Excerpts from the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives—How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, Harvard University Professor, who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2009, and James H. Fowler, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of California.
“As we studied social networks more deeply, we began to think of them as a kind of human superorganism. They grow and evolve. All sorts of things flow and move within them. This superorganism has its own structure and function, and we became obsessed with understanding both.
“Seeing ourselves as part of a superorganism allows us to understand our actions, choices, and experiences in a new light. If we are affected by our embeddedness in social networks and influenced by others who are closely or distantly tied to us, we necessarily lose some power over our own decisions. Such a loss of control can provoke especially strong reactions when people discover that their neighbors or even strangers can influence behaviors and outcomes that have moral overtones and social repercussions. But the flip side of this realization is that people can transcend themselves and their own limitations. In this book, we argue that our interconnection is not only a natural and necessary part of our lives but also a force for good. Just as brains can do things that no single neuron can do, so can social networks do things that no single person can do.”
“For decades, even centuries, serious human concerns, such as whether a person will live or die, be rich or poor, or act justly or unjustly, have been reduced to a debate about individual versus collective responsibility. Scientists, philosophers, and others who study society have generally divided into two camps: those who think individuals are in control of their destinies, and those who believe that social forces (ranging from a lack of good public education to the presence of a corrupt government) are responsible for what happens to us.
“However, we think that a third factor is missing from this debate. Given our research and our own diverse experiences in life—from meeting our spouses to meeting each other, from caring for terminally ill patients to building latrines in poor villages—we believe that our connections to other people matter most, and that by linking the study of individuals to the study of groups, the science of social networks can explain a lot about human experience. This book focuses on our ties to others and how they affect emotions, sex, health, politics, money, evolution, and technology. But most of all it is about what makes us uniquely human. To know who we are, we must understand how we are connected.”