Social Change Cause it Makes Me Happy, Well-Being and Social Networking
An interesting article from Seed Magazine, in it Albert-László Barabási and James Fowler discuss networks, and how understanding them is changing everything from evolutionary theories to political campaigns. There’s a lot in the article I didn’t really get. For example scale-free networks, which as I understand it has something to do with networks being built around “nodes” or “hubs” which are units (whether people or cells etc.) which are connected to high numbers of other units. That is to say that in a network, say Facebook, there is not an equal distribution of “friend” connections. Instead there are people who have vastly more “friend” connections than others, in fact there are several “levels” of connectivity, and that some highly connected people tend to have connection in multiple different “communities.” These people are the “nodes” and “hubs” (the only difference I can see is the quantity of different connections, with hubs having significantly more.) One of the interesting things about scale-free networks is that they have found the same structure in a variety of seemingly very different network systems, for example, social networks and cellular networks.
For me, the meet of article was a reference to a study by Fowler and his colleague Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, which found that both behaviors like smoking and obesity and emotions like happiness and loneliness spread through social networks. What this means is that if your friend or family member starts loosing weight or is happy, you are more likely to loose weight or be happy. The really cool thing is that this is not only true for your friends/family but also for their friends/family. Meaning, if your friend’s mom is loosing weight you are more likely to loose weight whether or not you’ve ever met her.
This makes an empirical argument for all sorts of things like social welfare programs, civil rights, economic justice, etc. This is because these are all factors which affect people’s happiness and since our personal happiness is affected by the happiness of people in our social network, it seems fair to assume that as the happiness of our community rises so shall ours.
Of course, the other option is to attempt to keep those who are likely to be unhappy, the poor and oppressed for example, out of our social networks all together. This has, in fact, been the historic practice of the ruling classes and points to the need for connection between classes and communities as a strategy for social change. For example, one of the long standing traditions of the queer/lgbt liberation movements has been “coming out” to friends and family. This then demonstrates to people that they are being negatively affected by homophobia through their social network. Now, of course people didn’t use the language of personal happiness and its connection to social networks. Instead they thought of it as creating visibility and evoking empathy and understanding. However, I would hypothesize that these are based on instinctual understandings of the impact others have on us. Ie. We care about others because we know that they affect our lives (understanding that this is probably a huge oversimplification of why we care about others, but you get my point.)
Image: Wikipedia: Scale-Free Networks