The brilliant French philosopher, Michel Serres proposes in recent publications that one of the best ways of understanding history is to think about human events as a series of interconnected folds, a networks of networks in which events that may have taken place thousands of years ago are still connected to the present through human memory and human artifacts.
The folds of which Serres speaks can be visualized as a series of pleated pages in which different points touch, sometimes arbitrarily and other times by design. The metaphor that Serres has developed has another purpose. In order to understand the technologies, social movements and cultural phenomena that humans have created, each point of contact among all these pleats needs to be drawn out in a detailed and narrative manner. Although Serres does not describe this method as stream of consciousness that is sometimes how it reads, to the point where the simplest of objects becomes the premise for an expansive narrative.
For example, (adapting Serres’s method) the notion of networks needs to be understood not only as a function of technology and communications systems, but also through the efforts by nearly every culture and every generation to develop a variety of bonds using any number of different means from language to art to music to political, religious and economic institutions. This suggests that the Internet, for example, is merely a modern extension of already existing forms of communication between people. And, while that may seem obvious, many of the claims about the Internet suggest that it is a revolutionary tool with implications for the ways in which people see themselves and their surroundings. More often than not, its revolutionary character is related to obvious characteristics like speed of communications, which may in fact be no more than a supplement to profoundly traditional modes of information exchange. The intersection of the revolutionary with the traditional is essential to the success of any new and innovative technology and may be at the heart of how quickly any individual innovation is actually taken up by individuals or by society as a whole. Modern day communications 'fold' into the telegraphs of the nineteenth century. Social media 'fold' into the bulletin boards and serial publications of the eighteenth century. Twitter in some respects reproduces the use of poetry for declarative and intellectual discussion in Greek times. Twitter is also an extension of musical traditions and were the company to better understand its connections to the history of poetry and music, it might actually come up with better ideas about aggregation and tagging. Instagram is closely connected to the early use of photography in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Kodak came out with its early point and shoot cameras.
All of these interconnected historical moments need to be understood as parts of networks, which to varying degrees have always been in existence, constructed and deconstructed through different cultural and historical events. Religion can be seen as the ultimate networked example both through the manner in which religious authorities promoted their ideas and the ways in which they translated networked relations into power.
More to come on this topic……