Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Internet: A place where information never sleeps.

Your personal computer: a node to access world information.

The the nature of the Internet: Layers of feedback loops creating new perceptions of information.

by Tom Thorne
How is your personal entry node to the Internet doing these days? You may say that is a silly question to pose because your entry into the unstructured, often unorganized world of the Internet is obviously something you do with your personal computer, smart phone or pad that you take for granted. 
That personal computing device is your entry node on this endlessly complex world-wide networked information system. Each node possesses the means of production to create information and content that can be instantly shared and distributed world wide across the internet. This technique has only been with us for about 25 years and has changed our view of our human experience. In addition, because of mobility each node can be anywhere on the planet where there is a smart cell phone or internet connection and probably by wireless.
This new ubiquitous communications medium has some interesting characteristics. First any entry node is also an exit node. Unlike other media its communication is automatically two way or even multiple ways. It is one large interconnected sets of feedback loops. Information once committed to this system will certainly be altered, changed, reworked, reedited and commented on and regurgitated in some new form.
The usual communications model- sender- medium-receiver is compounded by a series of instant feedback loops which means that any sending node can expect a response and where changes can be made to the message. The message is always massaged in transit from one loop to another and it becomes a variation on a theme often in nanoseconds.
You may say that all communications techniques share this model such as telephones and telegraph but that is not really the case. Telephones exchange speech and speech messages but their content is unshared with other telephones. Telegraph is also essentially the same. They are not  media with feedback loops built in.

Print stands still
Print is a send and distribution medium only. Only when a medium is electric and networked can it potentially be two way or multiple way meaning that a sender and receiver are interchangeable roles. This is why I call them networked nodes which recognizes their two way send and receive nature. Information into this system can be altered and changed endlessly if it is posted on another node.
In a more formal way Wikipedia is such an example. If I file a reference for this on-line encyclopedia it is open from any other node where there is a person on the Internet to change it. There has never been a medium that is constantly being edited before in real time. It is a very new editorial style or method and for some a new editorial problem because they find it hard to escape the old top down editorial styles of print and broadcasting. Some are concerned that there is no fixed text set in time. This medium is not like an edition of a printed book. Nothing is frozen for any time. 
Broadcasting is a one way distribution medium that can be made two way only by using a hybrid forms of electric techniques such as telephone call in and or email. However, radio and television are inherently a one way distribution medium without this other media hybridization. The Internet is all self contained.  Its users can create, edit and post its content and revise it as needed. It has no firm edition of anything. Search a topic now and in six months time to test this idea. Nothing is static.
The first truly interactive information medium
Computers are inherently two way systems. In this sense they are not a distribution medium but inherently an interactive medium with high user involvement. As a result when they are connected to the Internet there is a difference in how they are perceived by users. They create instant feedback when they are networked on the Internet and they create the communities we have seen with Blogs, Facebook and Twitter. 
Social media are another example of Internet medium's unique two way characteristics. They are subject to content input, updates and comment and in fact content and the information contained in it is never still for more than a few seconds. A book could remain still or unchanged until its next edition. A radio or TV broadcast is a mass medium subject only later to individual comment and review. It is a produced medium rather than interactive change medium controlled by its users.
The difference between book culture and Internet culture is the users expect it to change constantly. There is no constant or even breathing space for content to take root or be considered before it is altered. It is a speedy medium that thrives on 140 characters of text to make a point of content.
It is also a medium that quickly reveals trends that are developing. In that sense it is potentially a democratic medium because viewpoints appear and comments are added creating a trend or a commonality of purpose. Politicians use this system to get elected.  It is a medium that worries dictators and closed societies. Politicians master the constant and instant character of the medium to get your vote or gauge your opinions and to affect the outcome on the election hustings. Dictators look for ways to shut it down.
A new communications model: loop the loop
The new communication model for information on the Internet is send - transmit - receive - forward.  Messages are in constant passage to other nodes on the system where they can be resent creating more and more inclusive feedback loops. This system is in effect when an idea, video or other information is described as "going viral". Viral activity can elect presidents and destroy centralized authority as it did recently in Egypt.
The nature of the Internet is viral. Once a message is in the feedback loops it is spread and reproduced at the speed of electric viral infection. It is interesting that "going viral" is used to describe the nature of a message that takes off by capturing more and more nodes and feedback loops. Information is spread at the speed of light and is potentially highly "infectious" and an agent of change because it is inherently change in motion.
The internet is so large that fortunes can be made charting paths into its information. It is the first medium on this planet with a built in search-index system. Search engines filter a request no matter how vague and provide information nodes (web sites) that may provide what the user wants and even more prompting a rethink of the original request.
This process almost always provides more than the user wants and sets off other thinking about the topic being searched. This is a unique feature of searching the web. New ideas surface and some of them are viral and spread quickly once uncovered.
The nature of the internet is you can be out of town but never out of touch. You are always connected and always available. This is a sociological change of some consequence which we need to explore much more fully probably searching the internet to do so delving into endless feedback loops that we and others create each day.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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