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Encapsulated • Posted: Sep 18, 2010 10:35:51Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

There was a somewhat unusual social experiment going on this week at a small college in Pennsylvania. For one week, all students and faculty were asked to forego use of social media such as Facebook and text messaging while on campus. As follow up, students will be asked to write of their experience while researchers will tally any changes in class attendance and assignment punctuality. The question of how humans relate to one another and the consequences of those relations is, of course, the core interest of most social scientists. New forms of relationship always bring about changes in the status of both individuals and institutions. These days, there is much fascination with the rapid cascading effects of multi-point message origination. Strongly centralized governments are particularly wary of losing control. And fringe groups have become increasingly hopeful of leveraging a world-wide revised social order with minimum effort. All apprehension and hope is squelched, however, if contemporary high-speed networks are shut down or crippled. The above experiment may help illustrate some of those facts and potentials.

As interesting as connection is, isolation is perhaps more so. Isolation allows for the establishment and maintenance of individual integrity. Beginning with viral protein coats and cell walls, all living systems employ isolation to develop and maintain ordered integrity. Structure and process integrity are, perhaps, the essence of what distinguishes living from non-living, something theoretical physicist Erwin Schrodinger labeled "negative entropy". Entropy is a measure of disorder. Non-living processes proceed toward increased entropy. Living processes proximally create and feed upon zones of negative entropy. Encapsulation establishes a boundary between the two tendencies. The above experiment may help a unique culture of learning reestablish itself on campus.

On a world-wide scale, new forms of social media may prompt the dissipation of older social relations, but they also allow for new forms of integrity to evolve. Individuals, drawing upon disparate low cost resources, can now develop knowledge and expertise they'd never be able to develop through older, more time consuming, and costly social channels. On the other hand, those same individuals can now more easily disconnect from the norms of understanding, concern, and practice that have traditionally bound us together and develop truly aberrant and possibly anti-social forms of intellectual integrity. In consequence, will we as a group ever become comfortable with the distinctly different wandering within our midst?

The kaleidoscope is turning. It will be fascinating to watch what new patterns develop.

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010