Digital Media: The Power of The Network

On Monday 17th February 2014, I attended a day of lectures that were dedicated solely to my Digital Media module, as per usual. We started the day having a lecture about the Power of the Network, before having a session on Interim Feedback and a workshop based purely on our WordPress blogs. All of the notes from this day can be found below:


  • This is a lecture about similarities, coincidence and connectivity – with specific emphasis (of course) on digital media

Hubs and Meaning-Making:

  • We all use – or are part of a network
  • Even if we largely keep to ourselves we use networks to navigate the world
  • Roads, trains, telephones, computers, friends, associates – everything basically from the structure of our brain and arterial system in our bodies to the way we communicate and learn – is part of a network
  • Networks are powerful structures with the emphasis on interconnectivity and this interconnectivity gives us the ability to learn
  • Examples of networks –
  • Fascinated by the fact that nature is reflected in our digital lives
  • There’s no escaping the network – we rely on them – we can never be network free
  • Life and mind have a common abstract pattern or set of basic organizational properties. The functional properties characteristic of mind are an enriched version of the functional properties that are fundamental to life in general. Mind is literally life-like.” – Godfrey-Smith, P. (1996). Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Mind is literally life-like. The Universe and Life are literally mind-like.“ – Peter Winiwarter (2008). Network Nature.


Facebook Map

  • But the earliest instance of modern complex network theory can be found in the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy (
  • His General Systems Theory ( in the 1940s, was an attempt to map hard sciences, social sciences and humanities, technology and art
  • He employed a set of descriptive notions:
    • System – the way it works
    • Network – the structure it takes
    • Metabolism – its evolution/organic nature
    • Openness/closure – can it be impinged on from the outside?
  • These notions and concepts, in turn, were passed on to those taking a radical constructivist stance (scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world) and then lead to chaos theory (the butterfly effect – small differences in initial stimuli can have global effects) which in turn fed into cybernetics (the study of systems that have ‘goals’ and achieve them through feedback)

Network Types:

  • As network theory itself began to take shape in the latter part of the 20th century it was discovered that networks can take different shapes
  • The two distinct types being scale-free networks (which are the most pervasive) and random networks (less common and less stable)


  • Scale-free networks are characterised by what’s known as the power law distribution and the clustering coefficient distribution
  • The power law distribution allows for a fault-tolerant design as:
    • Major hubs are closely followed by smaller ones. These, in turn, are followed by other nodes with an even smaller degree and so on. This hierarchy allows for fault tolerant behaviour in the face of random failures: since the vast majority of nodes are those with small degree, the likelihood that a hub would be affected is almost negligible
  • The structure of scale-free networks are likened to the structure of the Internet because of these decreasing sized hubs and clusters
    • A lot stronger network type – it is more robust and bits that break off can be reengaged
  • Random networks are more likely to be temporary constructs which arise and fade away – because they are NOT similarly robust
    • They are made, but they don’t last, they’re temporary and very easily damaged

Neural Networks:

  • What conforms to this scale-free model?
    • Scale-free networks are pervasive in biology – Example article:
    • Scale-free networks are pervasive on the Internet
    • The video below is a TED talk by Henry Markram – director of the Blue Brain Project (– an attempt to create a synthetic brain by reverse-engineering the mammalian brain down to the molecular level


  • Scale-free networks contain components with a highly diverse level of connectivity. Some components form highly interconnected hubs, while other components have few connections, and there are many levels of interconnectivity in between. Scale-free networks are pervasive in biology. Computer simulations at the University of Chicago show that scale-free networks are able to evolve to perform new functions more rapidly than an alternative network design.” – University of Chicago

What’s all this got to do with Digital Media?

  • Until the advent of the Internet, network theories were concerned with the interfaces I’ve mentioned above
  • There was no example of a global network that might operate in the way the Internet does because it didn’t exist
  • Early media theorists enthusiastically adopted McLuhan’s concept of media – perhaps because they’d rather have McLuhan than the cybernetics model (which is more rooted in the behaviourist theories)
  • However, McLuhan’s assumption that “the medium is the message” and that machines might have their own agenda meant that the media theorists would be grappling with problems that went beyond behaviourism
  • Behaviourists believe that psychologists and (social) scientists should only concern themselves with ‘observable behaviour’ and avoid theorising about what happens inside someone’s mind (in terms of their beliefs or thought processes)
  • Now if the medium is the message then relational databases and networks are the message
  • And if the network is the message (i.e. the network is more important than any of the content that is distributed via the links and nodes) then what does this mean for you as photographers and in terms of wider communication theory?
    • We use the network to access information
    • It is a distributary thing
    • Our creating of images is pointless when facing a network that allows images to exist in the first place
  • What good is blood without an arterial system?
  • What good is art or photography in the digital age without a network to distribute it?
  • And however much you want to disassociate ourselves from these networks (because they feel constructed/unimportant/superficial) we can’t

Six Degrees of Separation – The Small World Theory:

Artificial Intelligence:

  • The bods at Google have realised that the way the human brain is wired is uncannily similar to the way the Internet has evolved and they are trying to exploit this understanding to make the Internet even more like our brains
  • It can’t be a coincidence that computer systems mimic natural systems that in turn look like our brains and that in turn are a mirror image of the whole universe
  • Everything is made out of the same stuff after all – but it still fascinates me how every new ‘evolution’ digital or biological happens in the same way
  • And that the in the evolution of the Internet, we have perhaps, unwittingly, created an Artificial Intelligence in our own image
  • The seeking, connection-making imperative that underpins the way our brains work (neurons and synapses) is reflected in our digital structures and might explain why we seem to be hard-wired to constantly seek out new connections online, just as we are hard wired to fill in gaps in our perception and create meaning and narrative from the world around us
  • And in this connected digital world we are somehow striving – on the Internet to make the ultimate digital brain that does everything our biological brain can do, and more
  • However as Olga Goriunova ( from dxlabs maintains, we should always try and remember that:
    • Feedback is not interaction
    • Computation is not cognition
    • Storage is not memory
    • Data is not knowledge
    • Telecommunication switches are not social networks
    • Cybernetic mapping is not the cultural territory

My Response to the Lecture: 

I found this lecture incredibly interesting in terms of the reflection on the biology of the networks. The fact that nature seems to be reflected in our digital lives in more ways than one truly made me ponder about the complexity of not only living things but the daily networks we take for granted.

The biology of the world has always interested me, but one of my most inspiring topics is the anatomy and the biology behind the strongest aspect in the world: our brains.

The thought that something so technological, like the current digital media industry uses “basic” structural biology as an influence into its creation and evolution can be seen as both incredible and contradictory. After all, isn’t this digital age soon going to lead us to an era run by artificial intelligence?

I then started to think about this digital media as a type of science, and once thinking about it, I realized that the science of technology and biology have both been studied and challenged in the same way through investigation and experimentation. 

Mez mentioned that, in this digital age, there is no escaping the network, we rely on them and can never be network free. Just like our biology.


Can only read 2500 words per student:

  • What I have done – what do I need to include? – Only need to include about 3 different processes but as I have done them, continue to do it like this
  • Where should I put my lecture responses? – In the same blog post or separate? – Separate lecture responses; at the end, put links to all key components in one blog post


Using my Installed Gallery Plugin:

  • Go to plugins on WordPress dashboard
  • Add New – Type in Gallery to the search bar – Choose NextGEN Gallery 2.0.40 – Install
  • There’s another link in the left hand menu selection – click on Gallery
  • Add Gallery/Images
    • Create a new Gallery – Change gallery name – add files to the gallery – Choose files – okay – Start Upload
    • 650px on longest side and 72 resolution
  • Manage galleries – click on gallery you have just made
    • Can change the text name and description and tag the images – Save Changes
    • Can sort the gallery by changing the order of the gallery – Update sort order
    • Make a new page for your gallery – add page, then choose the newly added page
    • Go to the page you just created and press preview
    • Then copy and paste the code that is in the new page into the page you want the gallery to be found – delete the new page you have made


  • Go to appearance, then editor – find the code you want to change, change it to what is desired!
  • Want to change font family – find it by pressing cmd F
  • Can do it by going to Inspect Element

Making a Blogroll:

  • Plugins – Add New – link manager – Link Manager 0.1-beta – Install – Activate
  • Links – Add New Link – Add Name and URL of their front page of website
  • Then go to appearance – widgets – drag and drop in widget to the top – change desired settings – Save changes