Saturday, March 26, 2011

Connected: Or How We Should All Just Mind Our Own Business and Listen to Cheap Trick

     But in the case of the book by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD and James H. Fowler, PhD, it appears that we, the people, at least scientifically speaking, cannot help but be influenced by the other people and the activities of the other people that flurry around us. For Chapter One’s [In the Thick of It] grim description of a series of family-connected murders in the Mediterranean, I even drew out a graph to keep up with the connections of who went after who and why.
     In the study of network science and theory, Christakis and Fowler take on what seems an almost common sense approach to their revelations, which makes the book an easy read. I was even curious about some of the items that were on the jacket cover. For example, “You will never date your ex-partner’s current partner’s ex.” For some reason, I was thinking that singer Shania Twain had actually broken some unwritten human code, because she recently completed that task (divorcing her ex- and then marrying his best friend) – but the authors brought this question (p.99) about in the context of high school relationships, not multi-million dollar celebrities.
     As such, the study of network science and theory takes a simple question, and attempts to answer with, again, results that seem to be common sense answers. For example, take the question that I saw on Twitter the other day:

@hearitlive A buddies older brother turned me on to Cheap Trick when I was 9 - i thought he was pretty cool. Does that still happen?

     So the way that we listen to music it the same way that we used to listen to music and DOES that kind of activity (older kids influencing younger kids) even happen anymore? I think it’s a legitimate question. Kids used to have turntables in their rooms and big 12” x 12” works of art [that held the LP] to look at while listening to their favorite bands play their favorite song, lyrics usually included with the LP cover sheet. Younger brothers and sisters and the friends of the younger brothers and sisters would sneak into that bedroom and find albums that they were not listening to or had ever heard of, exposing them to a different music style or band that they never would have heard about on their own. A pre-teen might hear the Doors for the first time, and because they were so much younger than the teenager, would be even that much more influenced by the experience of hearing this band music.
   Today, everyone is rockin’ the earbuds. Not many people I know buys CD’s. And although there has been a slight resurgence in discovering music on LP’s and the experience of hearing music on a turntable (Half-Price books usually has a good stream of young adults checking out their LP section most weekends), it seems like the music-experience, aside from attending a concert or commenting on the latest episode of American Idol on Twitter, seems to be a solitary experience.
     And because there seems to be such an over-saturation of the market, in terms of avenues and modes of availability in which you can access different types and styles of music - not just 'The Hits' - the way that young kids are even exposed to new [or even old] bands changes every day. The authors might agree.
     Therefore, I think that Connected can shed light on a lot of questions such as:
  • Why certain musical acts don’t get into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame? 
  • How diseases and/or contagions spread through certain communities and not others? 
     Connected was written in 2009 and already some statistics have changed. For example, the average user on Facebook now has 130 friends, not 110. This number is still below of what the author's discuss as Dunbar's theory (p. 248) - 150 being the the limit as to which humans have the ability to recognize, monitor and assess other people within their network without being overwhelmed by not knowing who is who, friendly vs. hostile, etc. One interesting aspect of of this theory is that modern armies have remained small even to this day, "...suggest[ing] that communication is not the crucial factor. More important is the human mind's ability to track social relationships, to form mental network maps that track who is connected to whom and how strong or weak, cooperative or aggressive, those relationships are."
     As the authors discuss the Internet and its impact on social relationships, they discuss how e-mail was the earliest versions of our online social networking ability. And just as e-mail was condensed so that one e-mail address came to represent one identity, so too will we soon have one profile that "allows one to traverse many virtual worlds and social networks." (p.274) However, we may be required to share our friends on Facebook, but I can still choose to participate minimally.
     As the number of our online social circle grows past what we can truly feel comfortable controlling, will people begin to segment their interests into different personalities/profiles? How much will this compartmentalization change the value structure of the identity represented?   

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