Network theory seemed like such an easy concept, until I started reading this. To me, network theory is the science behind how people, objects, diseases, graphs are all interrelated and connected to one another. It's useful for explaining the spread of diseases such as influenza and AIDS, but it also has applications in fields as diverse as particle physics, economics, operations research and sociology, as noted on the Wikipedia entry concerning the theory.
Network theory and networks, in general, are limited, however, by their inability to predict where something like H1N1- commonly referred to as swine flu - will strike next.
This is supported on page 95, when the authors write:
"While individuals, groups, or organizations may be responsible for 'causing' emerging infectious diseases, it is notoriously difficult to predict the exact consequences of such decisions or to foresee the results of such actions. This is because emerging infectious diseases are not weapons like missiles, planes, or bombs; they are networks, and it is as networks that they function and as networks that they are controlled."Scientists can use past examples to hypothesize where something like H1N1 might strike next, but it's nothing more than a hypothesis, a guess based on data collected about previous incidences. This is part of the problem researchers are facing with the current pandemic strain of H1N1. They know how it is transmitted and which groups are most likely to be impacted based on the genetic make-up of the strain, but the network doesn't reveal precisely who or when it will strike. The network also doesn't explain why people who are otherwise perfectly healthy and have no underlying medical conditions have died from H1n1.
That said, networks are extremely powerful.
As stated on the back of the book:
"The network has become the core organizational structure for postmodern politics, culture, and life, replacing the modern era's hierarchical systems. From peer-to-peer file sharing and massive multiplayer online games to contagion vectors of digital or biological viruses and global affiliations of terrorist organizations, the network form has become so invasive that nearly every aspect of contemporary society can be located within it."This is particularly apparent when you consider the hierarchy of mainstream media, which has changed dramatically with the advent of both the Internet and more recently, social media. Whereas mainstream media once remained largely one-directional with networks distributing content directly to the user with little to no feedback, current media entities are all but required to be in constant interaction with their users/clients/viewers. In a sense, they have given up some control in order to be relevant and remain connected to the larger network.
As stated on page 124:
"...the unidirectional media of the past were ignoring half the loop. At least television did not know if the home audience was watching or not. As mathematicians might say, television is a 'directed' or unidirectioal graph. Today's media have closed the loop; they are 'undirected' or bidirectional graphs. Today's media physically require the maintained, constant, continuous interaction of users. This is the political tragedy of interactivity...Television was a huge megaphone. The Internet is a high-bandwidth security camera."Another and probably bigger point the authors emphasize throughout the text is the idea that there's a substantial division between networks and sovereignty. While sovereign powers involve an entity - generally one individual - having supreme, independent authority over a territory, there are no widely accepted leaders or codes of law for forming or governing networks. Companies like Google may exert a lot of influence but they are not sovereign powers in the sense that they do not officially 'control' the space. Their influence is not codified in or by law. Thus, to the authors, the very idea that networks, particularly the Internet, are either naturally or intentionally egalitarian is misleading.
As written on page 4:
"The network, it appears, has emerged as a dominant form describing the nature of control today, as well as resistance to it."And then on page 5, when the authors write:
"Perhaps there is no greater lesson about networks than the lesson about control: networks, by their mere existence, are not liberating; they exercise novel forms of control that operate at a level that is anonymous and non-human, which is to say material."Overall, I find this book extremely confusing. The authors supposedly challenge the "assumption that networks are inherently egalitarian" and "contend that there exist new modes of control entirley native to networks," yet they never move beyond mere speculation to offer their own theory about the actual effects of networks. It probably would have helped if I had made it through the whole book, but the authors seem to come up short when it comes to offering definitive solutions to the questions they raise.