Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Rise of the Network Age

Recently, I Stumbled-upon a review of the new cultural awareness of networks, called Post-Modernism is Dead: distributed culture and the rise of the network age by Samuel R. Smith (CV-pdf). This is the first time that I've seen a formal review of how network-thinking is changing our social awareness. I was happy to find this essay, as I've been thinking about this topic a lot, mainly arising from my readings on the scientific studies of networks (see below for a bibliography).

I expect that network-thinking may permeate our culture over the next couple of generations, leading to great advances in science and society. I expect that we will be more likely to think of ourselves as an active part in the vast network that is the world with more or less influence over the smaller or larger (respectively) structures within those networks. We will no longer be satisfied to be cogs in someone else's machine; we will realize that we have influence outside of "the system" (ideologically defined social structures, such as "the law") and use that influence to direct our own lives.

This network awareness is reflected in institutional statements such as the Unitarian Universalist Covenant, which calls on us to affirm and promote "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part".

Below are a few books that I've read (at least in part), that provide a glimpse into the how network-thinking is influencing science.
  1. Six-degrees : the science of the connected age (my review) by Duncan J. Watts.
  2. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by Stuart Kauffman. This book introduced me to neato concepts such as "auto-catalytic set" and "expanding into the the adjacent possible".
  3. Handbook of Graphs and Networks: From the Genome to the Internet, edited by Stefan Bornholdt and Heinz Georg Schuster.
Additional resources for looking into networks:
  1. Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science". This has cool descriptions of non-linear dynamics (which include network dynamics), just don't buy into his self-aggrandizement.
  2. Nature Publishing Group's new journal: Molecular Systems Biology

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