Okay, enough about SharePoint, here’s something more thought provoking about networks.
Earlier this season on Boston Legal, Denny fired an associate because she was fat and got sued for wrongful termination…
Nancy: But I wasn’t too fat for you to hit on?
Denny: Well no, because I like chubby sex but I never asked you to dinner.
Emma: Did you hear that?
Nancy: I only heard ca-ching, ca-ching.
Alan successfully defended Denny on the grounds that he was simply protecting himself from “catching” obesity, citing research reported on the front page of the New York Times. Last week my colleague Art Hutchinson pointed me to this conversation with Nicholas Christakis who, with his colleague James Fowler, published the research paper.
In the article, Christakis clarifies what Boston Legal so artfully took the extreme.
The real explanations for the obesity epidemic are exclusively socio-environmental — things having to do with the increasing consumption of calories in our society: food is becoming cheaper, the composition of food is changing, there is increasing marketing of foodstuffs and the like. Also, clearly, there has been a change of rate at which people burn calories due to an increase in sedentary lifestyles, the design of our suburbs, and a whole host of such explanations.
We are not claiming that such explanations are not relevant. No doubt they are all part of the obesity epidemic. We are just saying that networks have this fascinating property whereby they magnify whatever they are seeded with. And so if you can get something going in a networked population like obesity, it can spread.
I’m interested in what this tells this about how we learn. Learning is embedded in our network and “getting something going” in the network is how learning happens.
Christakis also explains that his research produced more evidence that the way obesity or other phenomena spread is by changes in perceptions about what is acceptable or appropriate, that is, norms, rather than simple copying of behaviors. Patti Anklam, a colleague and expert on networks wrote:
His research indicates that it’s the norms that are most influential because, as he says, “they can fly through the ether” whereas for behaviors to propagate we need to be physically together.