Geometry, and our descriptions of networked space

Matt Webb talks about our descriptions of social software as a pre-paradigm, and makes comaprisons with other scientific paradigms:

Social software is like the early days of thermodynamics, before stat mech. Or maybe pre-Newton. Or maybe early electricity: we had to make do with rules-of-thumb. Some day all of this will be filled in with limits so we’ll say: these approximations apply with this number of people; these others with this number.

I’ve always thought that descriptions of the net that focus on its topology in a way mirror euclidean geometry – its an accurate way to describe an abstract space, but it makes assumptions that start to unpick as we develop more sophisticated perspectives.

In the first stages of public understanding of the net, it was important to describe it as a space – to map its topology and the geometry in a way that elucidated its similarities and differences with ‘real’ space. As it has matured as a medium and become integrated into social behviour patterns, the dynamism of these social behaviours creates centres of ‘gravity’, and this creates warps in the abstract maps we have of the topology of the net. A non-euclidean geometrical paradigm is needed, and I think the interest in Power Laws and related network-theory has started to provide this. These geometrical paradigms factor in dynamics, so the static topology of the net is curved according to the patterns of behaviour that occur within it.

If we follow the historical development of geometry further, what would a relativity theory of the net look like? How would it help us describe the effect of social behaviour as a gravity-like force within the topology of net-space? And further still – what about a string theory of the net?

I’m out of my depth here, being a arts graduate whose knowledge of science and maths is gleaned from pop-science books read on the long commute from the south coast to london. Someone like Matt Webb is probably better equipped to know whether i’ve stretched an analogy to snapping point or not. But thats what arts grads are good at – clutching at a few narrative straws, and building a house out of them….


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