Connectedness comes from a key minority of nodes: Communication power (2009) and The information (2011)

Communication power (2009) by Manuel Castells is concerned with empirical evidence and political communication theories.

I was impressed when I encountered  the description by Peter Burke (2005) of how Castells has conceptualized city life and cities in the context of postmodernity. Castells has remarked that ‘The city is everywhere and in everything,’ and that networks constitute the new ‘social morphology’ of cities.

Chapter 3 of Castells (2009) is concerned with networks of mind and power, with a focus on framing, and the relation between framing and evidence.

I’ve read many accounts elsewhere about framing and related concepts including accounts of the social construction of meaning, and I’ve encountered varied versions of the debate over whether frames trump facts. Castells speaks of frames in a way that makes sense, has traction, and has practical applications.

The discussion beings to mind The information: A history, a theory, a flood (2011).

Gleick’s epilogue begins (p. 413) with quote from Jean-Pierre Dupuy (2000): ‘It was inevitable that meaning would force its way back in’

I’m very impressed with the practical nature of both of the books — that is, Castells (2009) and Gleick (2011).

The epilogue to The information notes that in cyberspace almost everything is connected, “and the connectedness comes from a relatively few nodes, especially well linked or especially well trusted” (pp. 424-25).

James Gleick, whose other books includes Chaos (2008), speaks in this context of the ‘six degrees of separation’ that John Guare introduced “in his play, Six Degrees of Separation. The canonical explanation is this:

    “‘I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the blanks.'”

Gleick further adds that John Guare also noted that “You have to find the right six people to make the connection” (p. 425).

He adds: “There is not necessarily an algorithm for that.”

The epilogue to The information begins with comments from Marshall McLuhan

Gleick refers, in the epilogue to the book, to Marshall McLuhan’s reference (1962) to how the telegraph annihilated space and time, as a prerequisite for the creation of a global consciousness.

Gleick also notes that the birth of information theory began with the sacrifice of meaning, but “Epistemologists cared about knowledge, not beeps and signals” (p. 417). He notes that with the development of information theory, it’s become clear, in the words of Dexter Palmer (2010), that “language is not a thing of definite certainty, but infinite possibility” (p. 419).

In this regard, Gleick comments that “Infinite possibility is good, not bad. Meaningless disorder is to be challenged, not feared” (p. 419).

He adds, as part of his discussion, that “The aphorism is a form with an honorable history” (p. 419). The immediate context for his remark is the language of Twitter.

I enjoy the two above-noted books. I see them as practical and useful texts.

Virtual America

Another book that I’ve found of relevance regarding framing and evidence is Virtual America: Sleepwalking through paradise by John Opie (2008).

Opie, whose other books include Nature’s nation: An environmental history of the United States (1998), argues that  the idea of virtual reality, based on mythic images, has played a role in the shaping of American history.

He adds that the role of virtual reality in the shaping of public perceptions of history has been evident for many years, the outcome of a process that began long before the advent of personal computers and the Internet.

As well, Opie is a proponent of the teaching of environmental history in American high schools:

Why is an environmental approach to teaching U.S. history attractive?

Opie’s book might benefit from closer attention to definition of terms. For example, in the book’s introduction (p. ix), virtual reality is defined as “an immersive digital environment.” Elsewhere, however, the author speaks, for example, of American “history’s virtual realities” (p. 21).

Similarly, while ‘authenticity’ is a key concept in the text, the book’s index refers to it only once, with regard to a discussion (p. 46) of theme parks and the like. In one instance, authenticity is referenced as synonymous with ‘guaranteed reliability’ (p. 31), but one is left, in the course of reading the book, without a clear sense of what the author means by the term.

Fortunately, other authors, including the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, have addressed the concept of  authenticity in depth and with precision. In Taylor’s case, the discussion relates to the search for authenticity as a response to modernity.

Connectedness with children

I like Opie’s reference in this book to the metaphor of sleepwalking. He defines the concept clearly. I see sleepwalking, as the term is used in Virtual America (2008), as a phenonenon that the practice of mindfulness addresses.

I’ve been aware, for many years, that very young children are not sleepwalkers, in their waking lives, in the sense that Opie speaks of sleepwalking. Very young kids are alert to the present moment, as a matter of course. They are, in my experience, delighted whenever they encounter an adult who demonstrates a capacity to similarly tune into the present moment. Years ago I was motivated to become a public school teacher — a career from which I retired in 2006 — directly as a result of my enjoyment in spending time in the present moment — in the ‘here and now’ of day to day experience — with very young children.

In getting to know very young children, I learned it’s a good idea for the child be the one to first establish eye contact, on first meeting. It’s one of those little details that young children tune into at once. I like to think that, in ideal circumstances, our First Duty (as I see it) towards children includes ensuring they are at ease, and have a sense of security, when they are in the presence of other children, and in the presence of adults.

Those first 2,000 days of a child’s life are so important. One could say that it is during those early years that a person’s neural networks are being formed and organized. Ensuring that the process goes well pays off for the rest of a person’s life. That is what the research clearly indicates.


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