Ian Dickson on Tue, 2 Mar 2004 13:45:36 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The State of Networking (with Florian Schneider)

In message <200402290931.i1T9VA629356@bbs.thing.net>, geert lovink
<geert@xs4all.nl> writes >Notes on the State of Networking > >By Geert
Lovink and Florian Schneider >

Very nice, but I'd raise a number of points.

Firstly, in the context of changing the world, IT is infrastructure, and 
Networks are personal. I will say nothing about the spread of IT 
infrastructure, except to note that I think it is generally a good idea. 
It is after all very difficult to argue that swapping 1 call center job 
in the UK for 5 jobs and 200 people supported in India is not a Net Gain 
to human happiness, for all that one person loses.

1) Networks are always limited by the psychological ability of a person 
to take part in them.

This is because Networks are personal relationships, and whether face to 
face, by phone, or by Net is irrelevant.

What technology does allow is for each person to be part of the Networks 
that matter most to them, not bounded by physical location or time 

Looked at in this light the only thing that technology can provide is to 
attempt to deliver to each person that which interests them.

A key aspect of this is to increase the manageable size of Networks, 
from a few hundred to several thousand, but even in my dreams I don't 
see them being more than 5-10 strong IF you allow that each Network 
member can be directly involved in driving the Network.

(This is very different to organisational numbers, where a small Network 
"represents" a much larger body of "supporters". Eg GreenPeace, most 
political parties and campaign groups).

IMO many of the issues highlighted by the authors simply highlight the 
fact that large and purposeful Networks don't just happen, they have to 
be driven/developed/managed by one/a few leading individuals, at least 
until a critical mass of self sustaining communication is reached.

Enough on that, but if anyone wants more, I'll elaborate - it's my 
professional field.

2) Networks are by definition in group / out group.

Those in the Network are the In Group, and the rest of the world is the 
Out Group.

This instantly implies that a Network cannot function for the common 
good, only (at best) for what it thinks is the common good. And of 
course maybe not even that - pure self interest is not unknown.

3) Most Networks have no purpose. They are friendship Networks.

But of those that do, the most common purpose of political importance is 
that the Network wishes to change the world in ways that suit them. Ie 
they seek power. (If not the levers of power, at least influence over 
those that wield them).

4) As soon as you have power seeking Networks you have to abandon all 
"niceness" about how the world will be more open etc etc as this will 
only happen if the power seeking Networks themselves WANT to make that 

I am sure that any modern terrorist organisation worth it's salt is 
deftly using all the technologies available to the modern power seeking 

5) When you move to discussions re copyright etc you are moving to fight 
between opposing Networks, so the outcome of that will be consequential 
on which side builds the most effective power seeking networks. RIAA is 
a Network.

(Incidentally, there is nothing to prevent creative people boycotting 
the entire publishing industry, except perhaps a belief that all those 
who clamour for their work might not value it enough to put bread on the 

I have an interesting take on this at:-


Although written re music industry (where some UK indie types are 
intrigued) it could be used more widely, and certainly bats any o the 
normal suspects - please give it away, and "let's have compulsory 
licensing system")

6) Conclusions

The methods by which power will be sought and achieved will be changed 
by the development of Network enabling technologies, but these new 
technologies say nothing about the world that those power seeking 
networks will create.

But it does mean that for those who want to change the world, and have 
the ability to develop and rive a Network, the fact that the present 
incumbents haven't grasped it, gives you an opportunity.

IMO Networking could be used by campaign groups to even greater effect 
than the Environmental lobby used the media between 1970-2000.

>Instead of endlessly deconstructing the 'New Economy meets NGOs' agendas,
>we believe it the task of the next media activists to investigate the
>limits of networking in order to be in a better position to overcome those
>boundaries. This era is blinded by the light. As technologies are still an
>expanding universe it is hard to see its limits, to recognize its damages,
>without falling back into technophobia and cultural pessimism.

Wise words:-) In Network building it is Execution that counts, and that 
requires understanding the psychological limitations of the technology.

For example - mailing lists can be used, by members, out of the box. But 
they don't scale. People who don't realise that, and try and do much 
with the wrong tech, fail.

More sophisticated solutions will allow the building of larger, 
stronger, networks, but require more effort on the part of the Network 
leaders and the early members. Which can make it harder to get going.

But hey, nothing important is easy:-)

Ian Dickson
01452 862637

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