The Self Aware Node

The Web no longer looks like a distributed network. Over time it’s become increasingly centralised, concentrated and dominated by a handful of big names. This change has greatly benefited a few corporate interests and government surveillance, but the Web no longer functions as a democratic place. We are living in a period where individuals on the Web have almost ceased to exist in their own right.

We are becoming a generation where our digital life tends not to be of our own making. Instead they are expressions and apparitions that exist only within an other. From Facebook to Google to Amazon to Twitter – we are simply nodes within the networks they create rather than true expression of ourselves.

The tilde spaces have disappeared and with it the means for many people to self-publish on the web. The concept of the a self-made website has been subsumed by apps that swallow our data under the guise of being “easy to use”. Our presence on the web is now owned and managed by someone else.

These corporate interests don’t treat us as individuals or as people that they need to interface and interact with. Instead we must surrender and assimilate when we accept their Terms and Conditions. There’s no opportunity to discuss or negotiate as people are want to do – just click OK. We literally pour our information into their databases, a black box that obscures what is being done on our behalf. Our individualism is then sold and sacrificed to marketers and advertisers. Our memories and expressions of love, happiness, fear and sadness are abstracted to a data set that renders our life sum for an algorithm to sell shoes, wedding photographers and promote gambling.

We are surrendering our identity, our digital selves, to entities that don’t treat us with respect, who can’t be trusted to act in out best interests and who continue to exploit our information for their own financial and political gain.

The only person who should be in charge of our identity and how we express ourselves – is us.

The emergence of commercial entities who operate online social networks has created a notion that networks are an entity unto themselves. How else could they justify the VC capital and market evaluations of the IPO? It gave breath to the idea that networks are things that can be created, manipulated, bought and sold. But it’s just a lie.

A network isn’t a thing. It’s an expression of individual nodes, how they interact and the relationships they develop.

They are maps rather than places. They exist as ephemeral expressions of the bonds and ties that we as individuals choose to express, but they lack a tangible existence. It’s because of this that a network cannot be directly controlled or manipulated – it can only reacts and responds to the nodes themselves. Just as a map has no effect on the geological patterns or artefacts, it simply displays them. There is no power to control the network as a whole because power is distributed and contained in the nodes.

For example, if individuals leave Facebook then there is no longer a network. Value is only possible because of the network created by those individuals. The network and all its value only exists if individuals stay, if they leave everything goes away.

It’s because of this distributed power that change is always possible and why we are seeing the emergence of a counter-culture that promotes the “node”. It’s a movement that seeks to empower the node so that it can become a powerful expression of self.

It’s a movement that wants us to reclaim our identity and take back control. Control of our data and our identity in a way that truly reflects the fact that we are faceted individuals. It seeks to empowers the individual instead of assimilating them and removing their self-determination. It seeks to wrest control and influence back from the centralised systems that exploit us. It is not just a set of tools but an awakening – it is the beginning of us becoming self-aware in our digital forms.

I call it a culture because it’s not a single thing. It’s a messy combination of ideas, technology and events that have given rise to people developing an alternative to the mess we find ourselves in. It’s a culture because it represents more than an object, a technology or a process. It’s a movement and a network – but one made up of Self Aware Nodes.


Read more: Connectivist posts from Stephen Downes and George Siemens plus the work from Jim Groom, Audrey Watters, Kin Lane, Mike Caulfield, Doug Belshaw, Jaron Lanier – this talk in particular and especially Tim Berners-Lee.

Thanks @downes, @gsiemens, @jimgroom, @audreywatters , @kinlane, @holden & @dajbelshaw for all your awesome and open work!

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