I will start by admitting openly that all of this is a bit of a stretch, but I have read a lot of literature over the years and by jove I want to use it somehow! So, in this post I clumsily draw parallels to Siddhartha and our modern alignment with technological and communicative networks. I was rambling on a bit in a previous post  about how mobile technology in particular with its borderline complete saturation in many nations will expose bottlenecks in freeflow in other aspects of life, namely in the transportation (roads) and power (electricity) grids. Advances in one reveal lags in the other, that sort of thing. After thinking on it a bit more, I am convinced that these grids are parallels of the underlying structures of nature and life itself. Nothing original here, but network grids are fairly human in their capacity for shuttling flow from one node to another. Life wants to flow freely. Mobile technology exposes that to some degree (for communication) by allowing the individual and the communication itself to flow freely. I keep referring to this flight visualization, but it is almost sublime in its presentation of the immersive beauty of human activity.


So, the underlying philosophical substance of networks, technological or otherwise, is in their revelation of free flow of human activity. We are meant to be in motion and only in motion will truths (deeply moored to context) reveal themselves. These truths can be development truths (access to education, water, food, shelter, health, information) or even philosophical truths (there is no context outside of perpetual motion and stillness), expressive truths (artistic representation) or logical truths (x works, but y doensn’t in this situation). And Siddhartha expressed it quite well (via Herman Hesse) towards the end of the novel, especially in relation to the role of the observer and interpreter (academic):

Siddhartha made an effort to listen better. The image of his father, his own image, the image of his son merged, Kamala’s image also appeared and was dispersed, and the image of Govinda, and other images, and they merged with each other, turned all into the river, headed all, being the river, for the goal, longing, desiring, suffering, and the river’s voice sounded full of yearning, full of burning woe, full of unsatisfiable desire. For the goal, the river was heading, Siddhartha saw it hurrying, the river, which consisted of him and his loved ones and of all people, he had ever seen, all of these waves and waters were hurrying, suffering, towards goals, many goals, the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, the sea, and all goals were reached, and every goal was followed by a new one, and the water turned into vapour and rose to the sky, turned into rain and poured down from the sky, turned into a source, a stream, a river, headed forward once again, flowed on once again. But the longing voice had changed. It still resounded, full of suffering, searching, but other voices joined it, voices of joy and of suffering, good and bad voices, laughing and sad ones, a hundred voices, a thousand voices.

So the network as the river (granted, a bit simple here) works well. Flow of ideas, aspirations, dreams through the network; collective action as packets distributed in bursts. Mobile networks b become like water on pavement: it finds every crack and crevice. Full saturation. Further, this free flow of information still rewards the cult of the individual to some degree (motivationally, it still matters-that ability to be recognized and understood, listened to and even followed) yet ideas and the substance of communication flow faster than people. Ideally.

Another clumsy parallel here might be the recent upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt and how both transpired (relatively) peacefully and both were essentially headless, less driven by figureheads, more driven by group sentiment, rallying around very tangible wants and needs (a better life, remove corruption, representation). The network drove sustained activity and mobile technology was a particularly rapid part of the riverbed. It stimnulated activity, but didn’t direct it. It assisted (didn’t lead) in promulgating the collective will without thrusting individual ego to the forefront. It let the will and the information flow.

Already, he could no longer tell the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the ones of children from those of men, they all belonged together, the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones, everything was one, everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times. And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.

So, while I am not going to passively await this perfection, stimulating conditions were this free flow can exist seems warranted and I hope much mobile development work is directed towards this aim. I think the network provides a great scaffold for learning, but also a fantastic example of a philsophical girder, one that can be used for learning as well. The network is defined not only by what it can do (learning tool), but also what it is (learning object). And thank you Siddhartha for reminding me that technology is essentially human, that it can augment the basic desires of human activity.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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