Monday, February 9, 2009

Tomorrow, Networks!

Laney reaches up and removes the bulky, old-fashioned eyephones. Yamazaki cannot see what outputs to them, but the shifting light from the display reveals Laney’s hollowed eyes. “It’s all going to change, Yamazaki. We’re coming up on the mother or all nodal points. I can see it, now. It’s all going to change. (William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties, 1999, p. 4)

Two of William Gibson’s science fiction novels—Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties—feature Colin Laney, a online researcher whose particular talents allow him to identify networks on the cusp of becoming, the “nodal points” where people, ideas and technologies from disparate corners of the globe come together in surprising, paradigm-shattering ways.
Gibson’s networks are the speculative shadows of the more quotidian networks capitalized on by entrepreneurs of computer mediated social networking, each of whom attempts to cash in on the “network” as an object to be constructed, maintained. And yet, as the Gibson quote suggests, “networks” always simultaneously exist in the penumbra of becoming—we can attempt to describe their parameters, but their ultimate configuration is in a process of continuous becoming. From the perspective of activists trying to intervene in the world in order to bring together
“Networks” are the perfect example of the “boundary object” for the information age. They are “real” in that we can characterize them qualitatively and quantitatively, but they are also shifting, protean, temporary and chiasmic. “Networks” are the preferred form of social life and social interaction in an ICT-mediated world, yet they represent utopian alternatives to the present arising “from below” and self-organizing through horizontal chains rather than more vertical forms of governmentality. In a world still dominated by verticality, networked socialites represent possibilities for other kinds of realities—at once more participatory and more democratic.