The Origins of Social Networking

I have always had an abiding interest in business networking. In particular, I have been seized for a while with issues such as the origins of networking and what makes networks grow. There’s enough literature on the salutary effects of networking, especially for business on the WWW, but little on what I wished to know. This article is an attempt to look at networking from a larger perspective.

Networking is wired into Atoms

In his seminal book, Global Brain, Howard Bloom outlines that sociality began with the Big Bang. In the very first micro-seconds after the Big Bang quarks, neutrinos, protons and neutrons were released. Neutrons seek out cosmic mates in protons, they die in 10 minutes if they don’t. Then the neutron-proton pair mates again with another similar pair to form Helium and gain “immortality”. Protons by themselves can go on with life without networking but even it finds the electron somewhat irresistible, leading to the formation of atoms.

Then neutrons, protons and atoms with unfinished outer shells seek out one another in some kind of a cosmic equivalent of unrequited desire (networking?). To form dust, celestial shards, masses of rock, meteorites, planets and galaxies.

…And from there into our Genes

Against this backdrop, started life on earth. The first social networks started 3.5 billion years ago, almost a billion years after the Big Bang, with the cyanobacteria.

These single-celled precursors to our modern behaviour of networking and social norms, used chemical and genetic signals, within and across colonies and across continents, to gather, disseminate and collectively process information for genetic engineering required for survival of the species. In fact, it is said that the cyanobacteria would give modern IT networking and bio-technologists a run for their money with their technology perfected 3.5 billion years ago. Humbling thought that, and one which underlines that we aren’t all that brilliant as we think we are, despite all the progress that we have made so far.

From then on, this networking trait was passed over millions of years of evolution to the multi-cellular organisms and thence to the more evolved species. Along the way to multi-cellularity, perhaps as a result of the focus on the specialization of cells within the organism and networking within the adaptive system, we lost most of the ability of global networking that the cyanobacteria are still capable of.

Despite that, anthropologists and animal behaviour scientists have shown us that ants, bees, termites, bats, ravens, elephants, vervets and baboons are adaptive social organisms which collectively gather, process and disseminate information. They are all genetically wired to process inputs at a collective level and make alterations in their individual/ collective behaviour and genetic material, to ensure the survival of their species.

Howard Bloom also gives examples of interspecies transfer of information. For example, microbes and cockroaches which happily and symbiotically co-exist for mutual benefit.

The honey badger uses the black-throated honey guide as its surveillance craft to detect honeycombs. Once the honeycomb is detected the badger uses it claws to tear the beehive and both the badger and the guide feast on it.

Given that elaborate history of evolution behind us, it is hardly surprising why we network, or the intense need of homo sapiens to form families, nation states, crowd into cities, build/ work in organizations, etc.

The Global Brain that Howard talks about is not just human, but an interspecies knit covering all life on our planet.

Phenomena like the internet and mobile phone have just proved to be inevitable “tipping” points in our evolutionary networking scale.

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