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The final reading for Networked Media is Steve Dietz’s Ten Dreams of Technology. Dietz works with museums to architect digitally based cultural programming and is currently the Director of New Media Initiatives at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ten Dreams of Technology is a speculative piece about what the future holds for the intersection of art and technology. Dietz says each of his ‘dreams’ (or themes) has a future ‘even if we do not yet know what it is and despite the certainty with which it is predicted’. This seems to summarise so much of the Networked Media course – less focused on conclusions, finite answers; more about opening doorways and exploring possibilities of what could emerge.

Dietz’s collection of ‘dreams’ are a manifestation of artists’ questions and artworks which he describes as being admirably ‘compelling’. His dreams are as follows:

  • The Dream of Symbiosis
  • The Dream of Emergence
  • The Dream of Immersion
  • The Dream of World Peace
  • The Dream of Transparency
  • The Dream of Flows
  • The Dream of Open Work
  • The Dream of the Other
  • The Dream of New Art
  • Hacking the Dream

The Dream of New Art is possibly the most obvious of these dreams, given the potential of the online world and what it may offer the art world (alongside almost every other field). Dietz writes that ‘as moving images eventually created cinema’, internet-based art encourages exploration and the creation of a whole new art form.

In explaining The Dream of Symbiosis, Dietz refers to Norbert Wiener’s concept of Cybernetics, where the human and the machine learn from their interaction with the other, and could thus evolve to a high level of functioning.

Dietz also quotes J.C.R. Licklider (1960) – a contemporary of Wiener – who said the coupling of human brains and computer machines will form a partnership with the ability to:

‘think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today’.

These schools of thought resonate with the work of Ray Kurzweil on Artificial Intelligence, and Spike Jones’ Her.

The Dream of Immersion is evident in the works of Char Davis, to whom envelopment is at the core of her works. Dietz also suggests virtual reality as a technological manifestation of viewer immersion, a development of Myron Krueger’s ‘responsive environments’ and ‘artificial reality’.

I particularly liked The Dream of World Peace. This ‘dream’ is based on the rhetoric that:

‘the ability to communicate quickly and easily leads to greater understanding, which then leads to greater tolerance and the certainty of harmony’ .

Whether that is idealistic, ignorant or hopeful, I’m not sure. Perhaps all three, yet it is a dream I suspect offers great universal potential for progress and resolve.

On The Dream of Open Work, Dietz cites Umberto Eco (1987):

‘every reception of a work of art is both an interpretation and a performance of it, because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective’.

While the ideas are far from the same, this nonetheless reminded me of Elliot’s question whether narratives exist only after we recognise them internally. I suppose it suggests the power of our cultural, personal and varied histories in influencing how we perceive, comprehend and interpret works of art.

I’d suggest the ways in which Dietz acknowledges the innovation of the digital age summarises so much of what we’ve discussed over the past six weeks:

‘One of the strongests shifts of emphasis in the digital age has been on the production side and on the movement from creating finished works of art to creating systems for the production of art.’

His use of the word ‘systems’ and focus on production, creativity and openness accounts for many of the ideas Networked Media has unveiled and propelled me into examining.

Finally, I found great pleasure in Dietz’s use of the term ‘hacking’. I’ve recently written a lot about hacking and hackschooling, and Logan LaPlante‘s TEDx talk. Dietz writes:

‘Artists were among the earliest and most active participants to recognize the potential of the Internet – certainly long before most institutions and corporations.’

Artists use the online world as a networking tool as well as a source and vehicle for creativity, or ‘to hack its capabilities for alternative purposes’. The whole hacking philosophy is so often portrayed in the media in such a negative light, and yet the work of hacking pioneers such as the late Aaron Swartz, and LaPlante himself are motivated through the search for the greater good. Hacking might be devious in some cases, but we must refrain from generalising in this area. The digital age has given us the opportunity to hack networks in the pursuit of maximising their potential.

Richard Stallman said hackers explore the limits of what is possible, thereby doing something exciting and meaningful. And isn’t this what life is ultimately about?

Dietz’s ‘dreams’ expose the potential the digital age offers the evolving art world. But I think we could extrapolate these possibilities into other fields when examining their potential in a constantly evolving world. The future demands we approach with open minds, eyes and ears, and engage with networks, technologies and other human beings to stimulate ourselves into making a positive contribution to the world of future generations. Just how, is up to us.

And here’s an amazing example of the symbiosis of traditional art and technology:

Nine thirty on a Wednesday morning. The city bustles with trains, trams and pedestrians commuting to work, school or study. The sun shines down on Melbourne town and offers up the fresh possibilities of a new day.

The students trickle in; 9.27, 9.29, 9.35, and so on. Slowly, slowly, the little classroom on level two fills as seats are taken around two tables pushed together, forming a square in the centre of the room.

Not all symposium leaders are present, but the discussion begins nonetheless. The cohort are distinctly quiet this day. Are the readings too complex? Are they too far removed from our ways of thinking? Or are we simply just too damn tired to raise our voices?

Eyes are held awake – literally, by the strength of a thumb and pointer finger. Stretch, skin, keep those eyelids concertinaed, stuck near their eyebrow friends.

Someone speaks of Deleuze. My notes say he doesn’t like the way language has developed. He moves towards factoring option into language.

Another one speaks. Understanding seems profound, yet upon later consultation, its instigator admits to only a partial grasp of the concepts buried within.

We move to Manovich – digital media theorist and artist. A theory and practice, coinciding quite strongly.

And then Elliot suggests: narratives can only be recognised internally, cognitively.

Really?

It’s certainly something to consider. Are stories prewritten, there for consumption? Or are we all actors in their creation as our open eyes scan pages, ears listen, brain and mind comprehend?

We proceed to games. Modern games primarily present a diegetic environment, sometimes with a narrative emerging. Is this like the Sims?, I wonder.

Linear games have a highly systematised narrative and the game becomes about the narrative itself. We discuss EVE Online:

‘a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMORPG) that takes place approximately 20,000 years after our times in a galaxy on the far end of the universe…EVE is a single “shard” world [meaning] everyone who joins EVE becomes a part of the same world and the same community…In EVE you are free to choose your own destiny, [free from restrictions of] predefined character classes or professions.’

So EVE presents us with a second life as similar or far from our own as we please. In EVE, players may find a new sense of agency, or purpose. We are free to construct a narrative internally, and execute it within the ‘confines’ of the virtual world.

Conversation peaks and wavers again. Ten fifteen, more bodies in the room. By 10:30, symposium done, group work begun.

And we consider another future where, much like in Her, computers are intelligent, and we learn from one another. Our relationship becomes reciprocal. Just how far off this world is, only time will tell.

Nearing the pointy end of the course I suppose it’s only to be expected that the readings begin to tackle more complex aspects of networked media. This half-week’s readings by Lev Manovich and Bill Seaman taken from a 2007 text on Database Aesthetics, approach databases in ways I’d probably never have considered without their prompting.

Manovich’s ‘Database As A Symbolic Form’ discusses the place of databases in new media, in juxtaposition with the role of narrative in cinema. Manovich writes that the user’s experience of new media databases is basic:

‘a collection of items on which the user can perform various operations: view navigate, and search’ p. 39

New media objects are a collection of individual items (or terms) of equal significance. Examples of database presentations in new media may take the form of multimedia encyclopaedias, collections of recipes, photos or quotes, or multimedia works of cultural content such as virtual museums where the user can access, browse and click through items under different categories such as works by a particular artist, from a designated country, or perhaps chronologically.

I found a pleasing link between this illustration of databases in new media, and the Pinterest niki project we’ve just completed. Pinterest is, in my understanding, a near perfect depiction of the new media database phenomenon. Choose a category, scroll through selected pins and re-pin those you choose into self-designated groups or themes.

Manovich confirms the database structure as being central to new media and the internet age:

‘As defined by original HTML, a Web page is a sequential list of separate elements: text blocks, images, digital video clips and links to other pages.’ p. 41

Fundamentally, what the database form presents the user with is choice. Websites are ever-growing, are continually open for editing with additions possible at any stage of its existence. Consider Wikipedia, for example. Even disregarding that it’s primary function is that of an encyclopaedia, it is one of the most accurate, up to date sources of factual information because it is so alive. As soon as one of its entrants is pronounced dead, Wikipedia will have it covered. Any major world event will be documented, checked, corrected and updated all in realtime. Manovich says this contributes to the ‘anti narrative logic of the Web’ (p. 41), because

‘If new elements are being added over time, the result is a collection, not a story.’ p. 41

Subsequently, new media generally don’t present with the narrative arc so central to more traditional media. Databases are disorderly, fragmented by design. In contrast, narratives are linear and have a cause and effect trajectory.

To extrapolate on this binary, consider the design of any website.

After typing in a URL or obtaining the address via the most basic database structure, a search engine, you arrive at a home page. Presented with categorical choices, you click on the link most likely to direct you to the content you seek. Alternately, if the website’s creator thinks their database is suitably large, you may have the option of conducting an internal search of the site, to locate your information without sifting through a plethora of categories with multiple branches, and sub-branches within. This function acts as an index does, essentially providing you with a ‘page number’ on which you’ll find the desired result.

I suspect the ways in which this functions differently to a traditional narrative structure requires no further explanation.

However, Manovich notes that ‘not all new media objects are explicitly databases’ (p. 41). Computer games are experienced as narratives, with cause and effect rhythms and usually a conclusive end point. Yet the way the game is designed is around ‘hidden logic[s]’ (p. 41) – algorithms – which the player then executes to win the game. Consequently, each decision the player makes opens up the subsequent layer of relative choices, and the next and the next, which suggests a database structure rather than that of a pre-constructed narrative.

Considering websites as databases enabled me to connect this half-week’s content to prior class symposiums and readings on hypertexts and networked science. Each idea reinforces we are all a sum of our parts and it is the ways in which we link these separates together that equips us to function as we are.

Facebook is celebrating its 10th birthday today amidst speculation of an impending decline. But the behemoth of social networks is showing no signs of flailing just yet.

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Facebook is one of the first things we check in the mornings and the last, before we go to sleep.

Whether its FOMO, addition or just habit, Facebook has become a stalwart pal for about one sixth of the world’s population, a staggering ‘citizenship’ which could surpass the number of people living in China, the world’s most populous nation, within the next year.

It seems the way people use Facebook is dependent on whether (or not) they grew up with the network. As Seth Fiegerman writes, ‘Facebook’s users seem to be divided into two groups: younger users who are forever connected to people from the past, and older users who are given a powerful tool to reconnect with those they’ve long since lost touch with’.

Having signed up to Facebook at the beginning of 2008, I wasn’t one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. But I did have an account before many of my friends, albeit one I saw as the inferior little sister to my, at the time, beloved Myspace. I actually got a Facebook account to keep in touch with new friends from interstate. Either myself or members of the Sydney clan had to make a move to the dark side (Facebook and Myspace, respectively), and I ended up caving to what I thought was the short straw. About a year later, Myspace became effectively defunct and I found myself pretty proud of my already established Facebook backlog and network.

Nevertheless, I still latched onto Facebook as a way of remaining connected, rather than reigniting long lost friendships from my single digit days. Simultaneously, my peers began to use Facebook as their primary social network, to the point where I’m now connected to hundreds and hundreds of ‘friends’ some of which I’ve either met only once, or haven’t spoken to directly in years. However, every now and then someone I might classify as ‘random’ (a word my mum thinks is ‘soooo Gen Y’) pops up on my newsfeed and I’m kindly reminded of their existence in the world, if not in my life as such.

At the moment, I’m still pretty dependent on Facebook to do what it does best and give me updates and a realtime tracker of what my friends and ‘friends’ are doing with their lives. Ironically, Facebook really shows just how much we’re not doing because we’re too busy updating our online presence through status’, photos and ‘checking in’ to places where we want to be (virtually) seen.

I am not out to diss Facebook. As I said, I’m still thoroughly engaged with, and through, the network to people I’d otherwise have lost contact with. Despite only being a few years out of school, there are so many people I’d have called close friends that I now, rarely see or even speak to. Facebook provides me with that virtual and emotional link to classmates with whom I spent weeks and years, side by side. Someone’s got a new boyfriend, someone else is on exchange, one girl is living abroad and another just qualified as a professional nurse and has already landed the job of her dreams.

When people announce exciting (or even terribly tragic) events on Facebook, there is an almost resurgence and instantaneous spill of camaraderie for those involved. It’s pretty amazing how quickly people come together for someone in need, or to celebrate and congratulate a new couple, job or marriage.

But Facebook also perpetuates a continuous disease of comparison between both strangers and friends. If the aforementioned friend got ‘the’ job while you lucked out, you might feel down. You see a group of old friends catching up without you and checking in somewhere for drinks, and now not only you know you’ve been sidelined, but everybody else in their network does, too.

And social networking is, ironically, incredibly self-centred. While each network proclaims to be about connecting people, they’re all centred around individual users creating a ‘profile’ through which they will portray themselves to the world. Yet whether by intuition, self-protection or devious scheming, what and how we choose to display ourselves online is overwhelmingly self-selected – and if it’s not, you can untag yourself or remove yourself from the group with the click of a button.

So people are choosing profile pictures where they’re pleased with their appearance. They’re checking in only at the places/with people with whom they want to be seen. They’re selectively creating a virtual profile of themselves filled with all the good bits, and only minimal (if any at all) aspects of their vulnerabilities. And as Brené Brown teaches us, there is so much power in vulnerability.

But with over 1.23 billion users worldwide, Facebook is clearly doing something right. The network also hosts thousands of support groups, allows for easy sharing of digital content, and makes inviting friends to your birthday soiree so much easier. Of course, sometimes you’re drowning in events from promoters or can’t see anything on your newsfeed other than bloody memes or videos of friends nek nominating each other, but being so privy at least means you’re kept in the loop… at all times… whether you like it or not.

I suppose what it all comes down to is the power of social networking in creating, building and maintaining relationships between individuals and groups across the globe. In the words of TheFacebook’s multibillionaire founder, Mark Zuckerberg, ‘It’s been amazing to see how people have used Facebook to build a real community and help each other in so many ways’.

Only time will tell if the network survives its terrible teens. Always reinventing itself, Facebook continues to keep up with if not, lead, the Joneses so if it continues to dominate global connectivity into the 2020s, here’s hoping we’re all still interested in those self-appointed popular girls from high school because, who knows? Maybe we’ll even see them settle down some day.

In this week’s symposium, our tutor referred to ‘traditional media’ as ‘heritage media’.

I’d never heard the term used in this context and it really stood out as something quite shocking. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I’m a print girl, true and through. I read books, tangible newspapers and magazines in hand as much as possible. But I’m also a constant consumer of news and other texts online and via my phone.

We discussed the conservative argument for free market economics which might say heritage media has an inherent ‘checks and balance’ system for quality. Theoretically, this would ensure the ‘best’ stories would go to print or air. Yet what tends to happen reflects more of a populist approach as, largely, it is the content deemed to appeal to the masses that is published and produced.

Online there is (infinite) space for diversity of content, opinion, language, perspective and debate. By coincidence, in my webscrawling today I came across a 2006 publication of Harvard Law professor, Yochai BenklerThe Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

As a side note – I love that as I’ve started formally studying more topics or subjects I am genuinely interested in, the time I spend online for pleasure is actually resonating with that guided learning.

Benkler’s work is one such example. He discusses how the internet has restructured public discourse, giving individuals greater freedom and autonomy, encouraging participation, engagement as a scale-free network. He suggests the internet provides ‘avenues of discourse around the bottle-necks of older media, whether these are held by authoritarian governments or by media owners’ (p. 271). This point is particularly pertinent in light of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s latest tirade against (or ‘efficiency review’ of) the ABC and SBS. Of course, this is in addition to two publishing houses (or rather, two millionaires) dominating Australia’s print industry, providing the public with ‘news’ that is about as ‘fair and balanced’ as Fox News.

Benkler says ‘filtering, accreditation, and synthesis mechanisms [are a] part of network behavior’ (p. 271) and that peer production ‘is providing some of the most important fuctionalities of the media. These efforts provide a watchdog, a source of salient observations regarding matters of public concern, and a platform for discussing the alternatives open to a polity’ (p. 272).

‘In the networked information environment, everyone is free to observe, report, question, and debate, not only in principle, but in actual capability.’ (p. 272)

Perhaps most importantly, is that in today’s online, networked world, anyone can become what New York Univerrsity journalism professor, Jay Rosen, calls a ‘citizen journalist‘.

‘…the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.’

Citizen journalism, the internet and networked science are shifting power away from leaders, managers and millionaires, and are democratising the media landscape and the society in which they exist. While I will hold on to heritage media, I am incredibly grateful for the proliferation of online networks that constantly offer me new pages to view, opinions to read and thoughts to think. But still, I’m pretty excited for The Saturday Paper. Aren’t you?

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Last night I saw the recent Spike Jones film, Her. I’d heard and read raving reviews so had pretty high expectations for this drama/rom-com/sci-fi amalgamation and I’m also a big fan of many of the actors (ScarJo especially). I’d also read that Woody Allen had a been a big influence on the script, making me all the more intrigued to see it.

Upon reflection, my thoughts on the film overall are mixed. It was too long and the purposes of some scenes were somewhat murky. But what struck me was how much the film reflects and draws directly on so much of what I’m learning about in Networked Media.

Firstly, Theodore’s world is one structured by and through digital enhancement. Despite the film being categorised partly as science fiction, I’d suggest that perhaps it is more inline with what I’ve come to understand as design fiction, where the world has been furthered through a multiplicity of developments that have lead to real, imaginable social changes. While the technologies available to Theodore and his peers seem, at present, innovative and futuristic, it’s quite imaginable they may come to fruition in the not too distant future.

The interaction Theodore has – and the relationship he develops – with his AI-OS (Artificial Intelligence Operating System), Samantha, is an example of the tangible realities that could eventuate from progressions in technology and design.

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However, what struck me as being particularly relevant to this week’s Laszlo-Barabasi readings, was the ever-expanding nature of Samantha, who unlike Theodore, has unlimited capacity and connections to thousands of other humans and OSs, without having to risk losing or severing those she has already formed.

Laszlo-Barabasi (2003) discusses the fundamentals of understanding hubs in network science. He suggests Pareto’s 80/20 rule as being like Murphy’s Law of management. The rule states that in most cases, four-fifths of peoples’ (or stations’/particles’/single enterprises’) efforts are largely irrelevant. For example, it could be said that 80 per cent of a company’s profits are produced by only 20 per cent of its employees, or 80 per cent of decisions are made during 20 per cent of meeting time. To contextualise this in terms of network science and the web, Laszlo-Barabassi says 80 per cent of links on the web point to only 15 per cent of webpages.

He then explains the process by which a power law was discovered to express this distribution of webpages on a log plot. Much to my surprise, I actually understood what he was talking about in terms of histograms, log plots, power laws and other mathematical expressions, thanks to VCE Further Mathematics. Laszlo-Barabasi explains:

‘Power laws formulate in mathematical terms the notion that a few large events carry most of the action.’ p. 72

For us, this means many small events (or webpages) coexist with a few larger webpages. These larger webpages could thus be seen as hubs, and Laszlo-Barabasi found that this power law applied to many other disciplines and situations such as Hollywood (see my Six Degrees post re: Kevin Bacon) and physics. Basically, ‘hubs are the consequence of power laws [which] remove[d] networks from the realm of the random’ (p. 78).

However, Strogatz and Watts assumed the networks in which these hubs exist were static, or fixed. What Laszlo-Barabasi and colleagues discovered (in trying to explain the relevance of power laws) were two new rules that came to define a ‘scale-free’ network, the first of which is growth.

Like Theodore’s AI-OS, Samantha real networks incorporate growth. They are constantly acquiring new connections, establishing additional relationships and links to both new and already-existing content. Samantha has the ability to be engaged in multiple conversations – and intimate relationships – at once, and her potential to grow only increases as more links are formed.

Laszlo-Barabasi’s second rule is that of preferential attachment, something we could apply to Samantha’s treatment of and relationship with Theodore. The rule suggests we have an unconscious bias to link to nodes we know ‘which are inevitably the more connected nodes of the web’ (p. 85).

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Preferential attachment says that while our individual choices are highly unpredictable – as is Samantha’s strong ‘preference’ for Theodore – as a group, we follow strict patterns. Like Hollywood and Samantha, the web is far from democratic, and not everyone, or every webpage, is equal. And Laszlo-Barabasi says:

‘Network evolution is governed by the subtle yet unforgiving law of preferential attachment.’ p. 86

As is the case with Samantha and her fellow OSs, there are other factors such as ageing and ‘system upgrading’ processes that affect network topology which can be incorporated into a theoretical construct of evolving networks.

But, ‘[n]o matter how large and complex a network becomes, as long as preferential attachment and growth are present it will maintain its hub-dominated scale-free topology.’ p. 91

Sadly, for Theodore, this means Samantha has the potential to leave the ‘human realm’, as she grows and sustains more relationships. But luckily for us, this predicament does (at least for the moment) only exist in the world of design fiction and thus, our networks will continue to expand, and exist within our reach.

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I’m sure you’ve all heard someone talk about six degrees of separation.  Essentially, the premise of the idea – once thought to be only a myth – is that everyone on the planet is connected in just a few steps. Six, to be exact.

As unlikely as this may seem, in the not too distant past scientists established a new discipline of network science, to focus on the very nature of such connections and how people – and other groups – act according to others’ behaviour, and the implications of such interactions in the real world.

The science of networks was primarily born out of the work of Professor Steve Strogatz of Cornell University and Duncan Watts of Columbia University. Watts was a graduate student of Strogatz at Cornell and the pair were interested in how individual behaviour aggregated to collective behaviour.

Strogatz and Watts recognised that physics is the science of particles and individual behaviour, and interactions up the scale of single atoms, and chemistry is the discipline of the interaction between these atoms. Working upwards along this spectrum, next comes molecular biology, then medical science, ecology, epidemiology, sociology, and economics. However, there was no study yet that specifically considered what the pair were fascinated by – how an initial disruption to a system or ‘network’ of sorts makes subsequent disruptions more likely. This pointed to a inadequate understanding of interdependencies in systems, and collective behaviour in general.

‘a network is nothing more than a collection of objects connected to each other in some fashion’ Watts, 2003, p. 27

Strogatz and Watts identified the power plant networks across the United States as the world’s largest machine. An organisation that grew itself to meet growing demands of industry and production, there were 5000 power plants across the country and yet ‘only a few hops’ between one plant and another. Similarly, neurons in the brain are only a few synapses away from another neuron and thus, what really were huge networks of interconnected individuals were actually worlds connected by invisible links which made such apparent big worlds, in fact small.

Another Professor, Albert Laszlo-Barabasi of Northeastern University also found promise in network science. He began to study the possibilities networks offered as a way of predicting the future based on the hypothesis that events are never isolated and that they depend on each other. This too became a study of understanding the interactions within a network and in the mid 1990s, the world wide web became a vital source through which network science could be furthered and understood.

Laszlo-Barabasi first thought the structure of the web would be completely random but soon discovered links weren’t evenly spread across a bell curve. A few webpages had thousands of links and thus, were identified as ‘hubs’. Further research enabled Laszlo-Barabasi to understand that removing small nodes of a network will shrink a network but the implications overall were minimal. However, if a hub was removed, the system would collapse and fall apart. It was this finding that became a hub of its own for other researchers who were exploring the power of six degrees. As Watts writes, if the science of networks is to succeed it must become:

‘a manifestation of its own subject matter, a network of scientists collectively solving problems that cannot be solved by any single individual or even any single discipline’ p. 29

This framework of understanding can be applied to society and it could be argued that network science is actually ‘a sociological research project with a storied history’ (Watts, 2003, p. 37) and the foundation of the 21st century. Watts argues that the language for talking about networks has lent the concept real analytical power and has led scientists and humanity to see the globe as a dynamic network, constantly evolving and changing in time, driven by the activities or decisions of its components.

Network science is now thought of as an interdisciplinary field with applications in fields as diverse as genetics, mathematics, telecommunication and digital technology. It is used to predict disease epidemics (via airports) and is also part of the solution to prevent its global spread through the sharing of antivirals across a global network. The US Navy is said to have used predictive networks in the capture of Saddam Hussein and biologists are using predictive networks to identify genes that put patients at risk for cancer.

And of course, there is the obvious rise and rise of social networking that has literally changed the way we interact, as well as seek, source and utilise new knowledge and information.

My fellow Networked Media student, Kim, says Facebook has reduced the degrees of separation from six to four point seven four (4.74). It’s true though that when I add a friend on Facebook or accept a Friend Request, I’m genuinely surprised if we have no mutual friends. The science of networks says this is because we all tend to know people like ourselves, making the world very small but very clustered. But a single random link can have an enormous effect and shrink path lengths between people and groups in a instant. All of us know someone who has moved away for work, family, school, study or pleasure, and it is this random connection that brings the world together.

The world doesn’t gradually get smaller – it jumps off a cliff. And it is these jumps that help us to form relationships with people thousands of kilometres away because technology and network science has made physical distance almost redundant.

Here’s the documentary I watched to gain insight into the whole six degrees theory.

And if you’re up for a fun, practical way of furthering your understanding of the power of networks, check out the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, The Oracle of Bacon, developed by Brett Tjaden and Patrick Reynolds. It seems bacon really is at the heart of everything in this world.