January 01, 2005

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age/ Duncan J. Watts

I read this book because it received a favourable review in Asimov's (or was it Analog?). If you're wondering if there's any relation to the "Six degrees to Kevin Bacon" game, well, yes, there is -- though this book does a lot more than just explaining the game.

Though I'm not into "Graph theory", "Network analysis" or "Social networks Mathematical models", I still found this book insightful. Certain chapters could be rather heavy going though. But there's enough "layperson" content for this book to be useful to non academics. There's a useful reference list on recommended readings, ranked by the author based on level of readability (i.e. whether you need a background in Network Theory or not).
I would've liked it better if the book explained how one could really tap on the effect of "social contagion of ideas". But to be fair, it did say there's much work to be done, and the author does a credible job of explaining a complex theory for laypersons.

Notes/ excerpts from the book (in bold) - Words in [ ] parenthesis are my own:

p162-7 - [Discussion on biological virus & computer virus: Ebola & melissa. Good overview. Very informative].

p196 - [Interesting story to the 1634 Dutch Tulip Bubble. The idea of "Social contagion", or the "epidemics of ideas". Some parallels to the Dot.com crash.]

p204 - [The idea of "Information cascades" - where individuals stop behaving like individuals & more like a coherent mass.]

p207 - [Examples of social experiments. Interesting & weird stuff by this researcher called Solomon Asch - proved that an individual starts having doubts when s/he is the minority.]

p224 - [Concept of "Social Contagion" - spread of beliefs & ideas.] "... a highly contingent process, the impact of a particular person's opinion depending, possibility dramatically, on the other opinions solicited."

p230 - [Suggestions on how to exploit knowledge to enhance the likelihood of a cascade.]

p235 - [About "cascades & percolation" - conditions necessary for global cascade]

p289 - Although the problem (of organisations) dealing with ambiguity is not fully understood, "it appears that a good strategy for building org that are capable of solving complex probs is to train indiv to react to ambiguity by searching thru their social netwks, rather than forcing them to build & contribute to centrally designed prob-solving tools & databases".

p292 - How the Sept 11 incident "exposed the hidden connections in the complex archictecture of modern life"

p(?) - Case study of the Toyota-Aisin crisis 1997. [How a fire at the Toyota factory almost ruined the company (the crisis affected Japan's economy), but yet intriguingly Toyota was able to recover back to normal production levels within days, even though there were no contingency plans in place.] The more "networked you are, the more subseptible to risks but the better you are at recovering".

p299 - The science of networks: "Distance is deceiving"

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age/ Duncan J. Watts
- Call No.: 511.5 WAT (Non-fiction General collection)

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