Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nicholas Christakis - We're More Connected Than We Think

Nice series of videos from Big Think - I have to agree. Interconnectedness is reality, not a philosophical stance. Christakis is co-author (with James Fowler) of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

We're More Connected Than We Think

Other cultures may value conformity, but Americans are rugged individualists. For better or for worse, we think and choose for ourselves—from which indie band we listen to on the subway to which brand of candy bar we pick out at the supermarket to whether we give change to the homeless guy down the block. Right? Well, maybe not. Emerging social science research suggests that our smallest actions are far more susceptible than previously suspected to trends passing through our social networks. Here to reveal the power of your friend's friend's friend is Harvard sociologist Nicholas Christakis, in today's Big Think interview.

Christakis (co-author of "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives") isn't here to flatter us—he compares the human "superorganism" to fungi—but he does bring some good news. Since the social networks we're part of "magnify whatever [effects] they're seeded with," positive or negative, understanding them better can inspire new ways to benefit from them. For example, if you're a startup business building a network of relationships from scratch, he suggests that you can optimize it by partnering with an even mix of similar and dissimilar companies, such that the network that forms is neither too rigid nor too diffuse.

Although the words "social network" in this day and age are likely to make us think of Twitter and Facebook, Christakis doesn't believe that the Web has fundamentally changed human interaction all that much. The number of friends and acquaintances (online or off) with whom we maintain steady interaction is about the same now as it was in our grandparents' era—to say nothing of our deep evolutionary past. As for contemporary fears that we're too immersed in our online networks, at the expense of healthy solitude, Christakis reminds us that the Victorians worried once about the threat to peace and quiet posed by ringing telephones.

* * * * *
Nicholas Christakis

Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., is an internist and social scientist who conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care, and longevity. He is a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Professor of Medical Sociology in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School; and Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Christakis' current work is principally concerned with health and social networks, and specifically with how ill health, disability, health behavior, health care, and death in one person can influence the same phenomena in a person's social network. Most recently, Dr. Christakis has been exploring the joint genetic and socio-environmental determinants of the formation and operation of human social networks. His 2009 book, co-authored with James H. Fowler and published by Little, Brown and Company, is called "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives."

Nicholas Christakis

Physician & Social Scientist, Harvard
May 6, 2010 Interview with Nicholas Christakis
Full Interview 31:47 Discuss
How Humans Are Like Fungi 2:50 Discuss
The Chemistry of Social Networks 6:42 Discuss
The Power of Your Friend’s Friend’s Friend 5:12 Discuss
Trends Need More Than Shepherds and Sheep 5:09 Discuss
What Mastodon Hunting Tells Us About Networks 7:00 Discuss
The Web Isn't Changing Social Interactions 5:51 Discuss

No comments: