I attended a talk recently by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University. Dr. Christakis is the author of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, a stunning study of human social networks and how they affect who we are, what we eat and how we feel. Much of the same content was covered in Dr. Christakis’ TED talk in 2010.
Below I summarize some of the observations that I found particularly interesting:
- Body weight, as are body image norms, seem to be socially infectious. Obesity, it turns out, is a literal epidemic – not just a figurative one.
- Emotions are also socially contagious. So my happiness not only affects you – it can infect you too.
- The degree of interconnections between people in a network affects the characteristics of groups and how they function in different situations.
- Despite the rise of the connected digital world, we all have roughly the same number of close personal friends as people did before the rise of other revolutionary communications technologies, i.e., television, telephones, etc.
- Facebook has demeaned the word “friend”; yet “acquaintancing” doesn’t have the ring it that “friending” does.
- The notion that there are “influencers” out there presumes the existence of large numbers of people who can be “influenced”. The shepherd needs sheep.
- Real world influence is far more complex than online influence scoring implies. True friendship and respect play an important – and difficult to measure – role in influencing actions.
- ‘We are in an era of massive passive data.” Bank machines, credit card transactions, mobile phone data, website traffic, medical records, security camera monitoring, etc. are providing social scientists with unprecedented data stores.
- Human social networks thrive on good intentions and good will. In their absence, the networks would collapse.
- If “capital” can be understood as “any stock of resources that can be put to productive use”, then social capital is what we are building within our social networks.
- Human social networks exist to build social capital in ways that benefit participants in the network.