Monday, October 1, 2012

Implications for the study of culture and connectivity?

When thinking of Terranova’s text this week, one of the things that caught my attention was that the concept of connectivity can be imagined in a global context through the imagery of continents, archipelagos and isolated information islands. Due to the fact that this book is titled “Network Culture”, my ideas upon this statement subconsciously harkened back to the reasons why some nations may be considered more or less technologically advanced than others (this of course presuming that network connectivity is a measure of technological advancements). I grumbled something about colonialism, imperialism, neo-liberal capitalism and dependency, all of which I feel have benefited the nations of the global north to the detriment of those of the global south. At that point, I did not fully grasp the complexity of Terranova’s statement. A global overview of the world’s nations does not exactly follow the simplistic schema of privileged versus marginalized. In fact, in today’s highly connected world, being an island of secure network information may be more a privilege than a detriment (and one that very few people can afford).

I found the following statement helpful “information theory… understands the material processes as implying non-liner relation between macrostates (such as averages, but also identities, subjectivities, societies and culture)” (28). The key idea here is non-linear, and it is borrowed from science, but applicable to the relations of politics, economics and cultural capitalism of the global north and south, vis-à-vis network theory. Thus, the power structures that I envisioned were placed in “an immersive, multi-dimensional and transformative topology” that is characterized by a sense of ‘not-knowing’ the true characteristics and behaviors of individual nodes of information in a network, and arguably, human individuals in multiple social networks. With not knowing also comes the ambiguity of power in network relationships. The fact that these relationships are so non-linear left me wondering (from an anthropological perspective) how can identities, societies and cultures be studied in this ever-changing topology that information and network theory presents? If we rely on an unsteady and inherently entropic system, can scientists truly make any claims about the essential characteristics of a supposedly isolated culture? 

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