Just finished the first few chapters of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. Barabasi, a mathematician, details the development of network theory's most popular maxim, "six degress of separation," and the impact that digital networks might have in creating an increasingly small-world. Despite the fact that there's six billion people on the planet, each is connected to any other by an average of only 5.5 "links"--Barabasi writes that the development of the internet could reduce this number to three.
So far I'm enjoying this book, although I am still waiting for an argument to emerge (and I'm 40 pages in). Like Weinberger, he attributes the coming changes to society to overcoming physical limitations:
Six degrees is a product of our modern society--a result of our insistence on keeping in touch. It is aided by our relatively newfound ability to communicate over great distances--often over thousands of miles. The global village we've grown used to inhabiting is a new reality for humans. The ancestors of most Americans lost contact with those they left behind in the old country... No postcards, no phone calls. In the subtle social networks of those days, it was rather difficult to activate the links that had been broken when people moved....The world is shrinking because social links that would have died out a hundred years ago are kept alive and can be easily activated. The number of social links and individual can actively maintain has increased dramatically, bringing it down the degrees of separation.
The resulting small worlds are rather different from the Eulcidean world to which we are accustomed and in which distances are measured in miles. Our ability to reach people has less and less to do with the physical distance between us... Navigating this non-Euclidean world repeatedly tricks out intution and reminds us that there is a new geometry out there that we need to master in order ot make sense of the complex world around us. (39-40)
Early on Barabasi's book doesn't seem completely able to look past Eulcidean spatial dynamics: for instance, he consistenly considers navigating the web in terms of links, discounting the use of search engines. This topological consideration of navigation (moving through the web one link at a time) and relationships (pages linked to each other) strikes me as a bit odd--who doesn't navigate the web primarily through search engines? And isn't tagonomy the growing organization of the web? Barabasi's approach seems to be built on the idea that the web can be mapped--a collection of static objects. I think I look at it as a bit more dyamic (incapable of Being mapped) and multiple: nodes simultaneous constitute so many different overlapping networks that any attempt to create one objectification Becomes a bit ludicrious.
Of course, its time I R-(the rest of)-TFA, then I'll post some more. Probably about how wrong I am on Barabasi.