4 – #REPLICATION

Networks are copying machines.  There is no magic to them, beyond this: data presented at any point on the network can be copied to every other point within the network, nearly instantaneously.   A text message can be reproduced across six billion mobiles within a few seconds.  A single email, copied and multiplied, could reach every one of the greater than two billion of us with Internet access.  Neither of these extraordinary events require anything beyond the networks already in place.  The network can copy all of us in on the same memo.

Networks have no other point: they copy and copy and copy.  They can’t do anything else.  Every other quality we ascribe to a network (and this book describes a multitude of them) is a product of our own interactions across the network, not of the network itself.

Short of unplugging it, there is no way to stop a network from copying.  The network doesn’t perform copying as one of its features: to network is to copy.  Networks allow the replication of information at speeds nearing that of light, so every point of connection, however far-flung, acts upon the same data.

The Internet, born to service a resilient command-and-control system, designed to withstand the Mutually Assured Destruction of thermonuclear war, replicated the tactical information within each of the US Defense Department’s strategic installations, so that each base had a complete, real-time overview of the battlefield.  Should part of the network vanish – vaporized – the remaining portions of the network could pool their tactical observations to maintain situational awareness.  To disrupt the tactical capability provided by the network, it must completely destroyed, because for as long as any part of the network exists, it will continue to replicate information.

In the years between the genesis of the Internet and hyperconnected present, we have created networks for militaries, governments, businesses, institutions of all kinds, and, finally, individuals.  The network is nearly coextensive with the species, with nearly eighty-five percent of humanity continuously connected to it.

These networks, like all networks that have ever existed, replicate information, but now do so ubiquitously.  Reports of an earthquake travel faster than the earthquake itself.   Copied from those who have the information to those who need to have it, the more important something is, the faster it replicates across the network. Because it copies, network is an information amplifier, making anything whispered almost infinitely loud.

We feed the network with things we find important, and if others share our enthusiasm, those things will be copied across the network.  At one extreme, it could be news of a massive temblor; at the other, it could be a melodramatic pop song that struck just the right emotional chord.  The network does not care what it copies, has no awareness of ‘media’, only information.  A tune or an image or a cry for help: although each will be replicated faithfully, they mean nothing to the network.  The network does not know; it only knows to copy.

When information is replicated across the network, the recipients of that information respond to it.  “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.”  The cry for help will be answered, the image viewed, the tune heard.  Within us, the response to information is nearly as automatic a function as the replicating function of the network.  We respond to everything we are exposed to, even if only in a change of thought or mood.

Some responses are stronger than others.  Some responses are so strong that they provoke attacks on the network itself.  Confusing the strength of the provocation with the capability of the network, and ascribing to the network an agency which it can not possess, attempts are made to shoot the messenger.   But the network can not provoke, it can only copy.

When the network is attacked, news of that attack is copied across the network.  Whether that attack comes from a hydrogen bomb or a lawsuit is of no particular consequence.  The existence of the attack is enough.  Networks copy the state of each of their endpoints: if any endpoint comes under threat, all other endpoints know of it.  In short order, the attack provokes a response.  The network, sensitized to the existence of a threat, answers across its entirety.

That brings us to the present moment, to a network responding to a perceived attack.  The legislative cudgel of SOPA/PIPA, with its implicit threat of censorship (censorship is any process which prevents the network from faithfully replicating information) has become common knowledge, propagated by the network it seeks to control.  The responses, at first marginal, then measured, have recently cascaded into a non-linear zone of amplification, as the network demonstrates to itself what it means to tamper with its essence as a replicating machine.

Wikipedia is a near-perfect instance of a product of a network replicator.  Facts presented at any point in the network become instantly available – for consumption, review, editing or discussion – across the entire network.  In less than a decade Wikipedia went from wishful thinking to indispensable resource, serving as a factual foundation for our intellectual efforts.

It isn’t until that foundation disappears that we recognize our dependency upon it: fish are unaware of water.  We are immersed in a sea of factual information orders of magnitude greater than any generation before us, knowledge instantly and ubiquitously accessible, via the network.  We use that information to broaden our knowledge, and with that knowledge, make better, more-informed decisions.  “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.”

Any interruption in knowing must inevitably weaken our ability to do, narrowing the scope of our capabilities.  That is the price of censorship in any form – political, cultural, or economic.  In a wholly networked world that price becomes immediately visible.   “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsim.”   People will not suffer the destruction of their capabilities, not when they can use the network to defend those capabilities.

Now that the knowledge that the network can be used to defend itself has replicated throughout the network, the network has become exponentially more resilient and resistant to any attempts to alter its fundamental replicating function.  Trying to kill the network has only made it stronger.

One thought on “4 – #REPLICATION

  1. what does this make you think in terms of fate? as in mckenna’s transcendental object at the end of time… based on what you write, it sure gives the FEELING of being pulled toward something and a sense of inevitability–similar to the API article you wrote on futurestreet… the network is bigger than us, and the ultimate fate of everything is to become a node and interoperate. the end.

    would you agree with the gist of this?

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