Monday, June 15, 2009

A paradox unfolds; privileging the nodes

Ulises Ali Mejias’s post on The Tyranny of Nodes

My thesis is that the network undermines productive forms of sociality by over-privileging the node. It might be difficult to see this because nodes are not anti-social (they thrive by forming links to other nodes), nor are they anti-local (they link to nodes in their immediate surrounding just as easily as they link to other nodes). But what I am trying to say is that to the extent that the network is composed of nodes and connections between nodes, it discriminates against the space between the nodes, it turns this space into a black box, a blind spot. In other words, networks promote nodocentrism. In this reconfiguration of distance, new 'nears' become available, but the 'far' becomes the space between nodes. To ignore this dark matter is to ignore the very stuff on which the network is suspended, much like the fish ignoring the water around it. The Tyranny of Nodes: Towards a critique of social network theories

This is similar to what Susan Leigh Star and Bowker also refer to with not being able to categorise definitively. A node or actor is also something else. Sometimes fractional. Part this and part that and maybe not as stable as presupposed.

For today, what this provokes, is that what we see is not all there is.
Clay Shirky talks of the birthday paradox to draw attention to the influence of scale; say you were in a class of 35people; how likely do you believe it to be that two people share the same birthday. What happens is we underestimate this hugely. We presume on the likliness of another sharing our birthday as opposed to any two people. We neglect the multiplicity involved....5 people have ten connection possibilities....15 persons have 105 and so on.
Nodal connections are not always recognized as occurring within a specific networked context.
Clay Shirky extends the issue of scale to consider the use of email, and more is different. I cannot do the same type of responding when the number of emails coming in rises from 35 a day to tenfold that. And I'm not alone; the time management solutions advising not opening them more than once or twice a day suggest there is a problem in abundance.

There's a level at which the network implodes, the nodes are still visible but the weight under which any one node is likely to fold may n ot be, until its too late. It gets made visible in its failure.

The network might still looks the same to an external viewer, the concrete presence of each node still evident, but a failed system,; the weight of connecting implodes what was.

Sometimes its called burnout such as when the human node can't maintain the connectivity required.

I'm looking at a network thats currently functioning, its enrolled actors, the nodes are in place, its growing and translating. Its beginning to enrol further actors to sustain its development, its now needing to invest in the resourcing required to sustain its functionality... but could it be in danger of outgrowing its supportive environment?
Like an s curve of ecosystem sustainability, when does it collapse having used up the available resources?
Is it sustainable or will it implode?

Telephone counselling reflects a one on one sender and recipient pattern; I talk and you listen, then you talk and I listen. There's turn taking and it all occurs in real time. The one on one real time nature of the medium doesn't allow for a backlog of sentences to respond to. Txting does.
When its 100 phone calls a day, spread between 10 centres, they just get answered in real time or not by maybe 10 counsellors spread over the country.
When its txt messages they bank up....more and more people within the organisation get involved in the responding. More centres get enrolled in the responding.
When its 400 texts a month it appears a promising medium, but one that needs more trained counsellors.
When its 400 a day there's a desperateness about training more counsellors so that the few currently txting are not overwhelmed.
What happens when its 4000 and maybe involve an excess of 100 people scattered through ten centres?
The challenge is in how to sustain a conversation thread and provide meaningful responses rather than be reactive to disparate sentences.

Shirky cites Merlin Mann regarding the foibles of email, and I think the similarities here carry a portend of doom;

Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn't take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that's taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can't handle that one tiny thing. "What pile? It's just a pebble!"

The ability to create conversational opportunity seemingly effortlessly seemingly creates its own capacity for failure as a means of conversing; it works up until the point that it cannot, that it becomes pointless.
A paradox unfolds.

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