Publication date (electronic): 30 September 2006
On the importance of a certain slowness
In the analysis of complex systems there is often an emphasis on the plasticity and adaptability of the system. Coupled with perspectives from chaos theory—like the sensitivity to initial conditions, critical organization, bifurcations, and fractal complexity—this has led to a general understanding of complex systems as something in constant flux and susceptible to rapid change. Although these may indeed be important characteristics of complexity, it has led to descriptions that neglect the stability and the enduring structures necessary for the existence of complex systems. In order for a system to have any identity whatsoever, it cannot merely reflect its environment and the changes therein, it must also resist some of these changes. This is not always recognized in a culture where speed is linked with efficiency, and has become a virtue in itself. This paper argues for a certain “slowness.” It is not necessary to follow every trend in the environment; as a matter of fact it can be detrimental. This has implications for the way in which we interact with each other, and for the way in which we use new technology, especially the technologies for media and communication. Being too “quick” also has implications for our understanding of important notions like integrity and reliability. The way in which complexity theory is used to analyze the contemporary cultural landscape by certain theorists, particularly Mark Taylor, will be criticized. In the process reference will be made to novels by Sten Nadolny and Milan Kundera.
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