Ceasar's Mind

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Posts Tagged ‘epidemics

The Social Lattice

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If you are familiar with chemistry, then you probably already know that graphite and diamond are both made out of Carbon. In any case, you probably know that graphite is weak and brittle, and diamond is the strongest natural known substance on Earth. The reason for these differences it turns out, is simply the structure of the crystal. In graphite, individual carbons atoms form weak bonds with nearby carbon atoms and form hexagonal structures, while layering themselves in sheets, with one hexagon on top of the other. The weak bonds between the sheets give graphite its softness, making it perfect for writing and lubrication. In diamond, on the other hand, carbon atoms form strongly bonded tetrahedron structures (three-sided pyramids) throughout the crystal, such that a force on any of the carbon atoms would be distributed fairly evenly among each of the atoms in the structure. Diamond therefore is remarkably strong.

Likewise, in social networks, it very frankly is unimportant how many connections people have between each other. What matters most is the structure. Consider for example, a weak social “crystal”. In a weak social crystal, the connections are few and far apart. A friend of Person A knows very few if any of Person A’s other friends, and likewise for every person in the network. Interaction in such a structure is very limited, with very reason little to party or gather (since none of a person’s friends know each other) and generally, I would presume that people are somewhat unhappy. Conversely, in a strong social “crystal” almost all the friends of Person A know the other friends of Person A. In such a structure, everybody pretty much knows everybody. Gathering would be frequent, and parties filled with friends. This kind of structure I would imagine is very happy, and very involved in social events.

In reality, what we typically find is a structure inbetween the two. People tend to make friends in clusters, for example, everyone on the soccer team probably knows everybody else on the team (proximity is a huge factor as well). Beyond that though, research has shown it comes down to genetics- some people like to introduce their friends to each other, and stitch together a close personal circle of which the leader can be comfortably embedded, while other people are content to leave their friends disconnected.

I consider this important for a few reasons. Firstly, if Gladwell has any reason in his words, then epidemics are impossible in weak social networks, and in clustered networks, they are only possible with Connectors. This implies that if our goal is to start epidemics, (say if standard mass marketing is too expensive for our budgets) then we either want to find strongly connected networks, or we can try to stitch one together ourselves. Furthermore, this implies that no radical social change can come about in weak networks (since radical change really requires an epidemic).

Therefore, as an (armchair unfortunately) activist myself, I would suppose it may be more important for protests to connect people than to demonstrate outrage or express ideas. In particular, special efforts should be made to strengthen the bonds of the people who are sort of on the fringe- the people who don’t know anybody already basically- but all in a very personal way, understanding the motivations of the fringe participants (preferably by connecting them to someone who can connect them to one of Gladwell’s Persuaders).

What we need also is a way to make our ideas Sticky. These social structures, I have neglected to mention, are very much unlike their Carbon counterparts, in that they are organic. New people, friends, and groups emerge, just as easily as they die. It then, is of utmost importance that our group doesn’t disintegrate as soon as it is formed. I am frankly unsure about how to do this though. I would presuppose that people who are concerned enough to come out to one of these meetings would be willing to increase their participation level to something more interesting (with emphasis on interesting, and perhaps I should add meaningful). Therefore, I would say that it is of utmost importance that these kind of meaningful activities exist, and furthermore, that the veterans of the group take the initiative and ensure that recruits are being connecting to these activities.

I think, should the effort be made to “collect people like stamps” a grassroots movement could be made effective.

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Written by Ceasar Bautista

2010/12/27 at 03:09