Collective Individuation: the future of the social web

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Collective Individuation: the future of the social web



We are in the epoch of networks. The world is now rapidly being perceived as a vast space of interlocking networks of seemingly infinite variety: biological, productive, cy-bernetic, and – most important of all – social. The image of the network, with its obvi-ous bias towards vision, has become the paradigmatic representation of understand-ing our present technological society as a holistic entity that would otherwise escape our cognitive grasp. Yet no image is ideologically neutral, for the image of the network is also a mediation between the subject and object that inscribes – or pre-programs – a certain conceptual apparatus onto the world, namely that of nodes and links (or in graph-theoretic terms, vertices and edges). This is not without consequences: due to its grasp over our imagination, the network constitutes the horizon of possible inven-tion, as Simondon showed in Imagination et Invention. 1 Yet where did the concept of the network itself come from? Despite the hyperbole over the dominance of digital social networks like Facebook, the concept of the quantified social network pre-dates digital social networks, originating from the work of the psychologist Moreno in the late 1930s, and we argue that what the advent of the digital computer has done has primar-ily been the acceleration of the pre-digital conceptual apparatus of networks. Although no one can deny its now global influence, the fundamentally ontological presumptions of the social network have yet to be explored despite its present preponderance. To borrow some terms from Bernard Stiegler, how does the what of Facebook constitute our who? 2

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