In Mark Wigley’s “Network Fever”, he mentions how intellectuals, most notably Marshall McLuhan and Buckminister Fuller, were concerned with “visible aesthetics for the invisible net.” Some said because our cities we inhabit are the information system of an artificial brain and an extension of our own hyperextended body, to redesign network is to redesign our body, city, and human body-network. Wigley denounced those attempts, saying they are merely “poetic image” of the invisible communication infrastructure whose influence had grown throughout the century.
This struggle remains today as we try to visualize data and the overall networks of information flow. The expansion of “data-visualization” as an academic study and many companies’ creation of data visualization departments are contemporary examples of our effort to map out the invisible net. The visual of “networks” that we are commonly accustomed to is a picture of countless dots dispersed in indefinite space connected with a web of hundreds of lines connecting the nodes (as shown below).
It seems almost outlandish to visualize our whole network of connectivity since everything is now connected, especially with the growth of Internet of Things. Our bodies, our smart homes, our social media all connects us to so many things that we are not even aware of. Marshall McLuhan predicted, technologies have expanded our bodies so much so that the size of the planet shrunk to the size of a village. This could be extended to say that our planet has reduced to the size of a phone screen, albeit bits of invisible information.
What is interesting to note is this seesaw between invisible and visible networks have let us to anthropomorphize our invisible network through artificial intelligence. Communication methods evolved from human to human, human to telephone, human to computer, computer to computer, and now human to computer that acts and thinks like human. Because of our inability to fully visualize our complicated network, especially the Internet, we have now made our own network behave like ourselves. Whether or not this is a successful method to understand an invisible, intangible system is still a question. However, it is nevertheless changing dramatically the way we communicate with each other human beings as well as with machines.