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Let us mesh together

When I started installing wireless lighting control systems, I was introduced to a compelling invention: the mesh network. Don't google search it until after you read this blog series all the way through, because you'll get the wrong idea of what I'm going to say here.

The ideal mesh network consists of nodes that can function independently as well as part of a network. In the case of a lighting system, each can control a single light- on, off, dim. Add one or two more nodes (light switches), have them talk to one another and then you start to do some cool stuff. When the first one comes on the other two can come on a few seconds later, or you could have the other two dim with the first, or they can turn on or off in a sequence, or...the possibilities seemed almost endless. The program, or lighting "scene", was distributed amongst the individual switches, each only having to remember it's own job. Say you had two scenes. The first switch would recieve a button push for scene 1, do it's thing and then just tell the next node, " hey, scene 1." The first switch wouldn't know what the other ones were supposed to do, it didn't have to know. The more nodes you add in this sort of network, the more versatility and power the network possessed.

The most powerful thing about a mesh network is that if you lose a node, the other nodes continue to function in what remains of the network. The individual switches would keep doing their thing if one lost power and dropped out. That is what really struck me about the technology. It was very, very hard to crush a mesh network- as long as the nodes were designed well enough. To maximize profits, the nodes got made cheaply which stiffled the advancement of mesh network in the open market.

The opposite of the mesh network is what I called a "hub" network. In a hub network, the nodes could still function independently, but depended on a central hub to control any coordinated action. All nodes are slaves in a hub network. If the hub goes down, everything can only serve it's basic function and no network actions are possible. These network types came to dominate the market despite their obvious weaknesses. It was cheaper to have all the programmable computing power in one hub and add cheaper, less advanced nodes than to spread that computing power over equally sophisticated meshed nodes. The mesh network outperformed in sustainability, but only with more investment and resources dedicated to the overall system.

As with everything in this universe, all things abide by reoccuring principles. At the time, I likened the hub network to an organism, like ourselves, with a central nervous long as the brain lived, life remained. The mesh network was more akin to a pool of bacteria working together to make a micro-ecosystem using competition and symbiosis; even if only one drop stayed populated, then life persisted, irregardless of which drop it was. It wasn't until recently, however, that I began to see this dichotomy on a societal scale.

Written history we are taught seems to be dominated by hub networks, generally following the stories of governments and institutions. We are taught a timeline of hubs replacing previous hubs. There are some examples of meshed models, however. Pre-european contact native americans and pre-romanized europe come to mind, but these cultures tend to get lost in the shuffle of conquest, annexation and assimilation. They were not "perfect" meshes either. The more accurate way to describe a mostly confederate or tribal style culture would be a mesh network of hub networks; a council of tribes or an alliance of city states. This perspective seems to follow the story of a universe we've made of moving from disorder into order which is a theme woven into most stories past from one hub to the next. So it makes perfect sense to the educated mind to equate advancement with hubs gaining more power.

Things tend to keep doing what they have been doing. Objects in motion stay in motion; an uncoiled spring retains "coil memory"; habits are hard to break. So it is with hub societies. One hub may conquer another and assumes control of the nodes (subjects) or a hub splits into two or more hubs dividing up the nodes (like the fall of the holy roman empire). Sometimes, though, a hub fails leaving nodes with no hub to give direction. When this happens new hubs are created. These forms of node re-hubbing are rarely peaceful and are always accompanied by increased suffering (check out whats going on in Congo). No single hub has proven sustainable, but the hub structure continues to re-emerge. Habits are hard to break.

Our greatest power as human beings is to share our skills and stories with our children. As the stories, and insights we gain from them, travels through generations from mouth to mouth, each of us are able to add our own droplet into the ocean of human experience. So it has always been, so it is this way with the current ocean waves. The recognition of the problems with hub-thinking is emerging everywhere. Grassroots movements across the world are manifesting differently in every culture. The tea party, the occupy movement, the arab spring, the EU crumbling, the growing trend of employee run companies, peer-to-peer financing over the internet...the list of examples is long. These are steps in the right direction, but not the destination. Advancement goes in steps,oceans are made of drops, and stories change one sentence at a time.

I believe we have to start attempting to form meshed networks to bring this all into being. It may be atleast a few generations away, but if it doesn't start it won't get done. Just like the electronic mesh networks, it requires lots of individual attention and investment on each node. We CANNOT wait for the hubs to do it, because they never will. I don't believe the hubs will ever commit suicide like that. We have to do it, each individual must do their own part to create and nourish the node they are in. In pure democracy, everyone has equal ownership, which is equal responsibility. Our diversity is our strength, the only thing we really need to be in unison on is that we want to transcend the hubs of the past.

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