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Acts of Faith: A Network of Things

Mark Lombardi Network Drawing

It was an article in the New York Times about online backup of files from a local hard drive that provided a glimpse of the larger migration in progress all around us. The great migration of data from the earth to the sky; from the hard drive to the cloud. When all your local files have duplicate copies in the cloud, their backups– could you really say which was the original and which was the copy?

The Network and the digital fundamentally changes the way we think about a thing. Things are singular, they occupy a specific set of spacial coordinates along the arc of time. In a given moment, in a slice of time, the thing occupies a single point in space. Often we prefer to stop the flow of time when we consider the qualities of the thing.

The digital thing, living on the Network, cannot assume its existence. It is not extension of matter in space, but rather bits in a particular pattern in a volatile memory system. The digital thing has a biological impulse, it must exist in multiple exact copies because each copy is so fragile. Continued existence necessitates this strategy.

Charles Darwin a la Warhol

The digital thing is not singular, it is a multiplicity by nature. When a unique digital thing is created on a local system, it wants to be duplicated to increase its chance of survival. All duplication is not created equal, duplication to the cloud actually increases a thing’s chance of survival. Interestingly, the pre-produced purchased digital thing, an MP3 of a song for instance, always already exists in the cloud. It doesn’t need to be duplicated and transferred, it only needs to be matched.

Once a digital thing has assured its multiplicity and persistence through time through a migration to the cloud, its next imperative is presence via a connected device. The digital thing wants to seep back out of the cloud into any and every device that can portray it. Sync-ing, versioning, caching, duplicating– these are some of the biological actions of the digital thing.

There are a few companies building pieces of this ecosystem for the digital thing. Ray Ozzie, with Mesh, probably has the most complete vision. One can imagine business models revolving around encryption. When the identity of a digital thing is masked through encryption, its persistence is financed through subscription. When the data is in the open, an attention/gesture economy guarantees persistence. Other models will certainly surface.

For those digital things that are publicly visible through the Network, the next biological imperative is to attract pointers, hyperlinks. The more pointers a digital thing can attract the greater its chance of survival. Like a physical thing, an unseen, unspoken digital thing has a very shadowy existence.

Paul Klee

The digital thing seeks to live as a multiplicity within a networked mesh with the ability to manifest its presence through as many attached devices as possible. To attract pointers, a highly efficient system for producing hyperlinks must co-exist with the network of things. Network meshed objects need search, track, microblogging (Tw*tter) and RSS to produce links– and links are always to some thing.

Pointers are digital things as well, they’re just moving through a faster stream. Their velocity gives them a fundamentally different character. Think of Einstein’s ideas around the relationship between matter, energy, light and velocity.

world trade center tight rope

The primitives for this ecosystem exist today. Its outlines can be seen dimly through the pointers flowing through the stream. How does such an ecosystem manifest in the full presence of its being? Like a memory or a learned skill, it is created through neural pathways— it is only through human attention and focused energy. It’s not what we wish or hope, but rather what we do. Acting on partial information within a barely visible system is an act of faith. But like the man said, “there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.”

Published in digital language network philosophy zettel