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Kevin Kelly “Really Likes” the Term Connective March 17, 2008

Posted by Eyal Sivan in Defining the Connective.
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icon_ones.jpgAs this is my first post, I feel I should write about how Kevin Kelly, author, pundit and Wired magazine’s first Executive Editor, took some time out of his busy schedule to make this blog.

It all started back in 1993.

The first issue of Wired I bought was 1.05, released in November of that year. It marked the fifth issue Kelly had overseen as editor. It featured a translucent Alvin Toffler on a shiny blue cover, advertising an interview about his new book, War and Anti-War. I found the interview so thought provoking that I immediately bought the book, and read it cover-to-cover. Not only did the book lead me to write a thesis about the future of warfare, but it also sparked my interest in Toffler and his futurist contemporaries. Toffler led to Negroponte, who led to McLuhan and so on, until I had formed a full-fledged fascination with this “dawn of the Information Age” they all seemed to describe.

At this stage, I was one of many readers of one of many authors Kevin Kelly had chosen to interview for his magazine. He certainly introduced me to authors (and concepts) that otherwise may well have passed me by undiscovered, but he did so from his editorial ivory tower. We were two degrees removed from one another on the consumption hierarchy. If we worked together (i.e. in a production hierarchy), he’d have been my boss’ boss.

In 1995, Kelly released his own book, the exemplary Out of Control (also available online). A central theme of the book is that distributed, chaotic systems represent the most fruitful and productive systems of all. He argues that the way to stable, resilient order is to foster the organic emergence of that order out of these chaotic systems. Bottom-up growth, he says, rather than top-down control. Although several authors had already promoted similar concepts within economics or media, Out of Control was the first book to draw parallels between economics, philosophy, biology & science. Kelly’s book was a significant influence on a presentation I delivered in 1999, where the Connective is originally introduced.

At this stage, I was one of many readers of Kevin Kelly’s book. This time around, he introduced me to his own concepts, in the context and style that he personally saw fit. However, it was still very much a broadcast relationship, with Kelly holding the megaphone of formal publication and me a humble member of the masses. Nevertheless, we were now just one degree removed from one another in the consumption hierarchy.

Over the last few years, after a bit of a lull, there has been a resurgence in the dialog surrounding decentralized, collaborative systems. The truly exciting part is that this resurgence is largely fueled by real, working applications. From The Long Tail to Wikinomics, authors espouse the virtues of wikis, blogs, ratings systems, social networks and other “Web 2.0” technologies. Even Kevin Kelly joins the fray, writing a post on his own blog about the impossibility of Wikipedia.

It was this post that caught my attention. I took issue with the fact that Kelly had classified Wikipedia as a “communitarian socialism”, also using the word “collective”. Traditional collectives are not volitional (you are born into them) or distributed (they are typically top-down). So that’s exactly what I submitted in my comment, suggesting an alternative term instead: connective.

A couple of weeks later, Kelly replied:

“I agree that collective — and socialism and communism — are not the right terms. I really like your new term connective – and promise to borrow it.”

When I saw this response, I was stunned. Here was the Executive Editor, the Award-Winning Author, basically an expert in the context of the subject at hand, telling me that he “really liked” one of my ideas! I decided then and there this blog had to be brought to some presentable level as soon as possible. And here we are.

At this most recent stage, my exchange with Kevin Kelly was direct. There were no degrees of separation. There was no consumption hierarchy. I was both a writer and a reader, in whatever ratio I chose, as he was. The playing field had been levelled. Which of us will get the larger audience is to be determined entirely by merit, rather than by capital or status. In that sense, we became competitors. But since we both add to the overall dialog, we are very much allies as well. Win-win.

Thanks to the Internet and its information technology brethren, this example is very common. Thousand of people are forming more and more connections like these every day. Loose associations of participants, voluntarily organized around a specific interest or context. In an effort to get closer to their fans, to encourage them to produce something for themselves, experts like Kelly are moving progressively down the hierarchy, until eventually it disappears entirely.

Is it possible to create a global culture based on these kinds of direct, contextual connections? To redefine the hierarchies entrenched in our philosophies, corporations and governments alike?

The best answer comes from Kevin Kelly’s post on the impossibility of Wikipedia:

“Before we say, ‘Impossible!’ I say, let’s see.”



1. Tom Crowl - January 6, 2009

I’m just about speechless…

And that’s rare. I’m speechless because I feel I’ve experienced the power of what you and Kevin Kelly are talking about!

And it can’t help but create a revolution, both exciting and unpredictable.

The whole thing really is leading to new definitions, new capabilities and new boundaries for consciousness and identity!

It will affect everything from our attitudes on privacy to sex.

And it’ll also pose great challenges.

We’re creating something “Out of Control!”

I ran across an interesting concept recently arising from computational biology. (Now there’s a hot field!)

In investigating the networks and sub-networks within a cell and the patterns of gene activation that keep it alive they found out that these systems, for best health must be neither orderly nor chaotic, but must operate at a balancing point between the two called “criticality”.

Too much order and the living system can’t react to change. Too much chaos and it reacts inappropriately or not at all and collapses.

So what’s all that mean?

Life is messy… but it beats all the alternatives.

And abandon ideologies that strive for some utopian order. You’ll never find one… and shouldn’t!

I just realized something like the above most likely is already part of the paradigm but…

I’m just tuning in!

2. Jeff Dolan - February 4, 2009

I like the word connective as well.

I cannot help but think of the movie, The Matrix, as the overall framework of where we are going. It touches on so many key concepts. I read on Kevin Kelly’s site that the actors in the movie had to read Kevin Kelly’s book before opening the original script.

It then gets all too real when you read about what companies like Emotiv are doing with neuroheadsets.

3. Eyal Sivan - May 7, 2009

Tom, your excitement here and at other posts is much appreciated. And yes, I agree that it can’t help but create a revolution.

Jeff, thanks for the support. Cliché as it sounds, I do love the (first) Matrix. It deserves an enormous amount of credit for popularizing concepts previously considered the realm of scientists and philosophers. In fact, the exact moment I fell for the Matrix was early on when it prominently featured Simulacra & Simulation, a book I first learned of from Kelly’s Out of Control. There is no spoon.

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