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Web 2.0 = Neural Network, and Web 2.0 Storytelling = Open Access Social Order

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(This is a response to the following texts)

Tim O’Reilly’s “What is Web 2.0?” and Bryan Alexander’s Web 2.0 Storytelling

What do neural networks and social orders have to do with O’Reilly’s and Alexander’s writings? And far more importantly, what do I mean by “neural networks” and “social orders”? Well, the thing is, if you have to ask, you probably won’t understand a damn thing I’m going to say because I don’t know exactly what the hell I’m talking about either. Despite this troubling deficiency and tragic communication failure, here goes:

So, in systems science, there’s a property that is integral to the practicality of the entire field called “scale invariance”. If you can take a particular pattern of reactive organization, abstract and generalize its dynamics into key characteristics, and then show that anything with those specific characteristics shares the same dynamics, then that type of system exhibits scale invariance, meaning that what is true about one such system of a type is  also relatively true about another such system of that same type, even if the two systems seem completely and ridiculously unrelated. In fact, scale invariance is the reason why some analogies and metaphors work and are sensible, while others simply fall apart.

Now, a neural network is a system of “neurons” that are arranged in a sort of web where the connections between “neurons” have different “weights”, that is, neurons connect to some other neurons more strongly than they do to others. This heterogeneity is key. So anything that matches these characteristics (and a few others I’ve neglected) might be considered a neural network. Brains are obvious neural networks. Less obvious might be society, where each person is a “neuron”. Even less obvious is language, where words are neurons. A map of all the distinct ideas in your mind is a neural network (and is likely just an odd subset of your brain’s larger but less directly meaningful neural network).

Perhaps most usefully, economies are neural networks (and just an odd subset of society). Also usefully, and back on topic, the internet is a neural network of links. So by abusing the hell out of scale invariance, then we can apply knowledge of brains, economies, and language  to the internet (assuming we are clever enough to translate the knowledge) and vice versa. Since Web 2.0 represents a more interconnected and more individually interactive internet that we can pretty clearly see is better than Web 1.0, we can say that more “interconnected” and more “individually interactive” economies, brains, and languages are likely also better (again, assuming we know those things really mean in those contexts).

In the book “Violence and Social Orders” by North, Weingast, and Wallis (2011), they define a “social order” to be a broad outer system of organizational rules and restrictions, of which there are basically three kinds: the hunter gatherer social order, which is very primitive, essentially lacks any rules or support for forming new organizations/groups and violence is essentially unchecked; the natural state, where the rules allow organizations to form, but constrain their power and constituents by tradition and by immutable rules on personal identification, while giving a monopoly on violence to a privileged group; and the open access social order, where organizations of people can form freely for almost any reason and are supported statutorily against violence by a central state that has an insurmountable advantage in violence, where unique personal identity is largely abstracted away, allowing organizational affiliation to define a person more than their origin.

Abusing scale invariance again, before Web 2.0, storytelling could be seen as a natural state, where personal identity mostly determined whether you were significant and novel organization simply flew about as well as a lead turkey. Already popular creators had a system to back them in publishing and distribution, and those organizations that handled these secondary processes were essentially the group privileged with violence and coercion as they had the say in what was worth supporting. But as we move farther into Web 2.0, storytelling becomes an open access order, where creators can band together in new and intriguing ways and have a system that naturally allows such content creation schemes. Copyright and completely legally reserved rights become a burden as new forms of reorganization (remixing as Alexander calls it) aspire to fill gaps and niches that were left unexploited before.

To put that in perspective, modern society is entirely dependent on the ability for citizens to combine freely and form new businesses, advocacy groups, political parties, new communities, and anything else with a collective interest so that they may exercise power as a group where unprivileged individuals before could not do so. The complete freedom of assembly in any imaginable way for any imaginable reason creates greater gains than privileged groups acting just to maintain their privilege.


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