Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the rhizomic nature of social networking

Razib at GNXP has been making some interesting notes about social networking software and its influences on, well, human social networking. In one post last month, he related his theories about Dunbar's number.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number. It lies between 100 and 230, but a commonly used value is 150.

Razib went on to suggest that Dunbar's number isn't universally relevant, not when taking individual variation into account and not when taking the possible structures and dynamics of new-era social grouping into account.

1) The number fixates upon a modal/median number of relationships. There is a “long tail” of individuals who have many more meaningful relationships, and this is important to overall network structure.

2) Technology can potentially double Dunbar’s number. In other words, instead of having ~150 meaningful reciprocal relationships you can now have ~300. Presumably because social technology extends our capabilities and introduces efficiencies by removing some of the “dead weight” overhang.

3) Dunbar’s number applies to coherent and self-contained groups. A pre-modern tribe or a Hutterite colony. It is not appropriate for the more multivalent and fluid relationships common in the contemporary word. For example, the same individual may be members of dozens of urban “tribes” with 10-30 members (though the coherency of the tribe may be highly subjective).

I can buy this. In a more recent post, he suggests--not contradicting himself, I think--that Facebook really isn't that novel, that it's an extension not a radical modification of human socializing patterns, perhaps on the lines above.

You know what I think? I think of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome.

Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five etc. It is not a multiple derived from the one, or to which one is added (n+1). It is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of coinsistency, and from which the one is always subtracted.

What did these gentlemen mean? Simply put, that the rhizome of philosophy represents social networks which are radically decentered, which have multiple portals and (multiple types of portals) of entry and exit scattered widely, doing what the authors describe as ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles." The rhizome quite capable of establishing any number of unexpected links between people based on any number of interests; the rhizome generates global civil society and provides much of the social and cultural capital necessary for successful globalization (multiple overlapping networks, not so much as self-contained separate ones; the rhizome is enabled still further by multiple social networking platforms, most particularly Facebook.
Tags: facebook, globalization, philosophy, social networking
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