The Changing Network

image found here.

As the title suggests, the ‘network’ has changed, folks. We have all learned about networks and nodes, either through this book, Intro to New Media, or perhaps Professor McCormack’s Media and Society. Through the courses, we have focused our discussion of them as digital means of communication. But what about that which exists outside of the nodes? Ulises Ali Mejias’ Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World explores this idea, as well as many others pertaining to our relationship with networks.

I agree with Mejias when he says


network technologies play an important role in shaping our societies, and let us suggest, therefore, that whereas before the network was merely a metaphor to describe society, now it has become a technological model or template for organizing it, (Mejias, 9).

To network, at a very basic level, is to organize. Mejias states early on that

In essence, the neoliberal impulse to subsume all social communication and participation to market forces can only be achieved if the network is made the dominant episteme or model for organizing social realities. This is accomplished by the application of a nodocentric filter to social formations, which renders all human interaction in terms of network dynamics, (Mejias, 21)

Mejias finds these “network dynamics” very problematic in relation to social formations: “[t]hus to be anything other than a node is to be invisible, nonexistent,”(Mejias, 21).

When I was in Australia (yeah, I’m gonna talk about it again, sorry), I joined many networks, both physical and digital. There was my network of friends (on and off Facebook), those I interned with at the ABC, and plenty of less obvious ones. A year ago today I awoke very early in the morning  to my phone vibrating, alerting me of a message within the Boston University Sydney Facebook group (Boston University ran the abroad program in Sydney). Checking my phone, I was shocked to see that there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Of course, everyone in my program was absolutely horrified and worried about their friends and loved ones back home. Google quickly enacted a person finder in the aftermath, to let people know of those who were safe/accounted for, and those who were not.

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The message I woke up to a year ago today.

I walked into the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that morning, where I was working in the new sexchange (ahem, news exchange) room. Before that day, when anyone had asked me where I was from in the states, I had told them Boston–close enough to Wheaton, I had determined. “Charlie from Boston” arrived in the room where news from around the world is filtering in, and the biggest story was the bombing. I cannot tell you how may times I saw the footage of the explosions for the next few days. I worked on a package for a story in the editing room about the event, and consequently had to watch the footage over and over again. I know someone who was there and injured, and when I told my those I was working with they could hardly believe that they knew a guy who knew a guy.

This was not only a surreal experience for me, but it is also an extreme example of networks in action, and how technology has pushed the idea of the network.  I was with a group that represents Boston in Sydney, and then tragedy struck Boston. I witnessed first-hand how Australian media covered the tragedy from the source. There was even an Australian correspondent in Boston sending the ABC live coverage! I felt like a node connecting so many different nodes, over a spatially-significant distance in a technologically-significant way. And I couldn’t help but talk about it given the anniversary.


Mejias, Ulises Ali. Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2013. PDF.



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