Having just finished listening to the Friday wrap up session, I had an upsight.  I think that we are actually talking about three kinds of networks.

1. Neural Networks – Thanks to the neuroscientists with PET scanners, we know that different stimuli cause different parts of the brain to “fire”. Since I don’t have a PET scanner in my office, I can’t observe these networks directly, so I’ll say no more lest I embarrass myself.

2. Guidance Networks – Most people might call these social networks but I think the concept is bigger than that. These are the networks that connect us to ideas.  They’re how we find out about things.  I’m going to divide them into social networks and artifact networks based on whether communication is two way.

This stems in part from Lisa Lane’s discussion of networks of the dead.  I think it’s important to note that many of the things we learn from (blog posts, email messages, etc.) are just as much artifacts as an Ivan Illich book is. Something we read can prompt us to make a connection of ideas that we didn’t make before or can spur additional reading or research.

Where I see the difference is that , if I read Lisa’s blog post and reply to it, I’ve created a feedback loop and am now influencing her thought.  Not all interactions with the artifacts of the living create social networks, If I read and don’t reply, that blog post is just another artifact. When one can’t communicate with the person(s) responsible for the artifact, a truly social network can’t happen. Social networks are all the rage because modern technology makes them (especially if they are facilitated via Internet tools) relatively easy to map.

3. Conceptual Networks – This is the network of associations and ideas of which one can be meta-cognitively aware and use something like CMap to model. For example, I mentioned earlier this morning that the Multiverse Places trailer reminded me of the trailer for Neal Stephenson’s new book Anathem.  On the surface they have the same sort of image of giant neon billboards.  As I thought about it more, I realized that they both also referenced my concept of being overwhelmed.  Stephenson’s character feels that way when he sees the billboards, I and felt that way when I saw the Multiverse Places trailer.

(The title reference, BTW, is to The Two CulturesListen to BBC Radio4 programs on this topic)