Michael A Rizzotti
When i first read Albert-Lászlo Barabási’s Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life, i had a hard time understanding the premise of the book. When i read Linked a second time i realized why. In his book the author continuously refers to links, nods and hubs. What he is referring to, is the physical aspect of these links, whereas i was thinking about the metaphysical binding between these links. Barabási was talking hardware i was thinking software.
Shortly after reading Linked i read Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson. In his book Johnson describes self-organizing systems. He reveals how complex organisms assemble and develop without any master planner. A good example of these emergence or bottom-up systems is the ant colony.
Self Organizing Systems
It is wrongly believed that the queen ant is the ruler of its colony. The queen’s sole function is the laying of eggs to populate the colony. An ant colony has no ruler to speak of. It relies instead on a complex form of decentralized intelligence. The ants communicate between each other by recognizing patterns of pheromone trails left behind by other fellow ants. Hence, pheromones play the central role in the organization of the colony. Somehow, each ant self-assigns its own role in the colony without sign of anarchy. Each position of every single ant is accounted for by the pheromone trail each of them leaves behind. This emergence system works harmoniously without the help of a ruler.
Johnson describes how the brain is also a self organizing system. The important thing to remember here is the significance of the unifying and binding principle. What makes the brain work is the bursts of electric fields that connect cells to each other. These electric fields link the physical neurons into a unifying vitality. Binding the physical principle of the brain with all other organs in the body to work harmoniously together to promote life.
Each one of us connected to the Internet acts like a brain neuron. Each neuron is linked with other neurons through a web of electrical impulses on the Internet. All the net-lings on the planet become a mass of neurons that could act as a planetary brain. The unfathomable activity of this brain is tentatively called the Net-mind. It is omnipresent (omni meaning universal) and perhaps even omnificent (with unlimited creative powers). Even though a single self-neuron does not fathom or understand what the Net-mind does or thinks, this bottom-up form of planetary interconnected activity is alive must to be reckoned with.
This bottom-up system is very different from the top-down hierarchies we have been accustomed to for eons. Top-down systems are based on secrecy, control, chauvinism, surveillance and trickle down oppression. Pyramid systems have supplanted any other form of governance since the dawn of our civilization. The main reason is that when an individual or a small group accumulates a greater amount of power than the norm they automatically revert to a top-down hierarchy to maintain, control and expand their authority.
The recent emergence of the Net-mind is unprecedented in our planetary history. It remains to be seen how this bottom-up activity will affect the top-down powers of the world. It is apparent that Internet propagated news are currently setting the agenda in our current geo-political world. Corporate news and government press conferences not only lag behind but must respond to Net induced lead stories. This is only the beginning of a notable shift in the power systems as we enter the new millennium.