Monday 21 March 2011
Requiem for the Network - Essay One, ‘Welcome to the Labyrinth’, Tonight
‘Welcome to the Labyrinth’, the first essay in my series for Radio 3, Requiem for the Network, goes out tonight, March 21, at 23.00hrs. Information on its availability either on BBC iPlayer or as a podcast will be posted in due course.
Today the business and academic communities embrace the ‘networks’ with the same fervour they once showed the electronic media of the 1960s. Thanks to the internet they have the basic model for ‘crowd sourcing’, ‘data farming’ and other forms of research. Online communities of ‘netizens’ continue to multiply and flourish, offering new perspectives on consumption, relationships, political participation and mass communication. ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom,’ was once the watchword for an early phase in the Chinese Cultural Revolution – and look how that turned out. The networks today seem ubiquitous and omnipotent: but do they represent a cultural revolution or a total regime change? And what do we understand of their history or their power? Who and what, finally, do the networks connect us to? Welcome to the Labyrinth.
We set great store by the welcome we receive – we have usually travelled a great distance to get there. Today the welcome offers access to an increasingly ‘soft’ architecture of responsive environments, transparent barriers, audible directives, unseen electronic gateways, transportation systems and temporary spaces. The reverse face of this welcome, however, is the heightened security of body scanners and metal detectors, firewalls, ‘pay-walls’ and denial of service. The network becomes a labyrinth which we navigate like laboratory rats in a maze. Looking at basic configurations and definitions of the ‘network’, this essay looks at its development in terms of behaviourism, game theory and systems management. Perhaps the hardest labyrinth to get out of is the one you don’t even realize you are in.
Pictured above: in the studio at Henry Wood House, London