Over the last few weeks we’ve seen an explosion of blog posts, videos, and journals publishing on this major developing paradigm shift in social organization. Of course, it is 2012 and networks are hardly new. Facebook’s IPO already seems like old news; no one doubts the importance of networks. We’ve been living on them and in them for decades.
What’s changed is our understanding of how behave. Our mathematics and computer science has made tremendous progress over the last few years. Our ability to visualize in instructive and useful ways it in a golden age. Until now, the Internet has been mostly flopping along blindly, confident that we were doing good work but not entirely understanding how we were doing it. But over the last month or so our has grown strong. When our science is strong, we can be deliberate about how we use our tools.
and his colleagues gave a vivid but somehow unsurprising demonstration of this power just this week. They predicted the winner of by doing nothing more elaborate than counting tweets.
This was almost a trivial exercise, but the authors are explicit that this is simply a demonstration of the potential of these techniques:
On a more general basis, our results highlight that *the aggregate preferences and behaviors of large numbers of people can nowadays be observed in real time, or even forecasted, through open source data freely available in the web*. The task of keeping them private, even for a short time, has therefore become extremely hard (if not impossible), and this trend is likely to become more and more evident in the future years.
Although the success of the prediction isn’t itself surprising, the consequences of the result are not only surprising but fundamentally revolutionary for the way we organize ourselves. When our computer models can predict the results of a political election like they can predict a rising tide, it makes political theater seem less like a circus and more like a rain dance. We can do better. We must.
Criticizing the old order is easy. What matters is that we are starting to develop the sciences for describing, building, and maintaining genuinely novel forms of self-organized social economies. These networks are often hostile to both traditional markets and centralized governments, but nevertheless we are starting to see how they can be harnessed to do important social, political, and economic work.
We’ve been practicing with these networked forms of self-organization on the Internet for a few decades now, and we’ve become damn good at it. We’ve arrived in the Digital Age, and we are preparing to do tremendous things with it. It won’t be easy.
Below are some links that will help. They range from suggestive to instructive to philosophical, and cover a scope from economics and political science to computational neuroscience and digital ethnography. That’s a huge range of material. Get used to it.
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