2013 Reading reading

Reading 2013: Connected

February 20, 2013



Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives is a pop sociology book written by Drs. Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler.

For those of us who have experienced the majority of our lives connected to the Internet, it could be easy to think that it has been the Internet (and slightly prior to that, globalization) that has brought about our social networks. But the authors assert that these social networks were already operating and in place, and online social media such as Facebook were so successful because they operated on the age-old social networks that have existed for millenia. Yet it is also true that the speed at which it is seen and develops is different than other eras of history, as is the accessibility.

Is obesity contagious? Connected argues that it is, and has the data to prove it. But conversely, so is healthy living. And so are both depression and happiness. Cross-pollinating a little from reading The Power of Habit, it would seem that not only does our own personal habit change affect other habits through keystone habits, but our personal keystone habits could potentially have a major impact on a large number of people (and in the case of obesity, a number of large people).

Most of us who are online and members of online social networking sites will observe many of the influencing powers of social network in various ways. Interestingly, I see this in Pinterest and Goodreads a lot. For one, these networks reflect how we influence one another, from our reading choices (more obvious) to how we choose to decorate our homes (less obvious, because a pinned pictures doesn’t necessarily mean it happens or that the individual is pinning it for the same reason as others). But in a slightly different form of social netwerk influence, you might see one person pinning a good number of pins on Pinterest about fitness, and sharing a few Facebook statuses about running a 5K and losing weight. Next thing you know, five more friends are doing the same.

Similarly, we can readily observe degrees of influence on online social networks, and how they expose us to new and less familiar concepts and ideas. I personally have benefited from this on various sites by sometimes becoming “online friends” with someone who is a friend with an “in-real-life friend.” Sometimes, I’ve connected with the online friend over a point of commonality that I may not share with my real-life friend. And thus, while some of these online friends share common interests with me, they may also have broader or more niche tastes that I am exposed to through them. This is a classic illustration of social network influence that is discussed in the book.

Connected also examines a number of ways in which social networks drive and shape society, in instances such as voting. spread of disease (perceived and real), and matchmaking. There are a number of other fascinating concepts discussed in the book, such as how many friends is too many, how many people can work well together, and the difference weak and strong ties can make within relationships and across a social network.

This is a fascinating book, although parts of it are long and somewhat repetitive and large portions discuss aspects of social networks that are probably fairly obvious to society at large. As a sociology book, it’s not really a motivational book or self-help book, but it is definitely an interesting lens through which to understand ourselves and the people around use. Nonetheless, I tend to think that there are many sociological gems worthy of cross-pollinating to other areas of life, as well.

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