Well, to answer the question the title posits, we need to turn to Deleuze & Guattari and their concept of the rhizomatic structure. It’s such an interesting theory, particularly as, written in 1980, it seems to foretell much of the way the Web has grown, and indeed, continues to grow.
In the introduction to their important work A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze & Guattari compare the arborescent structure of trees with the rhizomatic structure of grass, claiming that
The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and…and…and’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’
This structure in which one is ‘always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo‘ is one which travels horizontally and consists of a series of plateaus: ‘a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end’.
A good online example of this is the blog. Constructed of a series of posts, it offers an articulation of the rhizome through its refusal to begin and end. When we sit down to read a blog, we rarely read it chronologically – we are encouraged through tagging and links embedded within the text to move freely through the blog. Unlike the codex, which traditionally constructs the reading experience from cover to cover, the blog offers a more organic understanding of the text.
Similarly, the way we are choosing to narrate our own subjective experiences through online tools appropriates the rhizomatic structure. One only has to look at a lifestream aggregator such as FriendFeed or StoryTlr to see that we are generating multiple narratives in multiple locations, through multiple media.
If we compare our current interaction and the articulation of our own narratives with the Web as it existed in its earlier incarnation, we can see a correlation to this juxtaposition of the arborescent and the rhizomatic. In the past, we were presented with static websites that offered no invitation to connect, collaborate or co-create. These sites existed as complete and finished texts that kept their reader at arms length.
In stark contrast, our experience of the Web as it currently exists is one in which we are always in the middle. We are never outside the text, regarding a finite textual structure; we are invited in to share, contribute, participate with the text. Our narratives form a thread within the fabric, refusing the isolationism of old and embracing the richness of hybridity.
Now, as with my thoughts of Bourdieu and De Certeau, these are purely musings which are not intended to stand, as with the web of old, as finite, complete and closed. I want to invite you in to co-create by asking you to engage with some of these thoughts and to see if some of the connections that I’ve sketched out here resonate with you.
Do you think they’re valid observations? Are the images of the tree and grass appropriate, effective metaphors for your experience of your relationship to media and, in particular, the Web? As a reader, how has your reading experience changed with the advent of blogging and other online media designed to help you articulate your own narrative? What do you believe are some of the reasons for this shift?