Staying Linked to Kevin Bacon—Part 2
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program Assignment; Jour 620 Online Publishing)
In the second half of 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, author Albert-László Barabási, the educator/researcher is unleashed. The first half of the book was easier for a lay person to follow, someone with no scientific or mathematical background. However, Barabasi’s elaborate explanations showing the complexities of how a body’s cellular makeup and the World Wide Web are similar and depend on interior networks, links and nodes, became tedious and lost parallelism.
Chapter—or “Link”—titles were intriguing but content within was dissected to the point of confusion. The Tenth Link was Viruses and Fads; The Eleventh Link was The Awakening Internet; The Twelfth Link was The Fragmented Web; and The Thirteenth Link was The Map of Life. Barabasi did give some unique examples of how things can go terribly wrong with certain “networking.” One such example was of the French Canadian flight attendant, Gaetan Dugas, who supposedly slept with approximately 20,000 people—and became known as “patient zero” of the AIDS epidemic. He was “at the center of an emerging complex sexual network among gay men.” Many of these first cases are linked to those who had sex with Dugas. He knowingly slept with these “victims” and they had no idea of the severity of the disease. This one man, a node for some, a hub for the disease—allegedly started a worldwide health crisis. However, Dugas may have been wrongly identified as a source, according to Xtra! Canada’s Gay & Lesbian News. This was also documented in an Xtra! video on Patient Zero.
Barabasi’s point in using this example? I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps it was understanding that links—from DNA and genetic propensities for cancer or other illnesses and cellular “wiring”–could go wrong. This could also be applied to networking malfunctions on the World Wide Web. In “The Twelfth Link—The Fragmented Web”—Barabasi talks about how some robots have “taken up residence in the virtual world…performing one of the most thankless and boring jobs humanity has ever designed: reading and indexing millions of Webpages.”
He defines the Web as “a scale-free network, dominated by hubs and nodes with a very large number of links.” It would be a difficult and almost impossible task—and quite an undertaking—to keep track of the millions of web pages in order to estimate the size of the Web. In addition, everything seems interconnected, which adds even more complexities to the ever growing Internet. Barabasis states that “the Web is fragmented into continents and communities, limiting and determining our behavior in the online universe,” yet the “structure of the World Wide Web has an impact on everything from surfing to democracy.”
A Federal agency or other entity could attempt to regulate the Web, but it is truly a localized, individual, ever changing monster, with thousands feeding it daily, watching it grow to unfathomable dimensions.
So, even though search engines are amazing and seem to offer up a myriad of options for the web surfer, they have only touched the tip of the iceberg in unraveling the breadth of the WWW. Google, for example, has “indexed only 7.8 percent of the estimated 800 million pages out there.” Yet, Barabasi goes back to the six degrees of separation theory, saying, “despite the billion documents on the Web, nineteen degrees of separation suggests that the Web is easily navigable.”
The bottom line for Barabasi is that within the World Wide Web, there will always be a balance of trial and error, growth and setbacks, and even good and evil. The power of being “linked,” however, offsets the negative. He believes being linked to communities that matter to individuals, whether it is for business, education, activism, entertainment, research or enlightenment, or any other category, can produce positive outcomes. Surfing the Web and learning about its behind-the-scenes intricacies is all about possibilities and empowerment—and the knowledge that we are connected more than we think.
The power of this interconnectivity defies all logic. It is up to individuals to harness even a portion of that power to create networks for a greater purpose and discovery, moving ever forward.
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