Have you ever wondered if there would come a day you can no longer be ‘connected’ to someone on the Internet in any way possible?
I do not. In fact, I have serious trouble reconciling this possibility.
To me, the Internet will continue to keep on growing, connecting and expanding. With Web 2.0 established, many are already looking toward Web 3.0. Conrad Wolfram, computer scientist and brother of Stephen (creator of the WolframAlpha search engine) described Web 3.0 as a period when the web is able to churn out meaningful and structured data on its own instead of being confined to its physical desktop limitations.
Some say we are already living in it.
But just like the foundation of everything, I figured, hey, there must be a main source of ‘power’ or ‘manager’ that holds it all up, right? Or, if I may rephrase, what exactly keeps our online network together? So, I decided to play detective and crossed fingers it will lead me somewhere.
As a start, I ask- am I the manager of my own online network? Allow me trace this.
So every day before I sleep, I choose to reach out for my laptop, turn it on, and secretly encourage it to boot up real quickly. Simultaneously, I start to hope that my laptop hinges onto my home’s WiFi signal as fast as the movement of my index finger is on the track pad to the Chrome icon. Once I’m in, I scroll to my Facebook bookmark I made a year ago and click on it with a tap. Here, I am usually faced with prompts from friends initiating new conversations as the WiFi connection starts up. A typical browsing behaviour of me would be to go through which new friend requests and photo tags to allow or disallow each with a simple click. I then look through my Newsfeed and engage in some conversations, commenting on the status updates belonging to those I have deeper relationships in.
As you can see, I am trying to be as detailed as possible in my description. Whether is it a conscious choice of mine or the prompt of the interface from any non-human device, I list out whatever leads up to my eventual connection to and maintenance of my network on Facebook. Unfortunately, I was unable to come with a solid conclusion. Instead, I began to see a possible gap in my search for this source of ‘power.’ Can you see the gap?
In my description, I seem to be giving full credit to my own online behaviour as the one controlling my network and my devices as just aids to my intentions. I come to neglect that, perhaps, the non-human devices I am using might be the ones. What if I view them just like how I view myself? Allow me to replay my mundane life. Now, instead of describing myself and the devices differently, I give each entity equal importance. Sounds like total absurdity, but let’s try:
“So every day before I sleep, I choose to reach out for my laptop, wake her up, and secretly encourage her to breathe as soon as she can. At the same time, I await my laptop to catch onto my home’s WiFi signal as fast as the movement of my index finger is on the track pad to the Chrome icon. Once I’m in, I visit the Facebook bookmark I made a year ago and enter the city. Here, I am usually attended by close friends who start conversations with me, the Newsfeed, Friends Requests, and my laptop’s WiFi connection. A typical exploring behaviour of me would be to visit the towns that contain new friend requests or photo tags first. In these towns, I always consider whether I should allow or disallow my friends to know about my whereabouts, each decision accompanied by the assistance from the track pad.”
What is the difference between this and my previous description?
There are many theories that seek to establish relationships between our online behaviour and offline self. We form relationships with digital Information Communication Technologies and devices very quickly and engage in them all the time.
In particular, the actor-network theory is one of the many thought methods that describes human and non-human entities, termed as ‘actants’, in the same language and treat both subjects as comrades that play equally important roles within our networks. Actants can be anything and anyone which can carry out or be used for a purpose. In my above description, the actants, both human and non-human, are just simple constituting nodes that form a larger network. I was ‘attended by close friends…the Newsfeed…and my laptop’s WiFi connection.” They are no different from another. It is also the very presence of these actants that keep this complex system alive.
So, who holds the power? The ‘power’ here lies within the extensiveness of the network. It arises from these webs of connections between our friends, strangers, and the devices we use to maintain this network.
This, then, is the lesson. We are all spread out. We are nothing more than a network of social and technical relations. We are made by our organisational relations. Power resides elsewhere. It is always deferred. It is always a product. It is always an effect.
Even though the thought process ANT uses has received its share of criticisms, it is a good launch pad to start rethinking about the digital connections we have been building day after day.
I am not yet a fervent proponent of ANT. But this is really intriguing. What do you think?