Symposium themes and questions

New forms of digital infrastructure allow everyone on the network to communicate in real time. As a byproduct of this, institutional forms are collapsing or fundamentally changing; education has to respond, both to maintain its value as an institution, and also as a basic act of self preservation. In the near future students will finance their educations through micro-economics, and professors will grade work through crowd sourcing. What social and technical metrics will play a role in this? How will education respond with agility? Can it?

Contemporary political philosophers [Toni Negri, Giorgio Agamben, Eugene Thacker] devote substantial thought to the emerging ‘multitude’. And today, crowdsourcing, collective intelligence, microblogging, Twitter, Tumblr, & other totally new and capillary forms of metricizing human data, are all transforming our everyday lives. Is there a relationship between these two movements? What will cities, governments, institutions do to respond to this new political body?

Cities have been formed by social networks for as long as there have been cities. But the speed at which information flows through those networks has, in the past decade, accelerated to a point where what formerly took weeks, months, years can now propagate globally in minutes. How can we build new cities [China..] while rethinking fundamental ideas of information flow, systems behavior, and infrastructure? What would a city look like if designed from the ground up for users who see it entirely through Yelp, Layar, and UrbanSpoon? In what ways can the huge cultural and political gaps that exist between EU, US, Asia, find compromise or conversation spaces as these new technologies spread out into the world faster than we can track?

John Brunner wrote Shockwave Rider, a science fiction novel, in the early 70s. In it he predicted many aspects of early 21st century life, including the internet, the emergence of ‘worms’ on the internet, the idea of an ambient global information system, the evolution of microcultures, the rapid and total emergence of crowdsourcing, and perhaps most importantly, he predicted the appearance of ‘future shock’ in the everyday life of all people as a consequence of their ever expanding connections to a national and global network. As we ourselves participate more and more in a globalizing, modernizing world, what kinds of realworld future shock are we experiencing? Is the much discussed ‘Clash of Civilizations’ [Huntington] a byproduct of this globalization? Or is the counter model, the ‘Clash of Fundamentalisms’ [Tariq Ali] a result? What role does network technology and social networking on a GLOBAL scale play in these kinds of ‘clashes’? How can we measure, predict, and design for the role that technology plays in this accelerated form of globalization?

Bruce Sterling has discussed the concept of the SPIME [‘space time object’] in his book SHAPING THINGS. He argues that in the very near future, all THINGS will be networked through RFID and other technology, and that the ‘network of objects’ will soon be vaster than the network between humans. EVERYTHING will be wirelessly networked. Cars, phones, pocketknives, jackets, sunglasses, computer parts, tires, ribeye steaks, skin creme; all these things, objects, products will be trackable and able to ‘phone home’ in various ways, for many reasons. What kind of new connections will this vast ‘multititude of things’ have to human networks? To political and economic systems?

-Ed Keller

Shockwave Rider: How to grow Delphiniums

“It works, approximately, like this.

First you corner a large — if possible, a very large — number of
people who, while they’ve never formally studied the subject you’re
going to ask them about and hence are unlikely to recall the correct
answer, are nonetheless plugged into the culture to which the question

Then you ask them, as it might be, to estimate how many people died in
the great influenza epidemic which followed World War I, or how many
loaves were condemned by EEC food inspectors as unfit for human
consumption during June 1970.

Curiously, when you consolidate their replies they tend to cluster
around the actual figure as recorded in almanacs, yearbooks and
statistical returns.

It’s rather as though this paradox has proved true: that while nobody
knows what’s going on around here, everybody knows what’s going on
around here.

Well, if it works for the past, why can’t it work for the future?
Three hundred million people with access to the integrated North
American data-net is a nice big number of potential consultees.”

excerpted from John Brunner’s 1975 novel Shockwave Rider

Ab Initio: Swarms

In his text ‘Networks, Swarms, Multitudes‘, Eugene Thacker identifies some of the key aspects of a new constituency emerging from both post-national politics and new technological and biopolitical structures:

* A swarm is an organization of multiple, individuated units with some relation to one another. That is, a swarm is a particular kind of collectivity or group phenomenon that may be dependent upon a condition of connectivity.
* A swarm is a collectivity that is defined by relationality. This pertains as much to the level of the individual unit as it does to the overall organization of the swarm. Relation is the rule in swarms.
* A swarm is a dynamic phenomenon (following from its relationality). This differentiates it from the concept of a “network,” which has its roots in graph theory and spatial modes of mathematically understanding “things” (or nodes) and “relations” (or edges). A swarm always exists in time and, as such, is always acting, interacting, interrelating, and self-transforming. At some level “living networks” and “swarms” overlap.
* A swarm is a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, but it is also a heterogeneous whole. This is not to identify a unified, homogeneous group that serves the heterogeneous needs and desires of individuals. Rather, the principles of self-organization require that the group only arises from the localized, singular, heterogeneous actions of individual units.
* Swarms come with ambiguous politics. The swarm is not the newest term for the concept of the “masses,” the “people,” or the “proletariat”; the parts are not subservient to the whole — both exist simultaneously and because of each other. A swarm may exhibit a discernible global pattern, but this does not mean that a swarm prioritizes the group over the individual. Because of this, a swarm does not exist at a local or global level, but at a third level, where multiplicity and relation intersect.

The ‘Shockwave Riders…’ symposium will critically engage these ideas to debate how global social networks will transform all aspects of society, and map out ways that pedagogy and design can predict, and respond to, some of these changes.