[iDC] In The Presence of Networks

John Hopkins jhopkins at neoscenes.net
Sun Mar 18 04:40:43 EDT 2007

In The Presence of Networks: A Meditation on the Architectures of Participation

-- John Hopkins (for the Pixelache 2007 festival publication), 
Helsinki, 17 March 2007

<i>Architectures of Participation</i> is a compelling phrase that 
attempts literally to frame a deeper fundamental of human existence. 
This text is a preliminary meditation on that existence and its 
profound presence.

On the immediate surface, the phrase suggests the grandiose, the 
monumental, and the static and rigid hegemony of brick-and-mortar -- 
a suggestion that appears to contravene the deeply dynamic nature of 
the broader continuum of human relation.  This continuum, generated 
in part through participatory actions, is a far more fundamental 
space that circumscribes much of our passing presence in this world. 
We will have to dig deep to find the foundations.

Participation is one reductive descriptor that applies to the 
infinite range of personal energies expressed and shared during our 
lived be-ing.  Participation is a condition that does not leave our 
lives until we leave our lives.  Participation starts when life 
starts with the participatory synergy of reproduction.  This 
prototypical participatory act is phenomenal in that the energies of 
two human beings combine to create the presence of a third human 
being.  Participation is the root of life.  Participation follows 
life in the synergies of parent with child, friend with friend, 
partner with partner, colleague with colleague, stranger with 
stranger.  We participate in life, in living, every moment.

In the search for another way to understand participation, and to 
understand the dynamic of social collaboration, it is critical to 
leave materialism behind.  Or at least leave the limited 
understanding of material expression as a defining Cartesian and 
mechanistic concept and move instead into a universe defined by and 
indeed comprising a dynamic configuration of energized flows.  This 
is the basic assumption underlying the following thoughts.

Without this shared human presence, life would be a desert of 
phenomenal natural events each more alienating in its 
unpredictability than the previous.  It is through the challenging 
dialectic of human relation that we find understanding, and, 
ultimately, some meaning in our brief presence in this world.

Social systems frame or perhaps even comprise this fundamental 
participatory nature of life.  These systems are characterized by 
dynamic constellations of Selves desiring relevant interaction with 
Others -- most apparently to enhance physical survival.  When the 
system functions properly, the body wins the battle for a time; but 
what happens to the spirit?

Individual isolation within or as an affect of social systems applies 
at least a patina of madness to one's presence in the world.  It is 
primarily the a-social or the mad who retreat voluntarily from all 
human contact -- along with  those who are in pursuit of the 
greater-than-social spirit.  The yogi, the hermit, the vision-quester 
all retreat to isolation in the desert or on the mountain -- to those 
special places where the brute energy flows of physical nature 
actively drain the ordering life energy from the body system.  This 
at the same time the chaotic natural flux allows the human spirit to 
expand almost without limit, but at the definite expense of bodily 
degeneration.  The spirit wins the battle for a time; the body loses.

So, while some humans withdraw to the empty places to watch stars and 
clouds, let the spirit expand, and listen to the creaking groans of 
the earth, the rest of us are left elbowing each Other in order to 
get to the head of the queues for mating, food, and shelter.  We fall 
back to the body fighting for dominance over the inevitable change of 
dissolution and final death.

Along with the jostling and elbowing for position, small groups 
gather to share their energy-draining experience and calculate the 
relative benefits of coordinated survival.  Safety seems to inhabit 
numbers, and numbers add up to enhanced reproductive odds.  Numbers 
also frame the abstracted domain of technology and machines. 
Machinic devices seem to help guarantee the dominance of one small 
group over another by supplying some slight edge on reproductive 
viability.  These social constellations create or mandate structures 
of human relation which pool labor -- the cumulative expended energy 
of individual lives -- while endeavoring to create 
survival-technologies that will prolong the life of the collective.

A life-time is a limited period of organized organismic existence 
that each of us is endowed with by means of some indeterminate 
process.  A primary characteristic of life-time is its absolute and 
unconditional limit: it runs out.  We apparently do have some degrees 
of freedom to choose how we spend that life-time, so it becomes a 
question of which pursuits, interests, necessities, and diversions 
should populate our days.  We often forget the absolute limit to it 
all, and proceed as though there is an unlimited amount of time. 
There is not.  Each moment is a unique passing-through of experience, 
expenditure of time, and, more importantly, expenditure of energy. 
Each moment represents a small incremental dissolution in the 
organized structure of our embodied presence, entropy gnawing at our 
bones, energy flowing outwards.  Each moment's survival is an 
expression of energy flowing from our bodies.  Yes, we spend more or 
less time ensuring that we take energy into our systems to help 
maintain the necessary order, but it is never enough: the battery 
slowly runs down.  With this in mind, how then do we choose how to 
expend our life-times, our dwindling energy stores?  Do we value 
every moment as we should? 

<i>Time moving (there is no Other time!) is energy (which is motion) 
is change (all is) creativity (the foundational expression of energy) 
is life (the Self is limited but desires immortality and, indeed, is 
immortally transcendent).</i>

One major choice we face is how much energy to expend in the course 
of interacting with the Others who populate our lives.  How much 
face-time/energy do we spend on each human we come across.  How much 
time do we spend on those remote Others we cannot see, or cannot 
hear, or cannot touch?  How much time on those many Others who 
populate the social system we live in.  The ones we cross paths with 
in random and determinate movement?  The ones who forcefully find our 
paths and deflect them from their natural trajectory?  The ones who, 
by their gravity or Light, attract or repel us?

It is this process of giving and receiving energy that is the very 
fabric of life-time, it accumulates to be the essence of our presence 
and our life.

Starting from the unitary encounter of the Self with the Other, there 
is, in the dynamic of the encounter, a sensation of flow (and of a 
lack of flow). Many terms and instances in language and social 
structure frame this sensation.  It is clear that when there is an 
open and bi-directional flow between any two individuals that out of 
the encounter comes an excess of energy -- a condition of 
in-spiration following the encounter.  In the opposite case, in a 
situation of blockages between the Self and the Other, the encounter 
is often a loss of creative inertia -- where there is a direct 
relationship between the sustained intensity of the engaged flow and 
the creative possibilities coming from it.

If one looks at an accumulation of these binary human systems, each 
with a potential energy surplus, there begins to appear two 
structures.  The first is a simple network, where individuals in a 
limited system are connecting, engaging, and being energized by those 
encounters -- each encounter generating a surplus of energy.  The 
network becomes the source of a powerful collective energy.

The second structure is an evolving social structure, which, by 
nature, seeks to harness those energies, the energies generated from 
these individual encounters, for the collective 'good.'  The 
imposition of defined social pathways controls and harnesses the 
movement of energy between individuals.  The fabric of a social 
system is the accumulation of these proscribed pathways or 
mediations.  Some of the energy invested in the process is tapped off 
into the social system when the Self and the Other engage with each 
other through these mediated pathways.  Each encounter mediated by 
the imposed pathways is drained to a greater or lesser degree of its 
vitality, at the same time that the social system is strengthened by 
the accumulated energies.

What is this web of interacting flows that together are the 
accumulated and energized field of a social system?  What is the 
relationship between the individual, the engaged pair of humans, and 
the collective in this space of flows?  Moreover, again, why do we as 
individuals participate in this system, giving up major fragments of 
our life-times to it?

By spending one's life-time in the labor of common good, the duration 
of life time is apparently increased, statistically.  By giving 
life-time to the social system, the social system reciprocates by 
making available collective, though temporary, solutions to the 
problem of death.  The process of many individuals surrendering their 
own life-times to the collective creates a pool of energy that can 
then be expended based on the desires of those who control the social 
collective.  This energy bank, as it were, allows the collective to 
engage in energy-intensive activities to secure its common survival 
(though clearly the survival of any particular individual with in the 
system is secondary!).  The larger and more complex that the social 
system is, the greater the demands on the life-times of those who 
chose to participate in it.  The pathways through which the social 
system draws these energies from the individual become ever more 
pervasive, and, at the same time, they recede into near-invisibility 
compared to the over-riding issue of the survival of the social 

Does this process actually increase the quantity of life overall?  If 
energy can be neither created nor destroyed, then the energy bank 
represents a concentration of energy while a relative scarcity of 
energy remains the condition of the individual.  Concentration and 

There are more things to meditate upon regarding the relationship 
between the Self, the Other, and the social, but to close this short 
text, and to return to the original phrase <i>Architectures of 
Participation</i>, a few more questions should be posed among the 
many possible.

What does it mean to participate?  Does it mean agreement in action? 
Does it assume surficial homogeneity of intent?  Is there a 
reciprocal exchange implicit in a participatory system?  What 
characteristics do the prototypical participatory events in life 
exhibit?  What mechanisms exist to guarantee the auspiciousness of 
participation?  Is intuition a key filter in the process of energized 
participation.  Can the individual life-energy contributed to the 
social system by recalled?  Is there a collective means whereby the 
social energy can be tapped to insure the good of each individual 
(versus the corporate collective)?

Participation is a set of actions, tasks that might occur 
back-to-back, face-to-face, or side-by-side.  The physical placement 
of the bodies in relation to each Other gives fundamental 
characteristics to the participation.  Whatever material form it 
takes, participation precipitates a deeply seated change in 
point-of-view, in internal energy states -- shifted by the energy of 
the Other.  Participation affects an internal transformation that in 
turn changes the world.
tech-no-mad : pixelaching -- Helsinki, Finland
telly: (until 01 April) +358 (0)44 943 4714 
the travelog: http://neoscenes.net/travelog/weblog.php
new sonic work: http://neoscenes.net/aud-vid/audio/drift.html
email: jhopkins at commspeed.net; jhopkins at tech-no-mad.net; hopkins at isnm.de

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