The internet is a mass of communities and networks which bring people and knowledge together. The internet is of course both a mass of content and connections. One is interdependent on the other. The RSA animate video,The Power of Networks by Manual Lima, describes in gorgeous visual detail, many changing ideas and representations of knowledge, Science, and the brain, and uses the Network analogy to describe Life and the Universe itself.
The video begins with the idea that the tree is often used a symbol of collective knowledge–people use it to map different areas of knowledge–with each branch of knowledge as separate and defined. Lima claims people like the tree as a symbol because of its familiarity and simplicity–and its order, hierarchy, etc. My husband would argue this metaphor for the categorising and organising of knowledge is valid today, as he works in the military and this is certainly how things function in a military setting– top down, systematic, organised. He claims to learn best from traditional (teacher-at-the-front-of-the-room-lecturing) methods (and I suspect secretly expects all teaching to look like this). However, the creator of the video describes how this “tree of knowledge” analogy is outdated and that we are at turning point in our understanding of how knowledge works (and I would argue, teaching and learning, but more on that in another post).
“The community is the curriculum.”
Lima talks about a paradigm shift and cross roads in our thinking and later uses the rhizome (“… a centred non-hierarchical, non signifying system without a general organising memory or central automation…”) as a new metaphor for how knowledge is organised: In drawing a map of wikipedia, he demonstrates how it is one the largest “rhizomatic structures” ever created by man. This idea can be extended to rhizomatic learning,where, “the community is the curriculum,” where learning takes place in a social setting, is constantly evolving based on interests and “subverts traditional notions of instructional design.”
“We thought communities trumped content.”
The animation further goes on to show the changing view of the brain as well—previously thought of as compartmentalised, with each area responsible for a specific task. (This view is similar to how governments, militaries, corporations, or even school departments and subjects are organised.) Now, a more interconnected understanding of the brain is introduced through brain mapping programs such as “The Blue Brain Project.” This neural interconnectivity is what allows people with injuries to specific parts of the brain to continue to function. Likewise–If I can’t access certain knowledge myself–I can access my Personal Learning Network for assistance. As Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, predicted early on in the internet game, “We thought communities trumped content.”
Lima reworks Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” where humans traditionally sit atop the food chain. He demonstrates how now we understand that networks of bacteria connect very disparate species and claims there is no longer tree of life but a web of life and that networks pervade all areas of life. Like my husband’s comfort in the familiarity of a military chain of command, many people are very comfortable with a food chain analogy of life–with humans at the top, justifying certain practices and long held beliefs–as opposed to an incredibly complex interconnected ecosystem, where everything is interdependent on everything else.
The final mind boggling network comparison in Lima’s animation is the neural network of a mouse (very similar to our own) to the network of the the millennium simulation of the creation of galaxies. The smallest scale Web of Connections are near identical to those on the largest scale.
If indeed knowledge, life and the universe itself is a mass network of interconnectedness, the internet, which is of course our attempt to map, organise and understand this knowledge–can only be built and understood in a similar vein.