zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Building upon the “Renaissance Networks” Meme

Building upon the “Renaissance Networks” Meme

This is what I like best about the blogosphere and Web 2.0. The evolution of ideas.

Recently, Galrahn at Information Dissemination had an excellent post where he coined the term “Renaissance Networks” (he should trademark that one) where he argued, in part:

We think the concept of “Renaissance men” is evolving into “Renaissance networks”, they range from the generalists (like Matt and David), the interested citizens (you, being a politically active, informed citizen, in the case of this blog interested in military and specifically maritime strategy), and the larger network that extends to the specialists whom takes various forms like media and research, and who ultimately disseminate through various mediums including periodicals like Proceedings or even a Research organization like CSBA.

The point is, when one observes the evolution of social media networks, not only do we see a Think Tank 2.0 replacing the Think Tank in the future, we also see the development of a hierarchy of information dissemination from the generalists to the specialists for discussion, and back up to the generalists for broader information redistribution. This hierarchy is already well developed in politics, information technology, and entertainment, but the emergence of professional and topic centric blogs for the national security debate and foreign policymaking are slow in coming, but those blogs are emerging. It will take time for consensus to build among the “punditsphere” regarding who the professionals are, but we are already seeing movement on that as well.

That inspired my CTLab colleague Drew Conway to post up with “Points of Failure in the “Renaisance Network” :

Knol fits in ID’s hierarchical model somewhere at the top; however, we must be cautious of the inherent faults of this system. For example, Knol uses a ranking system of five stars to give the audience an idea of a piece’s quality. Like other social media outlets (del.icio.us and digg.com), the rankings can be skewed by intentional manipulation (paid services to increased the number of bookmarks or ratings), or online mob behavior to push flavor-of-the-week pieces to the front page. More troubling, though, is the digital tunnel vision that social media construct. Cass Sunstein has been the loudest voice on this issue for several years, and in his Republic.com 2.0 he points out

…people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance. Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself. Such encounters often involve topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find quite irritating.

It is one thing to allow social media to find the “hottest” site at any given moment, but it is a different thing entirely to allow that same system to determine authoritative works.

In turn, fellow SWC member Dr. Marc Tyrell picked up the meme and ran with it with “Renaissance networks”: social media and reciprocity systems. This is a heavily linked post but here is one part:

In most of my work, I’ve argued in one way or another, that this “shift” to a network society is not “new” by any stretch of the imagination. It is, in fact, a shifting to a form of social relations that was dominant throughout our species history, probably as early as Australopithicines (if not earlier), and not replaced by another form until circa 10-12,000 years ago with the Agricultural Revoltion (aka the Neolithic Revolution). I find it exceedingly unlikely that any species would evolve for several millions of years without developing specialized neural circuitry to handle the problems and opportunities inherent in their social environment (along with mechanisms to detect cheaters). As Cosmides and Tooby have noted, “Our modern skulls house a stone age mind”.

Inherent in much of the discussion over this “shift” is a concept of linear time that I find exceedingly frustrating. The implication is that this shift is either an evolution (or revolution… take your pick) that is following along some pre-determined teleological vector. What is lost in the discussion, mainly because the linearity of time is assumed, is the recognition that this is not a “radical” change but, rather, a “phase change” – a shift between different forms of social relations, all of which are inherent in the human species (see Alan Fiske’s Structures of Social Life).

“Phase transition” is a nice analogy from physics, which my longtime friend Dr. Von has applied to discussions of “emergence” and network theory in the past. I agree that it is a useful way of shorthanding complex but apparently seamless changes in human social network behavior, where “tipping points” mark significant alterations, that we cannot explain as a sequential process.

In any event, cyclical conceptions of society and time have a long pedigree. Polybius argued for cyclicality in governance as did Confucianist assumptions regarding virtue and the mandate of Heaven or salvation concepts inherent in Hinduism and Buddhism. What social network phase transitions may be creating may be less cyclical in nature though than asynchronous; permitting divergence, co-evolutionary development and fusion of behavioral trend lines.


One Response to “Building upon the “Renaissance Networks” Meme”

  1. Drew Conway Says:

    A much more cerebral take on this meme from the elder Conway, and I thought you might enjoy it: <a href=" http://cyberspaceglasshouse.blogspot.com/2008/07/emily.html

Switch to our mobile site