About Metabolo: From Mechanics to Mimesis

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Far from becoming tamer, the far-reaching effects of electric technology that were presaged by Marshall McLuhan seem to be waxing wilder, penetrating ever more deeply into our personal and social lives. Is it alarm we’re sensing, or the thrill of recognition – a quickening? Are we attempting to maintain control, or building a portrait of our environment and ourselves that is beginning to rival the responsiveness and creativity of the natural world?

We wonder aloud whether we’ve traded too much privacy for convenience and access, meanwhile scarcely noticing that all these musings have migrated into that ever-widening and ever-converging data stream that suddenly seems more real and more -- accessible? -- than ever before. This veritable Mississippi of data offers more manipulability and meaning as the tools, their default settings, and their recombinant interactions increasingly evidence startling levels of transparency, empathy and relevance to daily life....

Our brains, our bodies, our social relationships, the webs of life that nourish and sustain our physical selves and natural environments, no longer are these being taken for granted, denigrated, made incidental -- at any rate, not in the same blind and wholesale way. On the contrary, these are being methodically rediscovered and appreciated as irreplaceable, unique, meaningful, and worthy of support, research, emulation, connection, amplification, celebration.

As a candidate for the Master of Science degree in Integrated Digital Media at Polytechnic University, I offer this space to the investigation of these developments and these questions.

In this discursive space I intend to share and solicit interdisciplinary research interrogating emergent effects at the intersection of three organizing discourses: technology and design; biology and social behavior; ecology and environment. The diagram that follows illustrates broad relationships and selected patterns characteristic of the intersections:

Venn diagram showing intersection of technology, biology and ecology

I will survey the literature pertinent to these intersections, including historical texts as well as emerging theoretical and practical developments from both academic and professional sources. The underlying theoretical and methodological framework and vocabulary will be informed by the closely related discourses of cybernetics, systems thinking, complexity, and network studies. My objective will be to document and explicate applicable laws and principles in order to forge a new level of synthetic understanding with an eye to guiding the design and implementation of beneficial systems.

To assist the analysis and communication of my findings I intend to use appropriate techniques in media production that may include data modelling, visualization, and/or motion graphics. The resulting thesis will seek to articulate and demonstrate design principles in response to the critical question: “Can we learn to design for emergence, in order to develop and distribute more human-friendly and ecologically responsive social and technical systems, by studying and mimicking deep patterns originating in the realms of biology and social behavior?”

Following is a preliminary and partial list of sources to be consulted:

Biomimetics; Sociomimetics; Social Software; Networks
Barabasi, A. Linked: The New Science of Networks. Perseus Books; 2002.
Benyus, J. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. William Morrow; 1997.
Hock, D. Birth of the Chaordic Age. Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1999.
O’Reilly, T. What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. http://www.oreillynet.com/lpt/a/6228
Reed, D. P. The Law of the Pack. Harvard Business Review; Feb. 2001
Surowiecki, J. The Wisdom of Crowds. Anchor Books; 2004.

Commons; Cooperation
Axelrod, R. The Evolution of Cooperation. Basic Books; 1985.
Bricklin, D. The Cornucopia of the Commons: How to get volunteer labor. http://www.bricklin.com/cornucopia.htm August 7, 2000.
Creative Commons. http://www.creativecommons.org
Hardin, G. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science 1968;162:1243-48.
Lessig, L. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books; 2000.
Rheingold, H. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Basic Books; 2002.
Rheingold, H. and Institute for the Future. http://www.cooperationcommons.com/
Wright, R. Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Pantheon; 1999.

Cybernetics; Systems Thinking; Complexity
Capra, F. The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living. Anchor Books; 2002.
Weiner, N. Cybernetics, or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. M.I.T. Press; 1961.
Weiner, N. The Human Use of Human Beings. Houghton Mifflin; 1950.

Emergence
Fromm, J. Types and Forms of Emergence. http://arxiv.org/abs/nlin.AO/0506028
Fromm, J. Ten Questions About Emergence. http://arxiv.org/abs/nlin.AO/0509049
Helms, M. Design That Improves With Use. Ambidextrous. http://www.stanford.edu/~judywen/ambidextrous/page36-39.pdf
Johnson, S. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. Scribner; 2002.
Van Alstyne, G. From Induction to Incitement: Inside the Massive Change Project. What People Want: Populism in Architecture and Design. Ed. Michael Shamiyeh. Birkhäuser; 2005:188–205.
Van Alstyne, G. and Logan, R.K. Designing for Emergence and Innovation: Redesigning Design. Publication pending; 2006.

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Just a thought...

The abstraction that is language and the consequent subtext that is my name assures me the unwritten comfort of anonymity. How can you really know me if all you really know is my name and what is, after all, in a name. I googled "Vilip" and discovered "Vilip" is a member of the neuronal subfamily of EF-hand calcium sensor protein...