The Internet of Vibrant Ideas

If you’ve ever read the comments on a forum discussion or scrolled through Reddit, you know that a single idea, picture or video can catalyze thousands of responses that subsequently become their own tangential conversations until the idea has evolved into something completely different. Ideas online exist in a real-time, dynamic relationship: diverging, coming together, informing, denying and supporting, and no one idea stands still and does not evolve.

I see this as the vibrancy of ideas that the internet has created a space for. Bennet’s Vibrant Matter explores the idea of objects as actants- “quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” (viii) Her philosophy rejects the idea that humans are the sole actors in a world they manipulate, but are in a constant relationship with the objects in their physical habitat. The internet has created a space for the same dynamic relationship between humans and ideas.

In 1945, Vaneevar Bush wrote “As We May Think” an article calling scientists of his day to improve several technologies of the day. His focus was on the memex, a machine he envisioned being used to store books, articles and texts in a small space to be viewed easily on a screen. The most interesting aspect of this imagined machine was its ability to let the user connect two documents using a shared code. The user could attach many passages to quickly create a string of ideas from unrelated sources that could be revisited and shared. By connecting ideas in this way, allowing them to interact outside of their context (a book, a newspaper, a notebook, etc) the memex would be the first step in revealing the vibrancy of ideas- and a simplified, mechanical internet. A human could interact with ideas and then put them in a relation where they could interact with each other. Ideas, who, like objects, have their own “propensities and tendencies” would be more likely to reveal them when put into a dynamic system.

Riffing off Bush’s idea, Theodor H. Nelson published a paper in 1965 about his idea for a program that would make writing easier by allowing an author to connect various sources, drafts and notes. The important part of his idea for the vibrancy of ideas, however, was his understanding that the connections made must be easy to change. An idea in a book is static. An idea put in relation to other objects- being freed up to change its connections- starts to gain a life of its own. Adding, subtracting and shifting relationships give ideas a liveliness lets the idea start to show its own trajectory- where it really belongs.

Tim Burners-Lee created the hyperlinked web that actualized Bush and Nelson’s dream of a platform that allowed ideas to connect and expand. With so many users and the ease of linking content, the web became the ecology in which ideas could take on vitality and exist in a dynamic flux.

Today, even large companies are realizing that an idea, put on the internet and allowed to mingle with other ideas becomes greater than if it is left alone. Penguin Random House has started a website,, that allows aspiring authors to put up their work and accept critizism and critique from other users. They hope that putting creative work into an ecology where it can take on its own trajectory will foster ideas that would not exist otherwise.

Molly Barton, the Global Digital Director for Penguin Random House, talked about the project on an On the Media Podcast and talked about what happens when a manuscript is submitted that is generally considered bad. I see her answer as being analogous to Bennet’s idea of trash. She said that bad writing is usually ignored, but the beauty of the platform is that often a ‘bad’ piece of writing is discovered by someone or a group of someones that appreciate it. Bennett talks of trash that is left in a landfill, ignored, but when trash is considered in the monist system of vital matter it becomes important and meaningful. By taking the manuscript out of the static world of publishing, and incorporating it into the vitalizing ecology of the internet, it connects to other ideas and people and takes on a life of its own.

The importance of seeing the internet as a place where ideas obtain more agency, is that it shows us a huge potential the web has. Ideas loosed upon the internet, allowed to grow and change, can help or hinder us, but being able to notice and observe the changes- how it interacts with other ideas and with us- can broaden perspectives and give new insights. The purpose of the web since its inception has been to combine ideas to create better understanding, seeing that the ideas have a life of their can only deepen understanding.

-Tori Hill

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter. USA: Duke University Press, 2010. Print.

Berners-Lee, Tim et al. “The World-wide Web.” Communications of the ACM Vol. 38 No. 8, August 1994: 76. Print.

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, at 101-08




~ by torifranceshill on September 11, 2013.

5 Responses to “The Internet of Vibrant Ideas”

  1. This post is effective at supporting its content with pictures. The pictures serves to provide readers with a general idea of the topic of that specific paragraph. For example, I know by looking at the Tim Burners-Lee photo that the paragraph will discuss something about him and the WWW.

  2. Digging the style of this post, very down to earth, eloquent, inviting and straightforward. You also added pictures and I think you successfully adopted a style of neo-journalism where the reader is not bombarded with an objective tedious list of information. You have the voice of a young informed person that we –in this classroom– can all relate to.

  3. I love the thought of digital matter and ideas being “vibrant”. It’s surprising to see how we’ll Bennett’s ideas can apply to intangible “objects”. This kind of vibrant matter interacts easily with its own world (other ideas/people/systems on the Internet) but it’s even more shocking to see them have force in the “real” world. For example, you mentioned Reddit. How many times have threads been started (and subsequently self-censored) to try and solve crimes or locate suspects? This practice gained mainstream coverage recently during the tragic Boston bombings. It’s almost as if this digital, vibrant matter is fighting its way out of the screen and into real world events.

    – Kat D.

  4. I really enjoy the layout of your post. Seeing a clear, visual representation of the Memex itself is actually pretty helpful in understanding its functionality better. Also, the use of bold text for key figures and names of texts is a useful tool in referencing what texts you incorporated/key figures tied to the article.

    -Derek Kaneko
    Criteria 3

  5. This blog post, besides being concise and well-written, used HTML to enhance the reader’s experience of the article. It is satisfying to see the methods Bush and Tim Burners-Lee described in their literary and digital academic work employed when summarizing and expanding on said pieces. Additionally, the links enhance the knowledge gained from the article by easily allowing additional information without a disruption to the flow of the article.

    After being exposed to the works described in this blog, the blog itself becomes an extension of hyperlink and memex theory. To see the complicated and far-reaching ideas of the past compiled in such a simple and familiar way makes one appreciate the great minds it took to get there.

    Natalia Ramirez

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