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My arms too short to box the Internet

Doc’s got an excellent, provocative post about how our thinking about the Internet hems us in. I find myself nodding my head but also holding back just a little.

My head nods up and down to Doc’s overall point. We hear “Internet” and we think an infrastructure of cables and radio signals, when in fact the Internet is a set of protocols that can be implemented over anything from copper wires to carrier pigeons. We shouldn’t be surprised. We reify stuff all the time. For example, somehow bits themselves went from a measurement of difference to the “stuff” inside a computer. So, it’s practically inevitable that we’ll think about the Internet in overly concrete terms. It’s what we do. At least in the West.

And I certainly nod my head at Doc’s conclusion that we need to “re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.”

And I’m at 100% nod-RPMs when Doc talks about Erik Cecil “thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to.” In fact, I find myself understanding issues ever more frequently in terms of traditional structures becoming networks or taking on the properties of networks. E.g., news is a network, not a set of stories. Businesses ought to view themselves more and more as networks. Expertise is a property of a network. Leadership is a property of a network. Markets are networks within which conversations take place, natch. Networks are very much becoming our new paradigm. And, as Erik says, a network is not its physical path.

So, where do I diverge from Doc? I’m not entirely sure I actually do. But I think Doc feels we need to come up with a new framing of the Internet, whereas I see networks as a growing paradigm that will naturally reframe it.

The reframing is here; it’s just unevenly distributed?


3 Responses to “My arms too short to box the Internet”

  1. love this title

  2. Excellent post about other excellent post !

    I can’t resist temptation to add some of my thoughts:

    I think I once found a concept that describes better the infrastructural part of Internet. It was “pervasive infrastructure”. It was coined in some book about PKI and cryptography and describes such infrastructure that becomes so important and so standardized that we can build other layers of reality on top of it. See the power grid and the industry build on it.

    Internet (the physical) IS our pervasive infrastructure on top of which the WEB is built. Today, on top of WEB of documents people build Semantic Web – where concepts, objects and tokens of pure knowledge could be represented (if we are successful with that next step…)

    There is no question that WEB has no physical part. It IS a protocol. A software. TCP/IP – one level down – is also a protocol.

    Once the protocol becomes pervasive, as it happened to TCP/IP in early nineties – the next “stratum” can be build on it.

    And – last but not least – the upper stratums are irreducible to the lower ones.

    I think, I hope – the trend will continue and has no limits…

    Now – about the tendency to reify reality. I nod my head too :-)

    This tendency is not only among us. I was once amazed when discovered how deep is the tendency of reification among neurologist and neurobiologist.
    They seem to reduce our mind to our brain and its “hardware”. They were quite successful with such approach for many years – but the true understanding of the mind is still elusive – to say the least. It seems – they do not yet even think of “the software” that runs on our brains. And as this software (or protocol) is certainly of different type that “Turing machine” – we are far from understanding even pieces of it….

  3. From “Finding Our Way” by Margaret J Wheatley (pg 177), describing the difference between networks and communities.

    “People usually network together for personal, even instrumental reasons. They move in and out of them based on how well they serve their own work. The formation of a network is an important, preliminary gathering step.”

    “Communities of practice are the next step, and they are different in significant ways. They are communities, which mean that people make a commitment to be available to each other, to offer support to share learning, to consciously develop new knowledge. They are there not only for their own needs, but for the needs of others.”

    Again from the same book on pg 45 relating to communities and ecosystems.

    “These communites are webs of relationships called ecosystems. Everywhere in nature, communities of diverse species live together in ways that support both the individual and the entire system. As they spin these systems into existence, new capabilities and talents emerge from the process of being together.”

    From’s definition of an ecosystem.

    “An ecosystem is a complete community of living organisms and the nonliving materials of their surroundings.”

    Pretty much describes the Internet / Web to me. The nonliving materials is the technology that forms this “space” and we the people are the organisms living within that space.

    BTW what’s really interesting is that if you read the design principles of Permaculture by David Holmgren which relate to living in harmony within an “ecosystem”, you’ll soon realize that these principles can be translated and used as a process for building communities on the Web itself (so as to live in harmony with others within this Web ecology).

    Call it hippy thinking if you want but in watching the Google Video called “Computer Networks – The Heralds of Resource Sharing”, you’ll see a lot of these principles being applied and even more so the “caring” and “sharing” ethical foundation cultivated invisibly within it. Again I think this is why the Internet and Web have such a pull on people because at the heart of their creation are simple principles and beliefs that are missing from our everyday life today (particularly in corporate business).

Web Joho only

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