Social networks and information thinking

Posted by on Jun 7, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments


Here’s a thought I’ve been pondering for a while which last night’s terrific conversation with Johnnie and Kevin brought out:

When we talk about human networks – as in the Milgram-influenced thinking of Tipping Point etc – we tend to think of them as if they were information networks (i.e. as networks or systems through which bits of information can be transmitted like Milgram’s parcels).

I think this may be wrong (no, ok, I believe this is wrong): human-human interaction is not largely about information; human social networks are not largely information-based but behaviourally based. Each of us in a network does stuff because of what those in our network (or those without) are doing not because of the information which is transmitted to us…remember ‘phatic‘ and aizuchi communication (communication without informational content). Behaviours and not information is what moves around human networks

Of course, there’s a lot of sense in the “as if” here. Human social networks are “like” informational ones, but they aren’t the same as, are they?

I suspect that this error derives is another example of the ueber-influence that information tech stuff casts over all our thinking about human behaviour.

What do you think?


  1. Jon Howard (Living Brands)
    June 8, 2007

    Behaviour and maybe emotion as well as the lubricant? ie it’s not WHAT we’re told (or, indeed, the behaviour we see) but the how the person telling us, or the situation we’re in, makes us feel.

  2. Mark Earls
    June 10, 2007

    Absolutely, Jon.

  3. Asi
    June 12, 2007

    This is such a complex idea, which you are damn right to disagree with the ultra-simplification of it when equating human social networks with ‘information’ networks.
    It is fascinating to see that throughout history human perceptions and articulation of issues like mind, body, society etc are heavily influenced by the cuurent state of technological progress.
    people once described the brain as a hydraulic system as well as a computing machine…
    The cognitive turn in psychology and social psychology back in the 70’s took a wrong (to my view) shift towards ‘information processing’.
    Cognition was reduced from thinking to information processing or problem solving, where the study of the contents of
    cognition (what people think about or know of social contexts) has been replaced by the study of how information processing functions without social contents…

  4. Kevin
    June 12, 2007

    information is easier to measure – emotional content of any exchange is what really gets through, though
    agree with Jon – if someone angrily shouts at you, the words may not communicate, the intention does

  5. sidekick
    June 14, 2007


  6. mark Earls
    June 14, 2007

    V funny, Sidekick. Thanks for stopping by.