May 30, 2003
Things always happen at the same time

Previously I praised what is still my reading experience of the century - Lars Qvortrup's The Hyper Complex Society. This is the perfect description of networked society both deep in insight and philosophical background and broad in observation and reflection on the many fields Qvortrup covers.

And still there's more to say about his vision of the hypercomplex society as a society rooted in itself - not the people it is made up of.
We can recap the main point: Qvortrup segments the history of ideas into three broad phases (as usual 'history of ideas' means 'Western European History of Ideas' - rooted in greek philosophy and christianity): A deocentric period - where God is the focal point of society - and by extension a centered society where power shines from the center. An antropocentric period - where man puts himslef, i.e. the individual, at the center. The subjective is invented and this society is the society of peers that originated with the Italian city states of the late 1400s. And finally the society we're transitioning into know - the networkcentric, or quite simply decentered, society of the future. The networked centered society can be difficult to explain without resorting to philosophical background, but the easiest way to describe it is by looking at the notion of a 'society of peers'. The traditional notion of a society of peers originated with craftmanship. Being a craftsman meant being in posession of internal qualities that in turn granted you the respect of your peers - the fellow craftsmen. Thus, the professional societies were simply getherings of equals. The craftsman is no more or less a craftsman by joining the society. It is his individual skills, his personal qualities that is the determining factor deciding his identity.
The decentered networked society is full of professional societies and networks, but the key difference is that the notion of peerage is grounded entirely in the network. It is by access to the network and interaction with the network of peers that the identity is created. This also means that an individual's identity is not a fixed quantity, since the networked individual connects to many networks that may or may not share their notion of identity. The individuals identity is only bound to the network defining it and we all have many of these identities. In fact so many they are more aptly called roles.

This is all covered in great detail with interesting insights on fields as diverse as philosophy, painting, massmedia, information technology and organizational theory. What I find interesting is that there are even more examples of this decentering of ideas.

The anonymous artist. The notion of an unsigned work of art relies on the idea that there is an artist afterall, and the notion that he will shine through in the sublime qualities of the work itself. So decentered art is never unsigned. It is by the act of signing that the work adopts a point of view, or a meaning.
My brother has written (in Danish) about this phenomenon, but his analysis - modernism (i.e. the decentered art) is 'the end of art' - is wrong, which he probably knows very well. There is an art world and in the words of my good friend Michael Thouber an artist is someone with the guts to present a piece of work - naming it art. In short by succesfully entering his work and himself into the network.
The interesting thing then is of course that the art is not dead at all, it just travels very badly, and is very difficult to massmarket or distribute. Conversely - the audience for this kind of art can only take it in by participating in the network as well; which is why this kind of art is almost exclusively found in museums and not in private homes. Museums are old-world portals into the network - your home isn't.
But none of these facts are in any way saying that the act of communication that is production of a piece and the later comprehension of it are not taking place.

The science of the mind. I was recently in conversation with a retired psychiatrist. He was lamenting the evolution of his field. The way he explained it, the field of psychiatry - while technically struggling to understand it's subject matter - was solidly grounded in the notion of the individual when he entered into the field. And this grounding in the notion of the individual was for him the fascination of the field. Auxiliary to this central position of the individual we're then fields such as psychiatric medicines, neuroscience and from the other end of the spectrum, social sciences. What he has then seen happening with accelerating pace is the the disappearance of the middle.
From the hard science end of the spectrum, drugs affecting the central nervous system are getting more and more precise - matching a more and more precise study of the basic chemical function of the brain. The astounding thing about this is how the neurological and chemical basis has very precise high level consequences. Emotion is a very basic quality of the brain and not - as previously suspected - the crowning achievement of the human mind.
At the other end of the spectrum, a certain defeatism has set in. An acceptance of the biological basis of human ability makes the notion of just helping everybody as unique individuals absurd. We are products of our biological ability and social heritage, and may psychiatric problems are tied into that social heritage. So from the 'soft' end of the spectrum, some psychiatric treatment is seen as a social service of a particular type of client of the social system.
The 'science of mind' attack on antropocentrism is thus twofold: From a biological perspective we're not individuals but rather aggregates of certain general components. From the social science point of view we are simply more or less fortunate nodes in the network.

Partying nowhere. As mentioned below Copenhagen Distortion is an annual celebration of the Copenhagen clubscene. This is a sample of networked life on so many levels. First off: Some of the events on the program as well of the roster of artitst is pure network. Select audiences at secret locations being entertained by underground heroes. Secondly, while there is a notion of place (Copenhagen) this has been diluted to contain also moveable feasts: Mobile parties traveling as far as Malm? and back.
The final party is sufficiently out of place that special all night boat rides are arranged to take the participants to the party. In short, this a party taking place nowhere. Either in locations that will dissolve (bus or boat rides) or in locations that exist sufficiently out of place that the party can only be pulled off by actively picking up the guests elsewhere.
The arrangers are completely with the program: One of the promotors of CPH Distortion was sufficiently hip to make a whisper party out of his own wedding. If you knew the right people at the time and read the right newspaper notices (or were given the right flyers) you were quite simply invited to crash his wedding party. It says a lot about the nature of these selfcontained, selfconsistent, selfdefining networks that only 15 people crashed the party (presumably his usual crowd were all invited properly) and of courswe that he was cool with the total strangers who did.

Posted by Claus at May 30, 2003 11:34 PM
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