The book, written by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, is about "The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives". Weeks after reading the review I continued to think about my connections; my friends, my family and my online social network. I kept coming back to Facebook and Twitter and started to wonder how these things might be affecting me in ways I didn't even know!
If you don't feel like reading the (very short and very interesting) article, this snippet will give you some idea of what the research is about:
Christakis and Fowler explore network contagion in everything from back pain (higher incidence spread from West Germany to East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall) to suicide (well known to spread throughout communities on occasion) to sex practices (such as the growing prevalence of oral sex among teenagers) to politics (where the denser your network of connections, the more ideologically intense and intractable your beliefs are likely to be). And while it’s hardly surprising that emotion can be transmitted from person to person, the authors report that getting a $10,000 raise is less likely to make you happy than having a happy friend is — in fact, the raise is less likely to make you happy than is having a friend who has a friend who has a friend who is happy. They even argue — and this is sure to generate controversy — that the obsessive drive to create “nut free” environments is not the result of any real increase in children’s allergies but rather something akin to an epidemic of adult hysteria, spread via network transmission.
I had chosen to participate in Facebook and Twitter for a number of different reasons and for the most part I enjoyed both and found them to be useful and efficient in terms of creating invitations for events, promoting shows, (pushing my blog), etc. One argument from the article that might tip you towards involvement with these networks is the idea that "as among primates, those humans who are best able to manipulate social networks to their advantage thrive" and we all want to thrive and survive, but when does dipping a toe in the water cross over to drowning and do you have control and/or awareness of the transition from one level of involvement to the next? Due to the nature and speed of technology, specifically the Internet, I have to wonder if the rules for every type of interaction have changed completely! Monkeys picking nits are far from websites getting hits.
What finally pushed me to drop out of two of my major networks was the feeling that they possessed a growing energy much more powerful than myself and that that energy may not be a positive one. It may not be negative but it's too big for me to know what impact it could have on my life and it almost seems to have a life or presence of its own! Scott Stossel notes, "the more interesting implications are philosophical. A social network, while not quite sentient, acquires its own agency; it wants things, and it wants us, the nodes of which it consists, to do certain things, whether to gain weight or have oral sex at age 13."
I don't know the answer but I find it interesting to ponder: What does Facebook want me to do? What does Twitter want me to do?
The idea of the connectedness of a flock of birds was mentioned towards the end of the article and although I've written about this concept before and it always reminds me of a theatre technique called Viewpoints. One of the exercises we did in college under the Viewpoints technique involved moving in unison as much as possible in different formations with our eyes closed. Not trying to listen or guess what other people were doing the idea was to sort of "open up" to an unknown sense and to follow the impulses you received. It was a strange exercise and can be difficult to do but when it's happening it's amazing to see how people really do move together.
When I injured my back and saw a chiropractor/holistic healer, one of her healing concepts was to work with everyone in the same room at the same time to increase the healing trend from one patient to the next. I can't remember the name for this but she told me the theory had something to do with pendulums put in a room that eventually start swinging together.
If scientists, artists and healers have all danced around the same idea, as difficult as it may be to believe, I find it worth exploring. The bottom line for me is that I'm trying to practice mindfulness at this time in my life and I've found that the Internet seems to suck up too much of my precious energy. I don't know if I'll rejoin or stay Facebook-free but for now I think I'm starting to feel OK without it. The pang of panic that prickled up inside me when it was time to click "delete" was a shock and an indicator. The intensity of attachment to my account showed me that deleting would be a good experiment for me to conduct. Observing my own thoughts and reactions to the process has been interesting and I recommend the challenge to anyone who's willing to try just for the sake of seeing how it makes you feel! Our reactions show the weight these "things" hold in our lives.
Stossel ends the article by saying, "network science has potential to be used for good. But then again, if all the strutting and fretting that we believe to be the product of our individual free will is really only the antlike scurrying of a collection of nodes, can anyone really be said to “use” the network? Or is the network always using us?"
I'm not sure yet but I'd love to hear what you think!