Barabasi's Linked

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.


Casey said...

Of course, everything has always been connected to everything else, right? -- see Bk. 7 of The Republic:

"Now, when all these studies reach the point of inter-communion and connection with one another, and come to be considered in their mutual affinities, then, I think, but not till then, will the pursuit of them have a value for our objects; otherwise there is no profit in them.

I suspect so; but you are speaking, Socrates, of a vast work.

What do you mean? I said; the prelude or what? Do you not know that all this is but the prelude to the actual strain which we have to learn? For you surely would not regard the skilled mathematician as a dialectician?

Assuredly not, he said; I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.

But do you imagine that men who are unable to give and take a reason will have the knowledge which we require of them?

Neither can this be supposed.

And so, Glaucon, I said, we have at last arrived at the hymn of dialectic. This is that strain which is of the intellect only, but which the faculty of sight will nevertheless be found to imitate; for sight, as you may remember, was imagined by us after a while to behold the real animals and stars, and last of all the sun himself. And so with dialectic; when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of sight at the end of the visible."

I hope this has been at least tangentially relevant. :)

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Thanks for the great quote! I'll be looking back to Plato in another chapter. My first chapter articulates how web 2.0 is a mainstream assimilation of network/complexity (postmodern/sophist) theory.

At some point I need to discuss the sight/sound divide: while print medium reinforces sight (and with it Eulcidean spatial dynamics--one soul can be seen in one place at one time: a physics of bodies), orality reinforces sound (and with it a physics that allows for multiplicity, for things to impossibly overlap: a physics of ghosts).

So, obviously, my contention with Socrates lies in his overdetermining reason according to sight, forgetting that sight is itself only a sense, and denying other senses their perceptive powers.

But, again, thanks for the passage (there's some dissertation in this exchange!)