Networks as organization pattern in Biology and Society.
Biological systems exchange molecules in networks of chemical reactions, social systems exchange information and ideas in networks of communications. Biological networks operate in the realm of matter. Social networks operate in the realm of meaning.
The difference between a living organism and a dead organism lies in metabolism, the ceaseless flow of energy and matter through a network of chemical reactions, which enables a living organism to continually generate, repair and perpetuate itself. The two basic aspects of metabolism are this continuous flow of energy and matter and the network of chemical reactions that process the food and form the biochemical basis of all biological structures, functions and behavior. The network is a pattern that is common to all life, the very basic patterns of organization in all living systems. Wherever we see life, we see networks.
They are functional networks, networks of relationships between various processes. Their key characteristic is that they are self-generating. Living networks are self-generating. All living organisms have a physical boundary that discriminates between the system – the self and its environment. The existence of membranes is therefore an essential condition for cellular life. The boundaries of living networks, then, are not boundaries of separation but boundaries of identity.
Network generates its own boundary of exceptions, of confidentiality and loyalty, which is continually maintained and renegotiated by the network of communications.
Social networks are first and foremost networks of communications involving symbolic language, cultural constraints, relationships of power. Each communication creates thoughts and meaning, which give rise to further communications, and thus the entire network generates itself. Living social systems are self-generating networks of communications.
Social systems produce non-material structures. Ideas, values, beliefs and other forms of knowledge generated by social systems constitute structures of meaning, which we may call semantic structures. The culture’s semantic structures are documented. These material structures – texts, works of art, technologies and material goods – are created for a purpose. They are embodiments of the shared meaning generated by the society’s networks of communications.
Biological and social systems both generate their own boundaries. A social network, a non material, cultural boundary, which imposes constraints on the behavior of its members. Natural sciences deal with material structures while social sciences deal with social structures, essentially rules of behavior. A sustainable community is designed not to interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life. The principles of organization that nature has evolved to sustain the web of life.
The Network Society
Networking has emerged as a new form of organization of human activity. The term Network Society describes this new social structure. Internet is becoming a critical infrastructure of everyday life, crucially enabling individuals to network in new ways that reconfigure and enhance their communicative power- as a type of Fifth Estate. The communicative power of networked individuals is key. Individuals and institutional, networks of networks. People able to reconfigure their access to information, people and other resources.
Networks appear to be the organizing form of life, including social life. Networks reconfigure themselves in real time, on a global-local scale, and permeate all domains of social life. We live in a network society, not in an information society or a knowledge society. Technological paradigm is the dominant medium for social organization. The proper identification of our society, out of ruling if it is the Fourth of Fifth Estate, is in terms of its specific social structure: networks powered by microelectronics and software-base information and communications technologies.
Internet can play in reconfiguring access to people, information, services and resources. It can change the way we do things. Internet can alter the outcomes of these activities. These networks can blur the boundaries of households, organizations, institutions and nations. They enable individuals –not only institutions- to create local and global networks.
Autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity are not properties of networks generically, but the properties of good networks. Networks in which these values are promoted are robust, stable and reliable. They are good knowledge engines because these principles align with connective knowledge. The web is an engineered space that creates a distributed information space.
Internet has the potential to reshape the communicative power of individuals and groups in numerous ways. Internet is as creating a space of flows, in contrast to a space of places. This new space of flows connects with people and places. This space of flows enables a multitude of actors to reconfigure access to information, people, services and technologies. Through the space of flows, the networks of networks, the Internet is enabling the development of a Fifth Estate that is enhancing the accountability of many sectors across all societies.
Networks constitute the newest major social organizational form, after tribes, hierarchies and markets.
Commerce was organized around markets. Technology is organized around networks. But networks have their structure and dynamic that imposes laws whatever is the realm where it is present. We recognize in complex linked network an unbalanced distribution that makes its nodes different one to another. That is the case of the 80-20 law formulated by Vilfredo Pareto, the existence of hubs and the free scales networks configured following the preferential attachment dynamic as described by Barabasi. This emerges as properties of a super organism that has its consequences, as described by Manuel Castells :
1. Network society expands on a global scale.
2. Networked organizations out-compete all other forms of organization, particularly the vertical, rigid, command-and-control bureaucracies.
3. Networking of political institutions is the de facto response to the management crisis suffered by nation stated in a supranational world.
4. Civil society is reconstructed at the local and global level through networks of activists.
5. Sociability is transformed in the new historical context, with networked individualism emerging as the synthesis between the affirmation of an individual-centered culture, and need and desire for sharing and co-experiencing.
6. Whole range of social practices, both global and local, communicates in the media space, with its infinite capacity of integrate and exclude.
7. In the network society, power continues to be the fundamental structuring force of its shape and direction.
Power is located in the networks that structure society and is exercised by specific configurations of these networks that express dominant interests and values. Networks matter because they are the underlying structure of our lives. To counter networks of power and their connections, alternative networks need to be introduced: networks that disrupt certain connections and establish new ones. Network vs. networks.