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Containing and focusing network dynamics

Tensed Networks: Balancing and focusing network dynamics in response to networking diseases (Part #5)

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The previous section clarifies the central problem associated with those networks which have potential, as a network, to move to a new level of significance. The problem is one of containing and focusing the wide variety of ideas generated so that they interact appropriately to permit the emergence of new insights of a more comprehensive and more integrated nature.

But "containment" would appear to imply a networking philosophy which is contrary to that which prevails. It implies a level of discipline which the first section (above) shows to be uncharacteristic. And yet in some kinds of networks a major effort is made to minimize "leakage" or maximize "coverage" (e.g. interbank, bibliographical, etc.). The looser inter- personal or inter-institutional networks would tend to view this as a step towards "coordination" with all its attendant ills. And indeed the problem is neither so challenging, nor so potentially rewarding, in the case of networks :

  • which allow themselves to be coordinated from a central point - for these are merely loose or disguised hierarchies; or
  • which are solely concerned with the " transport, of communication units between network members - for this is primarily a hardware and standardization problem, even if all communication passes via a central clearing point.
The challenge lies more with networks whose members could interact as much (or more) with each other as with (or via) any central point. A clue to a remedy would seem to lie in the complementary attributes of tension/compression which are characteristic of hierarchical systems but are absent from interinstitutional networks (5). Such networks, as shown above, tend to be "flabby and , sloppy" However the "jackboot" characteristics of hierarchical systems, to which the tension/compression attribute contributes, are equally unsatisfactory.

The problem would thus seem to be that existing networks are "untensed", whereas hierarchical systems have an undesirable form or degree of tension/compression (for some purposes at least). The lack of tension in networks is particularly evident in the tendency for "distance" to be established between those ideas (or, more irrationally, those advocating them) which are antagonistic to one another or perceived in some way as incompatible. The normal consequence is for no relation to be established between them - or worse still, their advocates ignore each other, refuse to dialogue, or even adjust the interaction lines within the network so that no further interaction is possible. This is how a network keeps itself "cool". It is also how it renders itself irrelevant because the resulting lines of communication tend to favour "conceptual incest", or some organizational equivalent.

A desirable level of tension may therefore be introduced by maintaining "confrontation" (compression) relationship between opposing ideas (or even between the bodies supporting them). The difficulty is that such relationships tend to break the network apart, as noted above. But this tendency may be opposed by, compatibility, (tension) relationships between mutually supporting ideas (or even their corresponding advocates). The challenge is to balance the confrontation and compatibility relationships within an appropriate structural configuration of a non-hierarchical variety. (N.B. They are not balanced in a hierarchical structure). The result would be a tensed network.

Relatively little is known about such tensed networks and that is limited to general principles derived from the study of structure in the abstract (but from a design viewpoint). An attempt has been made to show the relevance of such studies to the elaboration of a rich variety of alternative forms of organization - whether of groups or of concepts (5).

Exploring this avenue further should show how the key networking problems of leakage, storage, integration and focus of logical units can be resolved within the framework of such tensed networks. Of special interest is that the "energy level" of the network increases the more it is tensed, namely the greater the number and variety of incompatible elements that can be balanced within the configuration by compatibility relationships.

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