Regenerating Social Networks: Learning from Fungi and the Wood Wide Web

Alistair Alexander

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There are vast networks of fungi under our feet that have existed for thousands of years; some stretch for thousands of kilometres, connecting trees, plants and other life together in an entangled mesh of mutual support and care. What if our digital social platforms were more like fungi networks?

Our Social Media networks have wrapped themselves around our world and our lives, and seem to extract everything they can; maybe fungi and mychorrizal networks, the networks between fungi and trees, have something to teach us. Could we also network in a way that doesn’t deplete or extract from us, but could actually regenerate us?

In this talk we’ll leave our digital networks – and our phones – behind, and we’ll explore a world of truly organic social networks: the world of fungi.

We’ll explore some of the characteristics of fungi networks; mutual support, (mostly) slow but meaningful growth, how every node contributes – and then is in turn nourished by the network. And we’ll look at how that compares to our own digital networks; how and why they have rapidly developed, or even metastasized, to planetary scale. We’ll look at their key characteristics, and why they often do us more harm than good.

We’ll look into the latest research on digital social networks, for example on information resilience and on positive “bridging algorithms”, and we’ll see how these approaches show striking similarities to patterns we see in fungi networks when they detect signs of toxic activity.

Perhaps by looking at fungi we can find new patterns of engagement that can help our online connections become networks of trust, solidarity and care.

You can of course pick up your phone at the end of the talk....should you still want to.

But maybe you’ll want to exchange it for an altogether more connected life – underground.