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Posted by on Aug 23, 2011

Networks and connections as mooring and celestial navigation: motivation

As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss. -Noam Chomsky

I have been posting quite a bit on online networks, social networks, and the like mostly because I miss my wife. But from human emotion can come realizations, however simplistic. Less of an epiphany and more of just saying something out loud that we knew to be true. Why do we participate in social networks? What is the emotional motivation? Other motivations have been categorized and predicted with some degree of accuracy (economic, professional, communal, philanthropic) and I imagine the purely emotional, transcendent motivations will be made predictable at some point with a complicated algorithm that reveals the chaotic complexity behind human participation on a mass scale.

From my own personal standpoint, I use them for a mixture of professional, learning, economic (it is, in some part, my livelihood), but mostly emotionally augmentative reasons. They connect me to others. They connect me to loved ones. They connect me to people I have never met but share an affinity with. This connection can occasionally become the reason in and of itself, especially when you fashion your existence (or at least perpetuate your own mythology, as a rambling, rolling stone kind of guy. Married, but married to a rolling stone as well. We ramble. We have networks of friends in various places, who have continued to ramble themselves. The physical orbits of five years past (Korea) have spiraled onto almost every continent. Place matters, but perpetual motion makes geography a fickle creature. Hence, a reliance on social networks. Affinity groups of some shared experience (expats). That is just one of those orbits.

The one that interests me most (the loved ones are sustaining, but they are predictable. Of course, I love my family) are the affinity groups of people I have yet to meet. I experience one of these recently over a course of two years at the University of Edinburgh. I visited the campus only to graduate. I met everyone and capped a wellspring of memories, made them concrete. Everyone is slotted in circles, orbits, something that Google+ seems to understand is my preferred system of emotional rolodexing. I have had a similar experience with a MOOC that has generated an excellent affinity group that has spawned about three papers so far, all written collaboratively across 5 countries. We have never met face to face, but will do so in Beijing in October for our joint presentation at mLearn2011. Now these last few certainly have elements of professional betterment in them and that certainly influences my participation in them. But the last one, in particular, exists outside any formal mechanism for recognition. I participate to learn and I participate because I want to and I participate because it makes my mind sharp and those connections and exchanges make me all warm and fuzzy inside. Work that into your algorithm, Google. If warm>1 and fuzzy<5, add relevance +4. Obviously, I cannot write algorithms.

What these networks provide me, these pseudo-professional/learning ones is guidance. Guidance on how the larger profession interacts. On how devoted learners behave and collaborate. Guidance on how I can improve my game, participate, assist, and ultimately create one big old mountain of knowledge.

Celestial navigation is based on the premise that the Earth is the center of the universe. The premise is wrong, but the navigation works. An incorrect model can be a useful tool. –Kelvin Throop III  

I am certainly at the center of my network and I am not sure it is completely possible to divorce that positioning in our mind’s eye. However, our conscious choice of participation is our surrender to the larger network. A surrender not of absolute compliance, but a surrender of ego (mine) and an extension of acumen (mine) to the larger good (ours). I navigate through this rhizome, like the celestial system, endlessly bouncing from point to point, learning, taking from and adding to. It is those connections in networks that moor us when this navigation gets turbulent (even emotionally violent-networks and their constant self-reflection can be stormy).  And participation is not always purpose-driven, at least not overtly so.

Freedom from the desire for an answer is essential to the understanding of a problem.- J. Krishnamurti  

This assumes a problem, but the thought remains true. Answers do not reveal themselves until we have the capacity for recognizing them. Which is just an egotistical euphemism to hide the fact that they are there the whole time, but our development was not mature enough to realize their potential. Hence our participation in networks or even in large science projects (particle colliders) or even in family reunions. Throw enough elements together and see what happens. Precisely because they have never been thrown together in that combination. What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this coil of linear thinking and measured investigation and plunge into the deep of complexity and networks. Emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

 In a purely technical sense, each species of higher organism is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, Bach fugue, or any other great work of art. –Edward O. Wilson  

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