The social network of the gods – The primordial soup of carbon atoms and water

carbon element in the primordial soup

Creating a dense social network by having the capacity to form connections is one thing and having a sustaining environment for those connections is quite another. The primordial soup (a mixture of carbon atoms, water, and other small elements) has both in equal measure.

According to many management thinkers and scientists, for social networks to be innovative and dense they need to lie at the edge of chaos between too much order and no order at all.

For collaborations and/or innovations to occur in social networks, we need two things. The first one is the capacity to make new connections and the second one is the randomizing environment, which encourages the collisions or the connections to happen.

Fortunately, for the primordial innovation engine (Our mother earth) has both the capacity and the randomizing environment to sustain stable connections over a long period.  The abundant existence of the uniquely talented carbon atoms, the so-called ‘great connector’ and water, the so-called “high-density network liquid” both need to act together for the connections to happen and sustain. This has made life and evolution possible on earth.

We have much to learn about social networks from mother earth and the very origins of life in this Universe. I drew inspiration from Steven Johnson’s book, “Where good ideas come from” to write about the connection between the primordial soup and social networks. You can find the book here.

Life would not have existed if there were no carbon atoms. Even if we had to search for life on distant galaxies, they too would be carbon based.

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Yochai Benkler – How the Internet’s social ties bonds us together

Yochai Benkler : Internet bonds us together

In the next few paragraphs I attempt to write about a chapter taken from the book “The wealth of Networks – How social production transforms markets and Freedom” written by Yochai Benkler.

Yochai Benkler is the professor of Entrepreneurial legal studies and Co-Director of the Berkman centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The book was first published in 2006. Yochai Benkler wrote about the future of the internet and how the internet is changing the society. The book is widely considered as an authority in the realm of our socially and digital networked world. The book with about 515 odd pages talks about the information economy and how we are all influenced by it and its contents stands true even after ten years since its publication.

What I attempt to do in the next few paragraphs is my own interpretation and understanding of one of the chapters in the book titled ”Social ties: Networking together’.

Yochai Benkler: The Internet’s influence on social relations is too soon to predict

Here, Yochai Benkler talks about two diagrammatically opposite views about how the Internet will affect the society and the community. The first one, which he elaborates as part of freedom and justice discourse  is that individuals will start living somewhat disconnected and arid lives.  This arid life will free us of the many worldly attachments like television and telephone and sometimes even our social relationships and make us grounded. Possible ! this effect was projected in the 1990’s. The other one was the ‘virtual communities’ where people interact, share and build a shared human communal existence.

New empirical evidence (Evidence which is hard, visible and experimented) shows that neither views will prevail. In fact it will be a mixture of the two. It is too soon to predict which way the direction of the Internet on social relations will take. It is obviously complex. Though Internet has clear effects on the human society, it will neither transcend or breakdown any particular aspect of it.

Thickening and loosening of relationships

Yochai Benkler elaborates further about the two types of effects that the Internet has on the human society. The first one is the thickening of relationships among previously not so tight relationships among friends, relatives and parents. The Internet has brought them together. Children who have moved away from their parents are now finding the Internet  a boon. They do not have to coordinate a time to talk to them or pay for long distance communication. The days of the email have changed all of that. The same is the case with long parted friends.

But this thickening of social relationships has also led to loose hierarchical relationships among their family members and friends. As individuals start connecting together again, they have weaved a their own peer relations and support networks. This will dismantle the hierarchal relationships which might have been stifling to some on their freedom to express their views and opinion.

The second one is the loosening of ties and relationships. They are the ‘loose relationships’. Many virtual communities may or may not fit into this aspect but that is the fact. This new aspect of ‘loose relationships’ might displace many of the age old, one to many communication models which exists now in the Television and Radio mass media. This old model will be replaced by a newer many to many model which encourages interactive participation and sharing of information.

The effect of Internet on everybody will not be same but the magnitude will vary among social relations and networks. Yochai Benkler agrees that the usage of the Internet and rise in the individual capabilities will not aid in social fragmentation and alienation. There stills exists the fear of disintegration.

To dissuade this fear of disintegration Howard Rheingold put it quite subtly in his now classic book of 1993  – “Virtual community“. Human beings inevitably will form a community and colonies. We have a hunger for colonies just like bacteria do. A portion of the text from the book ‘Virtual community’ is below.

‘My direct observations of online behavior around the world over the past ten years have led me to conclude that whenever CMC [computer mediated communications] technology becomes available to people anywhere, they inevitably build virtual communities with it, just as microorganisms inevitably create colonies. I suspect that one of the explanations for this phenomenon is the hunger for community that grows in the breasts of people around the world as more and more informal public spaces disappear from our real lives. I also suspect that these new media attract colonies of enthusiasts because CMC enables people to do things with each other in new ways, and to do altogether new kinds of things—just as telegraphs, telephones, and televisions did.’

Yochai Benkler goes on to say that online relationships not only restrict themselves with just being on the Internet but also forge their way to a healthy offline face to face relationships as well. Such face to face relationships are alive and kicking and exist along with the online Internet relationships.



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Does the internet make you smarter? Can Social media too?

Does the internet make you smarter?

Does the Internet make you smarter? to be honest, is a popular search term on Google shared by millions of people around the globe. Going by the  Search engines parlance, this is a long keyword and the search trend for this keyword is rising.

After all, all of us, if not some of us have spent half of our lives surfing on the internet. My 8-year-old daughter is no newcomer either to the internet. Just like other eight-year-olds on this planet, she spends about 3-4 hours a week watching Youtube and playing games on the internet. Well, I decided to gather some information.

Does the Internet make you smarter? the straight answer is, Yes.

Logging on could spark a little bit of genius in all of us.  When you bounce your thoughts and share your knowledge with others, there is every chance that new ideas can come into this world.

Thinking is not solo anymore

But there still exists some contradictions on this subject around the world. Probably in the past, thinking alone and gazing at the stars would result in a sudden epiphany of sorts, a flash, a spark or a light bulb moment. Well, that was the past. A popular belief that emerged partly from passed on stories and life histories of some of the inventors.

Increasingly, there is research pointing out that new ideas and innovations do not stem from a single moment of euphoric thought but from bouncing and successive iteration of ideas over a period of time.

It all starts with a slow hunch says Steven Johnson, the author of the best-selling book  “Where do good ideas com from”, you can find his TED talk show here. And still Clive Thomson, the author of the popular book  “Smarter than you think” is very optimistic on the use of social media. A good review on the book can be found here from Newyork Times.

You can also read our blog post:  The age of social media: Our participation makes it a way of life

The current trend of using social media for mere trivia and gossip would change. Instead, people would find interesting and creative ways to spend their time on the internet. This includes thinking differently and solving new problems by sharing and bouncing ideas with each other.

There is nothing to fear from Facebook and Twitter.

Associate trails of the web is analogous to the human brain

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet architecture. The simplicity and the beauty of the Web lie in its interconnected hypertext Webpages. The web pages are connected through a primary channel called the link.

Lee, however, drew some of his ideas for the web from the Memex. The Memex was an information storage system that was first described by the inventor, Vannevar Bush. The system works analogously to how the human brain works.

Just as how the human brain indexes new ideas and information through associative memory for later use,  the internet system connects information web pages through certain cues (Hypertext links) thereby creating associative trails for ease of access and for later use. This brings us to understand a bit on how ideas pop up in our brain.

The human brain network is as complex as the internet

As Steve Johnson talks about it in his book, any idea that pops out of our consciousness is a work of millions of neurons in our brain all firing in sync with each other to produce an idea.

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