Large city, small town – human social networks are very similar but can carry very different information loads

Even in large cities, we build tightly-knit communities
[Via Boing Boing]

A study of group clustering–do your friends know each other?–shows that it does not change with city size. [via Flowing Data]

[More]

towns.png

An average person in the small town (population – 4233) has 6 connections who have a 25% chance of knowing each other. In a large town (population – 564.657), the number of friends is 11 but the chance that they will know each other remains 25%.

This fits a lot of previous data – the majority of any community connect with one another to a very high degree. The difference between living in a large city or a small town lies in how big the network is, not in its shape.

And, it shows that the size of the network increases faster than the size of the community. Not only are there more people to connect to in a large city. People in a large city connect to more people than those in smaller groups.

But the chance that those people know each other remains about the same. That is, the structure of the social network does not change. No matter the size of the town or the size of the network, about 25% of the people will know each other.

city size.png

Interestingly, as the size of the town increases, the networks get larger, and people make contact with other people in the networks more often. So not only are the networks scaling ‘linearly’ but the total number of contacts increases super-linearly.

If we look at the total cumulative calls made, we see that more calls are made to more people in large towns than in small towns. 

cities.png

What they were then able to show in the paper is that because of the types of connections seen in bigger cities, information spreads much more rapidly here than in smaller communities.

In a world dealing with rapidly changing environments and increasingly more complex problems, the ability to move information around rapidly so as to create knowledge and wisdom becomes critical.

But it also shows that people in large cities are not isolated at all but maintain rich connections with others. We live in communities that are about as tightly knit in large cities as in smaller ones. They are just larger.

In reality, few geniuses did it alone. Perhaps none.

Genius

[Via Dave Winer's linkblog feed]

The End of ‘Genius‘.

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Edison was wrong. Or at least the picture is. He was not a solitary genius working by himself, alone in the lab. He had the help of many, many others.

The perspiration did not come only from Edison. It came from over 200 researchers working on his ideas. The number should be 0.5% inspiration (his) and 99.5% perspiration (theirs).

One of the great debates between those who are of the Age of Reason and those of the Romantic: does genius come from the friction between individual drive and social requirements or does it come fully formed from the natural state of a solitary human?

Data supports the former view.

We all live in a social setting and almost all the things we call genius came about through discussions, debates and simple interactions in a community. Even if that community is a simple pair of people.

The idea of a solitary genius was  a construct of the romantics, an authoritarian group that arose as a reaction from the distributed democracy of the Age of Reason. The latter based itself on logical actions of the head – that Nature could be understood – giving us social changes embodied in things like the Declaration of Independence and the Industrial Revolution

The former based itself on the emotional affairs of the heart – that Nature could simply be observed, never understood – giving us artistic changes embodied in people such as Coleridge and Beethoven. The latter championed the connectedness of people, while the former championed the uniqueness of a solitary genius.

Recent research suggests the view of the romantic does not actually match reality; that every genius stood on the shoulders of giants; that social interaction drove and modified the results of a genius; that we often only know of genius because of the very same social interactions that romantics try to pretend are not there.

So why do we continue to support, if not actually require, a view that a single person can drive creativity by themselves, that they  can innovate alone?

I would suggest that we seek a balance – the fame of the individual against the anonymity of the group.. While we value the importance of community, we desire to be seen as more than a node in a network. Things move ahead because a small group (perhaps staring with a single person) change the way a community acts. It is the friction of the individual drives and the community needs that produce the best solutions.

A creative individual alone does nothing. A community without creativity  does nothing. A successful society requite both innovative individuals and communities that value innovation. They need both the head of Reason and the heart of Romantics.

In the end, though, we are social animals and everything needs to be seen through the prism of communities of humans.

As the article states: 

This is just one piece of an impressive body of research in social psychology and the new field of social neuroscience, which contends that individual agency often pales next to the imperatives of a collective.

Or, writing at the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, from Thomas Done:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

[…]

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: 

 We are all connected. No one does everything by themselves.

A treasure that exists only for one person has no value. What a genius provides must be valued by a community, otherwise it is no treasure.

 



Balance – we need both authoritarian hierarchies and distributed democracies

 [Crossposted at SpreadingScience]

 Complexity of Life

How do we shift to a more agile organization? Podio a Case Study
[Via Robert Paterson's Weblog]

Most people would agree that many organizations today are too stiff, too slow and too disconnected to do well in the complex world we live in now. 

Whymachineorgscannotcope

Many large organizations have placed their bet on a new technology platform that will connect all their people’s work. Some think that real change can only come from the bottom up. Many feel that any form of hierarchy is outdated. Some talk about culture but are not clear about what this means.

Few are making any progress. So what is the better way to go? 

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Great discussion. We are out of balance dealing with complex problems because authoritarian hierarchies –so important for 20th century processes – are seen as the only way to get things done.  Maybe for simply processes but not the complex ones facing us.

Distributed democratic approaches using social networks are all the rage. For the first time in 10,000 years we have major tools that leverage these inherent activities of humanity’s culture. They can now overpower hierarchies especially when examining complex processes.

But, they alone cannot solve what we face. Disctibuted democracy is great at cranking the DIKW cycle to get to knowledge. The problem arises because they often want to keep turning the cycle than actually take an action.

They can spend too much time talking and not enough time doing. I’ve written about the need for a Synthetic Organization, one that is leader-full bit leaderless. 

We need some aspects of hierarchy to get things done. It is finding the right balance, designing feedback to permit leader-full approaches to survive while preventing the accretion of power that hierarchies can produce.

I have worked at organizations that found the right balance. We just did not have a firm understanding of why it worked.

Now we are getting much closer to defining how to create the balance between the two key aspects of human social interaction – authoritarian hierarchy and distrubuted democracy.

The groups that accomplish this will be the ones that truly helpus solve complex problems.

UC opens access to new scholarly papers

science journalsby moonlightbulb

University of California to allow open access to new academic papers
[Via Ars Technica]

The University of California—an enormous institution that encompasses 10 campuses and over 8,000 faculty members—introduced an Open Access Policy late last week. This policy grants the UC a license to its faculty’s work by default, and requires them to provide the UC with copy of their peer-reviewed papers on the paper’s publication date. The UC then posts the paper online to eScholarship, its open access publishing site, where the paper will be available to anyone, free of charge.

Making the open access license automatic for its faculty leverages the power of the institution—which publishes over 40,000 scholarly papers a year—against the power of publishers who would otherwise lock content behind a paywall. “It is much harder for individuals to negotiate these rights on an individual basis than to assert them collectively,” writes the UC. “By making a blanket policy, individual faculty benefit from membership in the policy-making group, without suffering negative consequences. Faculty retain both the individual right to determine the fate of their work, and the benefit of making a collective commitment to open access.”

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Open access fits the needs for almost all concerned. Researchers have more people read their work. The public is more able to read that work. Information flow increases.

And this apparently cover everything, even those not funded by the government. It will be interesting.

A win-win for us all.

Monsters University reflects what is really happening.

monsters universityby RJ Bailey

Monsters University: the Aftermath
[Via Crooked Timber]

Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc, opened this weekend. I brought the kids to see it. As a faculty member at what is generally thought of as America’s most monstrous university, I was naturally interested in seeing how higher education worked in Monstropolis. What sort of pedagogical techniques are in vogue there? Is the flipped classroom all the rage? What’s the structure of the curriculum? These are natural questions to ask of a children’s movie about imaginary creatures. Do I have to say there will be spoilers? Of course there will be spoilers. (But really, if you are the sort of person who would be genuinely upset by having someone reveal a few plot points in Monsters University, I am not sure I have any sympathy for you at all.) As it turned out, while my initial reactions focused on aspects of everyday campus life at MU, my considered reaction is that, as an institution, Monsters University is doomed.

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Read the entire post first.

While written in a satirical style, the post holds some real insights. Higher education is being tremendously disrupted and is dealing with that disruption poorly.

Here is the key point that the movie demonstrates (spoilers).

Our heroes are expelled from Monsters University – whose reason for existence is to train and certify employees who can produce the power needed to run their society by inducing fear into children.

They then get a job at Monsters Inc and rise to be the foremost employees at the company, even though they do not bear the proper certifications. Then, in an act of total disruption they discover a new source of almost unlimited power – laughter.

Here is how the post puts it:

The consequences for Monsters University are obvious, and chilling. Two expelled former students have gone on not only to rise to a level of occupational success that ought to be impossible without an MU credential, but have discovered new fundamental facts about the world that completely undermine the knowledge base of Monsters University as an institution. It’s as if Jobs and Wozniak were also Fleischmann and Pons. The School of Scaring, which we hear early on is the “crown jewel” of MU, is now completely outmoded and also, surely, entirely delegitimated.

Why should this institution of higher learning exist if its training is no longer relevant. It has spent all its energies on a School for Scaring. How will it deal with the new disruptive needs for Laughter Learning?

This is a simpler version of what is really happening. Massive Open Online Courses are opening up learning to anyone and producing education with an entirely different system of credentials than a simple BA.

We are seeing High Schoolers who are producing innovations that already have the interest of large companies, perhaps willing to hire their creativity directly without the need for college.

The latest winner of the Intel Science Talent Search actually is developing a new source of energy – algae that produce oil. She did all the work in a homebuilt lab. Another student built a cheap pulsed plasma device, bringing this technology to the masses.

And it is not only from America. At the recent  Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a student from Romania figured out a way to accomplish for $4000 what cost Google over $70,000.

Either of these kids could simply work for a lot of money or even attarct capital to start their own. All without needing a certificate from a University.


The ability of boys to control their behavior may be determined by social processes, not genetics

kindergartenby 55Laney69

Boys Aren’t Necessarily Wilder
[Via Discovery News - Top Stories]

It’s a common stereotype, enforced by anecdotal evidence in classrooms across America: Boys are wild and impulsive, while girls have much more self-control.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In three Asian countries, a new study found, there was no difference in how well little boys and girls regulated their own behavior.

The findings might help boost the performance of boys in American school settings with a focus on on self-regulation, which describes a child’s ability to control his or her impulses, follow directions and stay on a task.

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 In the US, boys have a harder time with self-control that girls.Yet in several Asian countries there is no difference – both boys and girls can control themselves equally using objective testing.

And this does not seem to be caused by the expectations of teachers because in both America and in Asia, teachers believe that girls are better than boys.

So in different societies, adults state that girls can control their behavior better than boys. But when objective tests are done, it turns out that only one of the countries is right – America. 

This suggests that the ability to self-regulate is not determined by sex and that both sexes are equally able to accomplish this. So it is not genetic. It can be controlled by social norms.

Yet, it is not the social norm of teachers that is working here, since the teachers in all the cultures see a difference, even when it does not exist.

What is important is that self-regulation is important for academic achievement. The ability for boys to self-regulate in Asian cultures may be one reason for educational prowess.

Now, this study looked at kids from 3-6 years old, so things could change a lot after several years of schooling – and the pressure of teacher’s expectations.

But for young kids, it looks like there are other social constraints that determine the ability to regulate. I’d suggest the parents, not too surprisingly. It will be interesting to find out if the ability for boys to control themselves is also present at older ages.

High Touch Engagement – an idea whose time is coming

wallby easylocum

They just feel threatened by a change agent
[Via Unqualified Offerings]

By Thoreau

Yesterday, while talking to a colleague who’s more enthusiastic about online classes than I am, I promoted High Touch Engagement by noting that I just had a research article accepted with three undergraduate co-authors, describing a project they did with me.  I noted that this sort of thing cannot be scaled into the traditional factory model of the online class.  This person’s very defensive, reactionary reply was “There’s more that you can do with a MOOC than just lecture.”  Silly traditionalist, clinging to last year’s buzzword.  It’s not about online lectures vs. online interactive activities or whatever.  That is an outdated paradigm.  The traditional MOOC model is a factory that focuses on massive dissemination of known ideas, while High Touch Engagement is about the creation of new knowledge through research projects mentored in small, supportive groups with expert role models.  This is a transformational new concept, and any institution that doesn’t want to be left in the dust will have to embrace High Touch Engagement.  How else we can move more people into the STEM pipeline without intensive mentoring on research projects?

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I’m already working on this but with a different name. And it will not be housed inside traditional academic walls but will exist in a public space open to all. It will remove barriers that separate science from society.

I hope to have more coming in the next few months.

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