13 January 2010

Itty Bitty Book Review - Connected

I am fascinated by social behaviour and have spent a good deal of my life watching other people, their behaviour, and their interactions with each other. So when I heard about the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (by Nicholas A Christakis and James H Fowler) I quickly put it on hold at my library. I was delighted that the book was easy to read, easy to understand, and packed with referenced data. The authors took a complex subject and managed to compartmentalize each component before adding it to the overall concept in a way that was very easy to understand and reference back to in the book.

Some of the data included was a study that was done by the authors on the contagious properties of obesity. Having heard that obesity is an 'epidemic' in America they were interested if it fit the description. Epidemic has two meanings: the first being a higher than usual prevalence of a condition (check, lots of chubby people), and the second definition connotes contagion suggesting that something is spreading rapidly (how could obesity be contagious?). While they did indeed find obesity to be contagious, they found it was because our friend's friend's friend influences us indirectly. To put it simply, let's say I know Jane, who knows Mary, who knows Donna. Keep in mind that Donna and I don't know each other. Donna decides to end her diet for whatever reason. Mary sees Donna stop fighting obesity so Mary exercises just a little less. Jane gets used to seeing Mary as a larger person who doesn't exercise much so it becomes normal. I watch Jane's acceptance of obesity and that observation influences me to accept being a larger woman as well.

Many, many other studies are presented in the book and with each one the authors learned that people are influenced by people only three degrees away from them whether you know the person or not. Our connections and the networks we belong to help shape our attitudes about nearly everything. We choose our networks by deciding who we want as friends and how many friends we want. But we don't choose our friend's friends or our friend's friend's friend, and that last person can influence you. And the more central you are to your network, the more influenced you are by your network.

Connected also explores the heritable traits of being a loner or being central to a network. Yes, the authors have concluded that it's actually in our genes as to whether or not we will be considered a loner or more sociable. So while I am more of a loner and on the periphery of my network, J is central to his networks and he has many. I have considered over the years that I was raised to be this way but watching J I have wondered how much of sociability is born into us. I raised J and T in a similar manner, taking them both to play groups and parks and keeping them both home equally. But J is able to make connections with complete strangers, where T is more likely to watch from the sidelines and be alone. So T has inherited my gene of going it alone, J has inherited somewhere the gene to build a larger, more complex network.

There is a gigantic amount of information in the book but it is presented so well that I would recommend it to anyone interested in a different point of view on how society works and why.

1 comment:

Sheri said...

Sounds like a great book, I'll have to put it on my list.