Complex systems have memory, not located at a specific place, but distributed throughout the system. Any complex system thus has a history, and the history is of cardinal importance to the behavior of the system.As a complex system organizes itself, it develops memory: those repeated and eventually stubborn processes and structures that the system depends upon for its identity and functioning. In a sense, these stubborn habits of body and mind are the counterpoints to the dynamism that allows the complex system to learn new things. Memory is vital to complex systems, and eventually serves as an invaluable aid to a complex system, automating some processes and tempering if not dampening new energies and information. As the memory of a complex system develops and becomes stronger, it enters into what Edgar Morin calls a dialogic relationship with a system dynamism, or in educational terms: growth, learning, and development. Memory resists change, and change modifies memory. Complex systems, then, come to rely upon the constant tension between memory and learning, with memory sometimes taking the upper hand, and sometimes losing to new knowledge. This tension is not dialectical as there is no resolution or synthesis; rather, the complex system depends upon the constant, non-equilibrium and tension between memory and change.
Our writing swarm and its documents, for instance, cannot be understood and accounted for without some knowledge of its history and memory. Most immediately, the people in our swarm all shared the #rhizo14/15 MOOCs facilitated by Dave Cormier of the University of PEI. #rhizo14/15 takes its name (I think of it essentially as one course) from the rhizome of Deleuze and Guattari's philosophical work A Thousand Plateaus, and the swarm is in many ways another metaphor like a rhizome for complex systems. Thus, all of us were primed by #rhizo14/15 for thinking in terms of swarms and complex open systems.
Then, we are all connected to higher education either as students, professionals, or both, and we all share an interest in the new forms of higher education emerging and being discussed on the Net—hence, our attraction to #rhizo14/15. Particularly relevant to our current writing projects, we have all mastered the art of academic research and writing that is required for academic success. Some of us even teach research and writing to our own students. Thus, the new kinds of writing emerging on the Net are of keen interest to us professionally and personally, and our curiosity must be framed within the context of our professional work.
Next, we are all competent or better users of modern information technology. If we haven't used a particular tool that interests the swarm, then we are all adept at mastering the new tool in short order. Google Docs, the tool that we have focused on the most, was an easy decision for all of us, and we were all able to push it to its technical limits.
We need to talk about our swarm memory, such as we can remember it. And this brings me to a final point about memory in swarms: memory is distributed and not necessarily evenly. Thus, no one member of the swarm has all the memories. Even Google Docs, which records and date/time stamps every key stroke, does not have any memory of the tweets, texts, and Facebook messages among the humans, nor of their readings and research. Yet all of this memory is necessary for a full understanding of the identity of the swarm and of the documents that it has produced.