A Brief History of Networks in the Context of Social Development

At the time when physicality was the predominant characteristic of mankind, Man was largely restricted by his want of security, survival being his ultimate quest. Evolution from the hunter-gatherer stage to the Agricultural stage wouldn’t have been easy for the early Man who undertook a vast range of experiments aimed predominantly at basic existence. When we say Agriculture played a key role in the Physical stage, we mean it gave him control over his food supply, making him self-reliant and confident to the extent that he established social groups. As Agriculture helped him produce more food than was necessary for subsistence, the practice of storing the surplus emerged. But something had to be done about the excess. Man’s erstwhile pursuit had been producing for consumption. Now he indulged in forming human relationships associated with the Vital stage in which he shifted his focus to becoming a member of a group, a novel idea to sell his excess produce which made the rise of trade possible. Man, if given a chance, does not usually have the propensity to make use of his potentials to the fullest. It is only during times of crises or an evolutionary urge that he makes the most of his mental endowment. After having saturated his skills as a trader, he wanted more than Social relationships, marked by the emergence of the Mental stage—the era of science, technology and ideas which made him extraordinarily creative evident from his daring to challenge conventional norms by questioning, ‘If God can create, why cannot I?’

Mind has its own limitations when it tries to convey or understand a principle or an event in its entirety. It either states the facts as is without trying to connect them or tries to delve deeper into the subject, mistaking the trees for the forest or worse still, revering the trees for their atomistic existence. We talk of the Physical, Vital and the Mental stages yet inconspicuously try not to coordinate the stages. This is when we let questions do the talking.

The most important question central to the theme perhaps would be ‘what is the society’s role in Development per se?’ Basically, how did Agriculture and Trade emerge? How did Trade create such profound effects in the society’s development? Money, one of the challenges Man indulged in to prove his mental capacities, is the Society’s single most creative power that has been ruling mankind over hundreds of decades. But what is really behind the enriching force that has made the creator look like the slave?

Subconscious observation of Nature prompted Man to consciously organize his Mind to produce food for consumption, a skill he mastered. The reader may wonder what the connection between subconscious observation and conscious activity is. Man had subconsciously observed Nature for long and the subconscious knowledge matured, thus making him tinker with food production. The organizational power of his conscious being combined with the subconscious knowledge making him create a series of trial and error methods which led to his producing in excess, an accomplishment that would induce him to aspire for even higher levels. It was only after the abundance of food supply that the world had a quantitative expansion of human beings, apparent from the dramatic increase in population figures over the centuries.

Tracing the activities of the society and the organizations it has created over time can help us get a glimpse into the process of social development and subsequently, its accomplishments. Organization which is present at all levels of the Society is a precursor to development. We say Development is development of organization. But what is the process of organization? Allowing myself to stray from the present topic to avoid presenting the article in a dull linear manner, I am shifting back to the age of trade which formed the basis of modern wealth and prosperity.

Man used barter as an instrument of exchange during the early days of trade, the conception of trading his excess produce with the members of his community proving to be fruitful. Agriculture was largely restricted to land while the domains of trade—human relationships forming the main core— extended qualitatively. Trade demanded that he move out of his domains to establish these relationships which ingeniously he did. The ingenuity of Man can be seen by his ascribing a monetary value to a bag of grains or a cup of milk that he would trade. Right? Wrong.

What Man exchanged in effect was not barter but trust and with the rise of this social value dawned a community exchange which was erstwhile restricted to neighbors or a much smaller group. Man’s imagination and his subtle knowledge of symbols made him create an invisible market in the process. In the broader sense, Value was assigned not to the physical substance but to the human being and his capacity to produce. Money is an organization based on Man’s productive capacities.

When it comes to gaining trust, interactions play a key role; physical interactions produce high energies that create a bond of subconscious trust, thereby paving the way for greater and wider human relationships. As the number of members frequenting the marketplace increased, the scope for increased interactions dramatically rose, further leading to the emergence of novel methods of transactions. This was how networks were born, though the fancy term was invented much later. With the appearance of basic networks came the communication media about which we would briefly explain later in the article, and subsequently, the advertising stimulus that would create a roar in the marketing world. 

At the time of barter, networks were an expression of physical interactions carrying a collective identity. The intrinsic value of networks is that the higher the number of people in a network, the higher the levels of prosperity as is seen in the case of trade. In the present context, it can be clearly seen in online social networking sites that the more the interactions, the more enriching people’s knowledge becomes. Prosperity is not restricted to material wealth alone; Mental Prosperity is Knowledge. As interactions increased and networks multiplied, the possibilities of a trader buying another man’s produce amplified, trust acting as the primary linkage. Interactions alone would not suffice for a bond to be created; what matters better still is the frequency of communication. Why do you think trade flourished in areas that were closer to the sea? Trade burgeoned in 16th century Venice, thrived in 17th century Netherlands and reached the apex in 18th century Britain. Frequency of interactions releases social energy that is contagious. This is precisely the reason we like highly energetic people and would prefer their presence. Positive energy levels produce greater scope for progress which can be observed in the case of cities. Rampant migrations from villages and small towns still occur because people value the city’s Energy levels and are subconsciously aware that energy is one crucial reason for accomplishment.

Development of humans can be primarily traced to one single factor that materialized after Man entered the vital stage- Valuing a person for his skills and capacities. This is how employment as a system was born. Communication media acted as the midwife delivering knowledge to the world, cutting the umbilical cord called orthodoxy. That conformity (the cord) is still prevalent, lurking in our hearts and minds waiting for a chance to tie the society (the child) to its much revered ancient roots, is undeniable, but the child in this context is no longer a child. The Child, represented by the Individual members of the society, can cut the cord by itself—if and only if it chooses to.

Humans first produced coins in the little known kingdom of Lydia. China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and other parts of the world may have used something similar to Money but they did not actually use coins until the rise of Lydia where Money is said to have been first born. This is again a misconception, for, before giving Money (or whatever he called it) a definite form, the human Mind gave birth to the idea of Money which preceded the actual occurrence. It is ideas as opposed to the results that matter; an idea, even if it is not endorsed by the majority, can change the way the whole world functions. Ideas are most effective in a Society in which Freedom acts as the basic Social Value. Suppressing Social Values is like locking Ideas in a store house and knowingly throwing the key away yet wondering what went wrong with the lock. Values are the key to unlocking a Society’s potentials.   

The wealth of Lydia arose from trade. Lydians used the newly introduced coins as a standardized medium of exchange and the city became the center of innovation when the kings of Sardis (the chief station of Lydia’s manufactures) introduced the retail trading market system where even a stranger could sell in the central marketplace openly. This medieval marketplace system that began in the late seventh century B.C. would later pave the way for the emergence of shopping malls.

Man realized barter had its own limitations and wanted something unrestrained that would make him get what he wanted. For barter to be a feasible mechanism, the trader should have what the other wants and want what the other has—an unlikely occurrence. Trade has gone a long way since the early days of barter where people had to be physically interacting to make transactions possible to the stage where the stock market functions without the buyer meeting the seller, thereby creating a virtual bond of trust that communicates that the fundamental activities of the market have differed very little; what was once a bag of spices or a bowl of fresh milk is now bartered as stocks and shares. The operating principle of sites like Amazon which are modern day markets is just this: Create an invisible market where buyer doesn’t have to meet seller yet make transactions possible by creating an undercurrent of social value called Trust. What connects the buyer who may be one from a small town where everything right from the currency to language may be different, to the seller who might be a sophisticated millionaire who would never have known about the place of the seller until the transaction was made, is what interests us the most. What is the invisible power behind that unites the buyer and the seller, entangling them in a web of invisible trust that leverages the potential of human network?

The point to be analyzed here is, Money as a system was introduced many centuries ago. Why then did it take a long time for Man to prosper or rather, what made Man remain oblivious to the specialty of his creation? When Man first created Money he was in the Physical stage where Money, though in the form of commodity exchange, carried a strong physical aspect to it wherein its usage was restricted only to consumption. It was only during the days of trade that Man started relating to another emotionally-- a state in which he had to rely on other community members for trading. Aristocrats and elites in Europe got their power from Money during this age. Money emerged as a greater Power after the Mental stage dawned. Why? Because the origin of ideas added a whole new dimension to the conception of Money. Even Education which is associated with the Mental, is measured in terms of Money. Why has Man become his own creation’s slave? Money, although a Mental Organization, is Vital in its essence because it carries a strong Social setting. It is the Vital that provides the intensity for any Organization or even a simple idea to develop. Money presides over even Education because of the Vital intensity the Society gives it. Both Education and Money, Mental Organizations, have expanded only quantitatively; not qualitatively; their becoming qualitative depends on Man’s efforts and productive capacities.

Here is where the subject of Organization must be broached. Social development is the product of organization at the Physical, Vital and Mental levels. Explaining the theoretical principles of Physical, Vital and Mental organizations won’t convey anything to a casual reader. Practical examples help when language’s ineptitude is a hindrance. Roads are an example of Physical Organization. Governance, an example of Vital and Internet, that of the Mental. Money, the magical Social Power that connects the globe, is a Mental Organization too. What language is to the Society, Money is to the Market.

What we call Social Organization is fundamentally Individual Organization. At the Individual level, any work done with perfect Organization leads to Accomplishment. During the process of Development, the Society organizes its energies twice; subconsciously and consciously. In the subconscious stage of organization, the energy wouldn’t permeate all the sides; it is present primarily as a subconscious observation that later paves the way for the emergence of Social Aspiration which subsequently becomes Individual Aspiration. But how, we may wonder, the subconscious Aspiration of the Society becomes the conscious urge in the Individual!

The subconscious aspiration becomes a conscious urge when the energy pervades the society’s whole being, thereby showing the readiness of the society to aspire for higher levels. For example, Indians, even ten-fifteen years ago, wouldn’t have dreamed that they would be potential consumers; but India has defied all scary diagnoses by world experts who too positively opined her overpopulation was going to make her very very poor. That their predictions have turned out to be wrong is true, but even a subjective statement has an objective truth to it. What was once ‘poverty’ is now ‘income inequality’, which is a far more serious subject. Anyway, we see energy levels pervading the Indian society at the Social base which is of the Vital.

The readiness of the Society to develop is marked by the emergence of the Individual who represents the Society’s Aspiration by organizing the Social Energy consciously. We will take the same Indian consumer market as an example. When less than 5 million homes had a telephone connection in India in 1990, BSNL, India’s public sector telecommunications Corporation decided to creatively meddle with the scenario by installing Public Call Offices (widely called PCO s) all over the country. An organization of Social energies at the right time (which shows the readiness of the society) resulted in an exceptional growth of the Indian telecommunication industry. India has 653.92 million telephone subscribers (both landline and mobile phones) as of May 2010. But the scope of the market is greater still; India is projected to have a mobile phone subscriber base of 1.159 billion by 2013 which would be 84% of the population and the promising industry is expected to provide employment for at least 10 million people during the same period.

The society instills the Will needed for the Individual to accomplish when its readiness matures. Here too, the Society’s energies would saturate only the Individual who develops the qualities needed for representing the Society. This is not a predetermined process but rather one that is wholly decided and determined by the Individual. The Individual is not the chosen one; his choices make him the Society’s choice. The conscious urge is resonated purely by human choices. Here is where Social Values play their part. When a society directs its energies positively, its members control life by making constructive choices which ultimately leads to development. A negative expression leads to life controlling Man as seen in the case of autocratic regimes. A society’s levels of Organization depend on the Values it adheres to, which invariably have a direct effect on its Development. Thus, social development is the development of organization of the social energy pervading a society at the physical, vital and mental levels, having social values as its main milieu.

That all levels of organization are interrelated is evident from the fact that Democracy arose primarily in Greece in city-states like Athens which had a strong market based on solid currency. It is said Mind was born in Greece. I would say Greece prepared itself for the emergence of the Mind by perfecting all levels of Organization. The revolutionary spread of commerce led to the emergence of new temples, philosophy, poetry and science in Greece. We often speak of literacy as if it were the only factor that influenced progress. Early Man learned to count numbers and do math calculations long before Education as a field emerged. Private, family Banks emerged first in Northern Italy, where the moneylending bank men lived and worked in the marketplace unlike their contemporaries who operated from castles, thus making money reach even the bourgeois and the lower classes. The word ‘bank’ derives its roots from the way the Italian moneylenders did business and is derived from a word meaning “table” or “bench”. Like other traders, they set up large benches from which they not only traded goods, but also gave loans. At its heights as a banking city in 1422, seventy-two international banks operated out of Florence. It is no small detail that the rich banking families created the Renaissance and that it was in Florence that the Renaissance was centered. Further, the expansion of banking made Italy a center of Mathematical development.  Since then, the society has travelled many a developmental road in varied aspects of Organization— from bullock carts to airplanes, from lawlessness to democracy, from paper money to plastic money, from insecure members to aspiring godheads—delineating which is the not primary objective of this article which has been chiefly aimed at making the reader visualize the transition the world has had over the years and realize that Social development is fundamentally Individual development. In other words, the Society’s subconscious organization is fueled by the conscious aspirations and indomitable Will of its individual members who are the sole determinants of Social Development.

Contrary to popular opinion, Money’s role as a Social Power extends not only to the field of transactions; its power extends far beyond that. Say, the power of the elite is really the power of Money—his status decides his position in the Society. In the case of Lydia, the commercial revolution provoked widespread changes in the society to the extent that women were allowed to choose their own partners. The accumulation of coins provided greater freedom for the women who made their own dowries and had greater freedom to choose their lives. Money is a convenient substitute for various services owed to political authorities. Instead of giving a portion of his produce to authorities, the peasant pays the tax. Money does not make people intelligent; it makes them creative.

The reforms made in ancient Greece by Solon, the lawgiver, had a great impact on the distribution of power. Money had a liberating power on the Athenians that eligibility for election to public office was based on landed wealth, a consequence of Solon’s reforms that democratized politics. It is by constant circulation that Money flows; not by saving or accumulating it. The same is true of knowledge.   

Money is the central focus in The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s plays which brings out the ideal of the times. While traditional themes such as love and honor were dealt with by his contemporaries, Shakespeare introduced the conception of Money as an instrument for testing human character—a test that ultimately shows Money would be a deserted island without Values.

When the United States issued its first coins in 1787, the American settlers decided to distinguish their American dollar from European coins that bore the image of a monarch by using inscriptions and allegorical figures, rejecting the idea of using Washington’s image, arguing that the Money of a free, democratic people should not bear portraits of politicians because the very act exhibited too much elitism and royalty. We see Freedom and Equality acting as Social Values here, the very same values that have made America what she is today.

To understand Money as a Social Power, we need to understand how the Social Energy gets converted into Social Power. In simple words, how Society, with its abundant evolutionary Energy, creates a symbol which is in essence more than a mere symbol. We usually take any symbol at its face value not willing to look beyond it.

For Man to accept a social value like Trust and stick to it dutifully, a certain measure of authority is needed. Authority was primarily based on physical strength when Man was predominantly in the Physical plane of existence. When he progressed to the Vital stage, an extension of violence was subtly projected as fear in the minds of the meek lower stratums. Social values become Individual values when Man reacts to authority positively by sublimating the basis of authority to higher levels; here, he sublimated his fear to higher Vital emotions like obedience, honesty and cooperation. By the process of sublimating the lower levels of its values associated with physical authority to higher levels like Unity makes the Social Energy get converted into Social Power which eventually makes Development possible. The Society sublimating lower physical values to higher vital ones leads to Civilization. Years of subconscious experience associated with the sublimation process is accumulated as Culture in the Society and what we call Values are an expression of the society’s knowledge exhibited consciously by its collective members. It may well be said that Culture without high Values is Civilization. What questions are to the Mind, Values are to the Society. An Individual who sublimates his low Values to higher ones will accomplish.

Edward Bellamy, an American author most famous for his utopian novel, ‘Looking backward (1888)’ set in the year 2000, predicted or we may as well say aspired for, the arrival of credit cards and the emergence of the stock market at the time when luxuries started becoming essentials in the country which defied all conventional norms and took to self-sustaining industrial development that is unparalleled in world history. In this socialistic utopian novel which is centered on the future, Bellamy talks about people getting retired at the age of 45 with full benefits, drastically reduced working hours and an almost instantaneous internet-like delivery of goods which have become an enduring reality today. Here we see the idealistic aspiration, albeit subconscious, of the times reflected in the writings of Bellamy, which in turn portrays the Society’s maturity which made idealism turn overnight, figuratively, into realism in the first place. But today’s idealism becomes tomorrow’s realism if and only if the right choices are made.

Money, like ideas, has the power to self-multiply, an act akin to Creation, if the creator reminds himself he is the creator and not the possessed and uses Money as it is meant to be used.

Money is no longer just a medium of exchange, as is evident from the rise of the Internet where everything including knowledge, is available for free—the words ‘Open Source’ acting as a euphemism for ‘free’ in the case of software. The word ‘Open’ here symbolizes Equality, a higher Spiritual truth that conveys ‘Knowledge is open to all’ and the word ‘Source’ is symbolic of the ineffable, invisible space that binds us all! Put in other ways, even the value of Money in the age of the all-pervasive internet has transcended monetary exchanges and entered the realms of the Spiritual Stage the primary characteristic of which is based on growth by giving. The Internet has made possible a new world of collaborative production that has its roots embedded in the power of networking, a Vital aspect. This is precisely the reason Man is enamored of Money and the Internet, two Social Powers that he created to harness the dividends of collective genius. The driving force behind this shift is the human aspiration to evolve. Evolution is not an evolution of forms but that of the essence- the human consciousness.

A brief analysis of the evolution of communication media in the context of Social Development will help us trace the transition the world has had over the years and comprehend how communication media have conquered both Time and Space.

Man’s obsession with anachronisms stops him from progressing to the next higher stages. Rituals originated when what needed to be remembered couldn’t be recorded. Man, with his creative capacity, came up with a mechanism to not only remember the events but display them ostentatiously and transmitted his apocryphal beliefs as information to the future generations. Though it’s true that rituals heralded social solidarity at the time when there was no significant communication media, they are pathetically rooted in the past. Development and Accomplishment are of the Present and are neither of the Past nor of the Future. But the question to be raised here is, rituals as a social anachronism can be wiped out with increasing educational levels, but what of the rituals of the Mind that are a bar to our progress? Say, closed-mindedness is a ritual the human mind can’t conquer easily. Sri Aurobindo calls the capacity to limit ourselves to the Mind and our not being aware that we are all part of the same Reality, as Egoistic Ignorance.

Medieval nations were largely based on oral communication and preaching acted as the frontier technology in delivering information to the masses. Then came the age of gazettes and newspapers which drastically changed the way the world functioned. Venice and the Netherlands, the centers of world trade, were the prime hubs of the newspaper industry. After Gutenberg introduced the movable type printing press, about thirteen million books were circulating by 1500 in a Europe of 100 million people. About 2 million were produced in Venice alone. The dissemination of information took place like never before and the fact that printed books were much cheaper made people aspire to become literate. An Italian writer was already complaining in 1550 that there were ‘so many books that we don’t even have time to read the titles’.

With the arrival of newspapers arose the conceptions of public opinion and national consciousness. But any technology has had its own share of being ridiculed by luddites and the printing revolution that gave birth to the Renaissance was no exception. Print shops were tightly regulated and were allowed to publish anything as long as they didn’t cover local or national events which meant they could be shut down if they offended the authorities by writing against the government or religion. Early newspapers usually carried articles that exhibited anything but their authors’ point of view. America spearheaded the newspaper revolution by daring to speak for the right to honest criticism when John Peter Zenger of the New York Weekly Journal agreed to start a newspaper that would express the colonists’ point of view; the immediate result was his being charged with seditious libel by the governor. That he was acquitted by the jury is another story but this could never have happened in conventional Europe.  

Next in line was the telegraph which enabled newspapers for the first time to fill their pages with news that happened the day before in cities hundreds and thousands of miles away. When Morse first started building the telegraph network, there were few dozen miles of wire and sending a message from London to Bombay and back took ten weeks. Within thirty years, there were over 650, 000 miles of wire and messages could be sent from London to Bombay and back in as little as four minutes. Telegraphy also helped ‘shape’ language. Rather than spell out every word letter by letter in strenuous detail, the telegraphers started using abbreviations which added succinctness to language and brought out the subtlety of brevity in communication.

Every communication medium that has revolutionized the world has functioned by way of networks. It is essential to note that all technologies are run by people—real people whose networking capacity gives the medium the value it possesses. Left to itself, no technology will flourish. Though technologies like the Internet are Mental Organizations, they are associated with the Vital which supplies the Energy for interactions. It is people who act as the driving force for any social networking site on the Internet. This should explain why overpopulated countries which were hitherto predicted to become fallen powers skyrocketed to become ‘potential Superpowers’. But size alone isn’t the defining attribute; to the measure a Society values its individual members, it climbs the developmental ladder fast unfazed by external forces.   

I could go on and reiterating communication media’s glory but the chief motif of the paper is to observe how and why the innovations occurred as opposed to a mere mention of endless facts. The Internet’s ingenious functionality is something Man is in awe of, but he negligently forgets the fact that it was his Mind that created technology. Merely knowing when what occurred is not our concern. As food supply became abundant and trade flourished, prosperity made Man seek social status and further, Education- that which gave him respectability and in addition, confidence. This new-born confidence made him extremely creative. Just like a tree which can stand tall only if its roots are strong, the Society’s members can develop only if their basic needs are met which is based on their valuing Money for its Social Power and not eschewing/hoarding/squandering it.

A science that considers humans as closed systems and a Society that chooses to linger in the vestiges of ancient history will not appreciate the evolution of openness to ideas and most importantly, opportunities. Religious leaders in ancient times compared new technology to the likes of ‘black magic’ and rightfully prompted the society to be careful of this ‘suspicious’ innovation of Morse’s for, ‘if we continue to be continue we will be more injured than helped’; modern day technocrats are no better. In any Society, skepticism always precedes enthusiasm; so, suffice it to say that skepticism is an assured sign that heralds the gradual dawn of the new times.



A social history of the media by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke

Communications in India: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_in_India

The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage