Friday, April 9, 2004

Here be systems (and tensions)

Adam Greenfield's End to ends:

Designing function into the network itself freezes a moment in time, with all its arrangements and priorities and valuations intact. The trouble is, of course, that all of those things change over time, in unpredictable directions ...

Life, living things, organic things: they're messy, they continually flow and leak and fold back on themselves. It takes a certain maturity to accept this, to find beauty in it, especially for those of us who (have been trained to) associate harmony first and foremost with order. It's not easy to let go of the idea - the introduction of which into my own life which I associate with eighth-grade biology's unit on Linnean classification - that the universe of phenomenal objects can be comprehensively named, ordered, and understood ...

But there does come a place where a systematic approach is called for, and that place is the network that connects these local, heterogeneous, wildly and delightfully variable moments with each other and that facilitates movement between and among them ...

Such systematization is all about providing a stable platform for the emergence of what are, I trust, the more interesting sorts of complexity and diversity. Put concretely: would you rather live in a city with a hundred different, locally varying practices for the labeling and coloring and shape and placement of street signs, or one that imposed this one standard on its constituent parts? All of the interesting, complicated stuff still exists in the things connected to the network, but the network is left to do its job.

My dissertation research has brought me back to this question over and over: what are the relations between mobility and stability, platforms and actions, stages and performances? Is it really just a matter of scale? And how, exactly, does power come into play here?


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