Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Assignment: Journalism 620: Online Publishing)
With more than 7 billion people in the world (US Census Bureau), the Internet and social media make us believe that it just might be a small world, despite the numbers. With an incredible network of connections, it is sometimes unfathomable to believe that someone from California could possibly connect to someone they have never met in London, through the various Internet sources find a bed and breakfast or do a home swap in time for the 2012 Olympics.
Oh, the beauty of being interconnected. This phenomenon for everything from businesses, to a body, to social networks is shown historically in the book, Linked: The New Science of Networks: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life. According to the book blurb, author “Albert-László Barabási, the nation’s foremost expert in the new science of networks, takes us on an intellectual adventure to prove that social networks, corporations, and living organisms are more similar than previously thought.”
At this point in time, there is a convergence of centuries of mathematical and scientific formulas that form the basis for the belief that networks are present everywhere and in everything. Barbasi describes nodes, links, hubs and networks, labeling “isolated nodes” as people. As an example, he says when people meet each other, they form a link. When several people get together, say at a party to share information, they form a network or cluster. So, like the internet, a network of connections can go from “isolated nodes” to isolated networks to big clusters with a commonality. Networks can be “computers linked by phone lines, islands connected by bridges and molecules in our bodies linked by chemical bonds.” These networks are linked to connectors and hubs that can cause exponential growth and opportunities for more connections and knowledge.
“Networks are …competitive…dynamic systems that change constantly through the addition of new nodes and links.” with a vivid example of serving a rare wine at a party. Share this with another person, then that person tells the next and then that person tells someone he knows. Pretty soon, everyone knows about the tasty rare wine and it will be gone before the next link can be created. Connectors are people who can literally, connect people, business, entities to others. Hubs “are places on the Internet where all of the important things from connectors are linked.”
Barabasi uses the concept of “Six Degrees of Separation” to explain how closely we can be connected to others and not even realize it. Hungarian Author Frigyes Karinthy first wrote about this theory—that everyone in the world can be connected “through a chain of acquaintances of no more than five intermediaries”—in his 1929 “Chains.” This concept is illustrated in the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Actor Kevin Bacon is seen as a Hollywood hub for all actors who have worked with him or someone he knows.
The best example of these types of strong and weak connections is LinkedIn. Strong ties are those people who are super close to us, but the best “investment” is to branch out to the weak ties, those we may not know as well, but who can broaden our connections. In my own LinkedIn account, some amazing statistics state: 510 connections link you to 6,365,236+ professionals; and, 65,321 new people in your network since July 22. Wow.
When I took Social Media for Editors at UCSD Extension, what I learned from instructor Erin Brenner reinforced Barabasi’s viewpoint: that for effective connections, I would not benefit from linking to so many other writers, but I would benefit if I linked to organizations or individuals who I wanted to reach as potential clients, such as motivational Latina speakers.
Barabasi mentions the “power laws;” one revolves around the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. His belief? Power comes from a few. He said that 80% of the property in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Another: 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. My favorite? How 20% of the population earns 80% of the income.
There are consequences to all this interconnectivity that the general public may not aware of. In some cases, if technology fails, the world as we know it can come to a stop. There are entities that help monitor what can go wrong, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA focuses on “the development of new network technologies that will allow the networks of the future to be resistant to attacks and continue to provide network services.”
Precautions must be taken. “MafiaBoy,” a 15-year-old who hacked into and handicapped Yahoo, Amazon.com, CNN.com, Etrade and Excite in one fell swoop, was first thought to be a cyber-terrorist by the FBI. Barabasi shows how those sites came to a screeching halt for serviceability. Barabasi also mentions how if major hubs are shut down, a domino effect can ensue. His example? American airports. If Chicago O’Hare, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta were shut down, “all air travel within the United States would come to a halt within hours.”
Interconnectivity. There is absolute awe in the concept. But there should also be a little bit of wariness. A little bit of fear. And a whole lot of respect for the power at our fingertips.
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