Thursday, February 17, 2011

Egypt Unchained

In the last month, the government of Egypt has fallen to demonstrators who simply refused to leave the Cairo city square. Organizing by using a cluster of social networks, the protesters have undone an oligarchy. Peer-to-peer networking has flattened a hierarchical pyramid.

Peer-to-peer networking is innately egalitarian. Anyone can call anyone on the telephone. The telephone network is a peer-to-peer network. Similarly, anyone can ask to become anyone's Facebook 'friend' and can then be kept informed automatically by email or xms phone messaging to which city square the friends and friends of friends will all be going to for lunch and picketing. Anyone can merely bookmark a Facebook page and look at it periodically to keep track of developments. Everyone in this peer-to-peer network has their own transmitter and receiver.

Peer-to-peer networking is 'many-to-many'. Anyone can be a node. All nodes are the same.

A 'network' is a bunch of connected nodes. Almost everyone is connected to many networks. People are nodes in networks of all sorts - family, church, school, work, even hobbyist networks. Ideas learned in the family are acted out at school and at work. Information moves from one network to another over nodes that are members of both networks.

A peer-to-peer network is the most general form of network, many-to-many. Any node can connect to any other node. Suppose a peer-to-peer network is overlaid with rules limiting activity between certain nodes? Suppose a set of nodes in a telephone network, which is many-to-many, are used as a phone tree? A phone tree is one-to-many. It is hierarchical.

Hierarchies are 'one-to-many' networks. One node connects to a set of subordinate nodes, these each connect to their own set of subordinate nodes, and so on. In a phone tree, one person passes a message to five, they pass it to another five, they pass it on, etc.

A phone tree is overlaid on a 'peer-to-peer' network, which makes it easy to repair. Loss of a node in a phone tree could mean the loss of a branch, but any other node can replace it, since all nodes are the same. Peer-to-peer networks can tend to be self-healing.

Like a phone tree, an oligarchy is also a hierarchy, in this case a political hierarchy which distributes power from the top in exchange for money and support from nodes below. Loss is harder to heal in an oligarchy. Nodes are not identical. Finding replacements for critical higher-ups may not be easy. The loss of a node may mean the loss of that node's whole branch.

Taking down an oligarchy may require only the recruitment of its critical higher-ups. Hosni Mubarek's departure from Egypt, for example, was expedited by the departure of his cabinet members.

Somebody put up a FaceBook page to honor a martyr. Anybody could have put up a FaceBook page to honor this martyr. Every martyr deserves a FaceBook page. This page was waiting to happen, and it became an organizing point. People who 'friended' this page could see who else 'friended' it and could 'friend' them as well. They could also visit the pages of their new friend's friends and 'friend' those people they find interesting. The availability of the generic network template - peer-to-peer - lets social aggregates form.

A salt which is dissolved in water until the water can hold no more can sometimes be made to precipitate out of solution if the container is given a little shock. The salt will pile up in crystals at the bottom of the container.

When a people have suffered as much from a government as they can tolerate, a little shock can lead them to connect and to find common ground. Today they coalesce over FaceBook and XMS. Armies are more or less helpless. Libya's army is attacking its own citizens, but the world has cut it off financially, so this may not last for long. The Information Age is devouring the Military Industrial Complex.

If a people can, themselves, peacefully throw off a military dictator, what use are soldiers?

What use is war?

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