Nodocentrism

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A characteristic of Networked Proximity, defined by Ulises Mejias.

Definition

= "rules governing interaction between nodes, and between nodes and what is outside of the network.

Basically, nearness in a network is constituted on the basis of nodes recognizing other nodes. Nodocentrism constructs a social reality in which nodes can only 'see' other nodes, and only nodes deserve to be accounted for." (http://ideant.typepad.com/shows/fp4.html)

Description

Ulises Mejias:

1.

"nearness in networks has little to do with physical distance. Instead, social relevancy is defined in terms of informational availability. If it exists in the network, it exists in reality; if it does not exist in the network, it might as well not exist. If it exists in the network, it can be experienced as near, because in the network the distance between nodes is zero. If it does not exist in the network, it is experienced as far or irrelevant, because the distance between a node and something that is not in the network is, for all practical purposes, infinite.

I describe these rules governing interaction between nodes, and between nodes and what is outside of the network, as a form of nodocentrism. Basically, nearness in a network is constituted on the basis of nodes recognizing other nodes. Nodocentrism constructs a social reality in which nodes can only 'see' other nodes, and only nodes deserve to be accounted for. Now, I don't want you to misunderstand nodocentrism as some sort of argument against networks, implying that all networks are bad. Nodocentrism can generate new social realities and promote ways of understanding them that can be truly very helpful.

I am interested, however, in what happens when nodocentrism goes from mediating our interactions with what is physically far to mediating our interactions with our immediate surroundings. What kind of social significance does the local aquire in nodocentrism? We hear that the network is good at mediating not only our relationship with the spatially distant (making it near and familiar) but that it can also get us re-acquainted with our local surroundings, the communities and neighborhoods that perhaps we have neglected lately as we've been spending too much time online. Now, we can continue to spend time online and re-engage with the local! Accessible, low-cost, and mobile technologies promise to deliver a form of 'hyperlocality' that re-connects us to our immediate surroundings in supposedly more meaningful ways, as this parody illustrates. [video]

I don't doubt that networks can facilitate new forms of engaging the local, but the local approached or mediated through the network is not the same local as before, since only elements in the local that are available through the network are rendered as near. While networks are extremely efficient at establishing links between nodes, they embody a bias against knowledge of —and engagement with— anything that is not a node in the network. This is not the same as saying that the network is anti-social or anti-local; in fact, the network thrives on connecting nodes, and it does not discriminate on the basis of where those nodes are located (in our proximal or non-proximal environment). But when it comes to mediating our relationship with the local, nodocentrism introduces a form of epistemological exclusivity that discriminates against that which is not part of the network, whether it is because it can't be part of the network, it doesn't want to, or we don't want it to." (http://ideant.typepad.com/shows/fp4.html)

2.

"Nodocentrism, when applied to the local, can result in a form of hyerlocality that filters out certain elements of our environment, making them irrelevant. Are those spaces important? If they are, how do we reclaim them? How do we bring the spaces between nodes to bear on the design and use of networks?

I refer to the space between nodes as the paranodal, that which exists beyond nodes. Now, the paranodal might be part of other networks which simply do not intersect with the network in question, or it might be something that cannot be even described metaphorically in terms of networks. The important thing to realize is that the paranodal is the dynamic space between nodes that gives them their character. Without the paranodal, nodes would be static, stuck in time and space. To explore the paranodal is to 'read' between the nodes, to acknowledge that there are non-nodal forces that animate the network. This Flash animation [Flash] I've appropriated to explain the concept of the paranodal shows a network in flux. By moving the cursor around you create paranodal spaces that disturb the network and force nodes to reconfigure their links and social relations, you give nodes an identity and a history.

But is the paranodal simply an invisible hand that annoys the nodes? Not at all. Nodocentrism might be being used to justify a model of progress and development where those elements that are not in the network may acquire value only by becoming part of the network (also known as 'bridging the digital divide'). But I argue that the paranodal, the negative space between nodes, is a site for correcting the nodocentrism that institutes economic value as the most meaningful measure of social interaction. Individuals who refuse to be merely defined by the role of node follow their desire for more meaningful forms of sociality into the paranodal. The paranodal is the launching pad —the laboratory if you will— of desires that engender new forms of sociality. It is where sociality gets re-written. Some of those new social desires might make their way back and infiltrate the network, transforming it. The paranodal, in short, is what motivates the network to expand in new directions, or to obliterate itself when necessary." (http://ideant.typepad.com/shows/fp4.html)

3.

"Which brings me to the final point I want to make: The paranodal can be seen as the arena where we struggle to reverse the authority that the code of the network exerts on us, where we come to terms with the morality of networked participation.

I want to frame this morality in terms of being able to reverse the processes through which we delegate social agency to code. Technologies can act, but not on their own. They need to be part of networks where we delegate to them the power to perform certain social functions. For instance, a stop light conducts traffic so that a person doesn't have to stand there and do it. Of the technologies we can delegate social functions to, social media code is one of the most complex and sophisticated.

Delegation assumes some responsibility. Presumably, we know what is going to happen when we delegate some social actions to technology. But sometimes, as time passes, we forget. The whole point of delegation is that we no longer have to worry about the process, which is why we entrust technology with the details. But if we forget to the point that we can no longer reverse the process of delegation, we end up surrendering agency to technology instead of delegating it.

There has been much discussion about the kind of social values that social media ends up promoting. Some people argue that networked participation will destroy the values that have made sociality meaningful for thousands of years. At the other end, some people argue that networked participation introduces new values that will revolutionize sociality in wonderful ways, bringing humanity to a new age. By focusing on values, both sides seem to be missing the point. Like Latour (2002, Morality and technology: The end of the means. Technology, Culture and Society 19(5/6)), I agree that morality should be less preoccupied with the values this or that technology promote, and more interested in preventing too quick a surrender of agency by hastily focusing on the benefits technology will presumably help us achieve.

When it comes to technology, reversibility is morality put into practice. If making paper is depleting our forests, the least we can do is to try to reverse the effects through recycling, and consider whether this will or won't be sufficient. If networked sociality is depleting our connections to the local, the least we can do is to find ways (through design, use, or hacking) to reverse nodocentrism by ensuring that networks provide escape routes to the paranodal. In my opinion, that is the responsibility that each one of us assumes when we delegate some of our agency to the code of participatory media." (http://ideant.typepad.com/shows/fp4.html)