strogatz, author of “Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order”. He goes on to describe how we are making sense of complex networks that have recently infiltrated our lives. “Networks whose reach is immense, whose structure we can only dimly perceive, and whose functioning bewilders us.” In John Guare’s 1990 play, “Six Degrees of Separation”, one of his characters ponders the connectivity of life on the planet:
I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice…I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people…every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds.
Network theorists, when they study an abstract pattern of dots connected by lines are concerned with the pattern, the “architecture of relationships, not the identities of the dots themselves. One can draw a metaphor with information, what it is and how it is dispensed and shared among people. Laszlo Barabasi, a Transylvanian physicist showed that the distribution of links on the Web is skewed to the left with a very long and heavy tail to the right. A handful of sites on the Internet are much more connected than others, with many more incoming or outgoing links than average, with the billions of remaining pages languishing in obscurity with no incoming links at all.
What network theorists found was that the Internet, despite being an unregulated, unruly labyrinth where anyone can post anything and link it to any other page at will, is self-organizing and follows the same pattern that persists in the ‘small-world’ (e.g., with a tendency to ‘short-cut’ and cluster like the brain) and “scale-free” (wide range) patterns so prevalent in Nature (e.g., “the food-web of species preying on one another; the meshwork of metabolic reactions in a cell, the interlocking boards of directors of a large corporation, even the structure of the English language itself” says Strogatz). Laszlo Barabasi, a Transylvanian physicist, showed that the Internet was both fragile and robust, showing properties of resilience much like living cells (e.g., in protein interactions, the most highly connected proteins were the most important ones for the cell’s survival; not unlike CNN and Yahoo on the Web). The Web is also very fluid and those ‘nodes’ or clusters change (not unlike a low budget hit that starts out slowly and builds by word of mouth).
Is internet blogging a tool our global society can use to self-organize? And, if so, can this grassroots social movement influence humanity toward a better world?...As a good friend of mine would say, Let’s “Make it so!”
Recommended Reading:Barabási, Albert-László and Albert Réka. 1999. Emergence of scaling in random networks. Science 286: 509-512.
Jung, Carl G. 1973. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principal. Princeton University Press, New Jersey
Strogatz, Steven. 2003. Sync: the Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. Hyperion, New York, N.Y. 338pp.