Friday, September 14, 2007

I hate physicists; Barry Wellman is God

I attended a talk recently that reminded me of the not-so-hidden rivalry between sociologists and physicists who study networks. Conveniently, my notepad that day was the backside of my printout of "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" by Clay Shirky. In this brilliant essay, Shirky explains how group dynamics take hold quickly and then tend to lead participants into three deep behavioral ruts (quoted from Bion):
  1. Find sex partners (ladies, see my email link in the right sidebar)
  2. Identify and vilify external enemies (physicists)
  3. Venerate religious idols (Barry Wellman)
Physicists, sociologists, and network gurus of all stripes engage in these behaviors as much as anyone.

For all its brilliance, Shirky's essay suffers major flaws. He argues that "learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something." I refer readers to group behavior pattern #1 for my first counter-example to this bizarre claim. Shirky also says, "Prior to the Internet, the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table." By my estimation, the table pre-dates literacy, and so Shirky is ranking broadband access as more significant to talking than both reading and writing. Does that sound right to you?

I hope that my readers will check out Shirky's highly stimulating essay and come back to Connectedness for when I argue that the very title of his essay, "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy," is as problematic as the above two quotes.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

1 comment:

Stewart Kenneth Moore (Booda) said...

If learning by experience is the worst kind of does one explain the instinct that something is wrong with a given situation, event or group?

Surely this sense is a result of many thousands of experiences, both good and bad, boiled down to probabilities?
~ Booda