Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Book Review: Connected, by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler (Part 2)

posted by Mark D. Roberts

In Friday’s post I began reviewing an intriguing new book: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. Today I want to finish my review, first by putting up some quotations from the book and then by adding a few comments of my own.
Excerpts from Connected
The Internet makes possible new social forms that are radical modifications of existing types of social-network interactions in four ways: 1. Enormity: a vast increase in the scale of our networks and the numbers of people who might be reached to join them 2. Communality: a broadening of the scale by which we can share information and contribute to collective efforts 3. Specificity: an impressive increase in the particularity of the ties we can form 4. Virtuality: the ability to assume virtual identities. (KL 4335-5341)

MDR: Though we can take for granted the power of the Internet, it is truly amazing to me that around 3,000 people will visit my blog today, representing most continents on earth.

By banding together, the citizens [of Babel in Genesis 11] had been able to do something—build the tower—that they could not have done alone. Other stories from the Bible allude to the power of connections but put a more positive spin on what connected humans can do. When Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they found that the walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb or destroy. And then, the story goes, God told them to stand together and march around the city. When they heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they “spoke with one voice”—in a kind of synchronization like La Ola [the Wave in stadiums]—and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Observations about connection and its implications are ancient, in no small part because theologians and philosophers, like modern biologists and social scientists, have always known that social connections are key to our humanity—full of both promise and danger. Connections were often seen as what distinguished us from animals or an uncivilized state. (KL 4533-4540)

MDR: Yes. God created us as connected people. In fact, Genesis 3 shows a profound connection between human beings and the physical creation. Human sin led to the corruption of the material world.

The networks we create have lives of their own. They grow, change, reproduce, survive, and die. Things flow and move within them. A social network is a kind of human superorganism, with an anatomy and a physiology—a structure and a function—of its own. From bucket brigades to blogospheres, the human superorganism does what no person could do alone. Our local contributions to the human social network have global consequences that touch the lives of thousands every day and help us to achieve much more than the building of towers or the destruction of walls. (KL 4555-4559)

MDR: Connected challenges us and encourages us to pay much closer attention to our networks if we want to make a positive difference in the world.

But on a more human level, social networks affect every aspect of our lives. Events occurring in distant others [that is, in other people who are physically distant from us] can determine the shape of our lives, what we think, what we desire, whether we fall ill or die. In a social chain reaction, we respond to faraway events, often without being consciously aware of it. (KL 4805-4807)

MDR: This reminds me of what Paul writes about the church as the body of Christ: “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor 12:24-26).

Recognition of this loss of self-direction [because we're influenced so much by our social networks] can be shocking. But the surprising power of social networks is not just the effect others have on us. It is also the effect we have on others. You do not have to be a superstar to have this power. All you need to do is connect. The ubiquity of human connection means that each of us has a much bigger impact on others than we can see. When we take better care of ourselves, so do many other people. When we practice random acts of kindness, they can spread to dozens or even hundreds of other people. And with each good deed, we help to sustain the very network that sustains us. (KL 4814-4818)

MDR: So, Jesus tells his disciples that we are the salt of the earth.  We will make a difference in the world because of our connection to the world and its people. There isn’t a question of whether we will make a difference or not, only of what sort of difference we will make. Connected shows that we make this difference, not only in actions that obviously impact others or in persuading others, but simply in living in networks of relationships.

Conclusion
Connected is a book that confirms with sociologically responsible data what many of us already believe about the power of relationships. But it goes well beyond what is obvious, showing how much our connections can impact the world. I recommend Connected especially to leaders in church, business, government, education, art, music, and other contexts of influence.
Moreover, I would recommend Connected to people who are tempted to think that they really don’t matter. This book demonstrates that your ability to influence others is much greater than you have imagined.



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