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Views and Examples on Hyper-Connectivity

Preliminary

There can be no doubt that the information and communication technologies (ICT) deeply impact the human society. The difficulty in appraising their effect and anticipating the concomitant changes lies in the depth of that impact. In an attempt to understand the present evolutions, we propose to uncover the underlying structure of this new world by revisiting its dependencies on the hyper-connectivity on which it is grounded, and the consequences of this hyper-connectivity, in modifying profoundly the network of inter-individual relations. Where we used to have ten to fifty close friends living near us, with whom we shared convivial relations, we may now have hundreds of acquaintances living on other continents, with whom we currently exchange specialized information about our main fields of interest that can be professional, artistic or related to any kind of hobby. It naturally follows from these major changes in the scale and nature of individual relationships, that the social fabric is dramatically evolving. Therefore, to quote Aristotle, since “man is by nature a social animal,” humanity is changing because society is changing. But, how are humans and society changing? And, what does it mean to be human, in this new society? These are the questions we would like to address.

Besides, the hyper-connected world is also a world of hyper-memorisability, where all the information is stored in huge databases and accessible anytime from anywhere, without any oblivion. And, it is a world of hyper-reproducibility and hyper-diffusibility, where all the knowledge, and more generally, all the works of the mind, i.e. all the music, all the paintings, all the movies, etc. can be freely and massively reproduced and diffused. So, both the way in which individuals access knowledge and their internal memories are deeply modified, which transforms human cognitive abilities.

However, we think that hyper-connectivity is the main factor of change, which means that, even if we face huge individual cognitive transformations, this will have far less influence on society than network connectivity. Our chapter investigates this point by referring to some concrete examples. More precisely, it first shows that the analysis of social networks cannot be reduced to a study of the topology of connections, but has to take into account the processes and their reciprocal dependences,

e.g. their synchronicity or precedence relations. Then, it analyses the nature of present transformations on three examples that refer respectively to the change in our access to knowledge, to the change in the solidarity and assistance between people and, thirdly, to the status and nature of artistic work. In each case, the network influences power relationships. Old well-established authorities are questioned while new forms of domination emerge.

In other words, next to the three traditional Kantian questions, “What can I know?”, “What ought I to do?” and “What may I hope?”, we would like to answer three current questions, “How can I know now?”, “How ought I to do, now?” and “How may I hope, now?”, where “how” refers ways in which things are done and, more precisely, to the power relationships which make things possible or impossible.

We deal with the first question by studying the way common knowledge is built in a collaborative encyclopedia, namely Wikipedia, which greatly leverages on the properties of hyper-connectivity of the network. Note that, with modern computers and telecommunication networks, the role and the status of experiments are changing, which contributes to an epistemological breakthrough (Ganascia 2008) and therefore on the construction of knowledge. However, what we are interested in here is not the way new knowledge is built by scientists, but the way common knowledge is disseminated to the whole society when traditional authorities are no longer valid.

The second question is illustrated by a very particular example, which is the surprising evolution of patients' associations with improvements in communication technologies. It clearly illustrates the new forms of solidarity that emerge in a networked society. Lastly, we deal with social recognition, which is the ultimate hope of humans, in a society where the abundance of information blurs the contributions and merits of all kinds.

 
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