Theories of Connection

November 15th, 2008

Over coffee with my friend Jason Wyman, an incredible visionary and leader in the field of youth work we discussed theories of connection- which has left me thinking and imagining and, well connecting. Jason talked about the phenomena that occurs when one person starts to connect with others, and when those connections lead to new connections, so that the original person’s connectiveness grows exponentially. There is an emerging body of language around this idea. As I clicked through the Wikipedia definitions in my geeky post-conversation web research, here are some of the interesting terms I found, with my own interpretations of meaning as related to connectivity theory of social networking.

Preferential attachment – where resources or opportunities are distributed among individuals according to how much they already have – think “ the rich get richer”.

power law, or Pareto effect – This is a polynomial function graph, an inverse relationship between two variables. Imagine power on the x axis and people on the y axis. According to the power law, the largest number of people would have the least amount of power, with the amount of power possessed increasing as you go down the scale. This is essentially the 80-20 rule. If you keep the number of people as the y axis, It works for money (80% of wealth is controlled by 20% of the people), resources, problems (80% of our problems are caused by 20% of the people in our lives), etc.

Scale-free network – this is a group of connections where some vertices have greater connections than others. Imagine each vertex Is a person. Some of us are connected to 2 or 3 people closely, while others are connected to hundreds. These major connectors often connect together and have greater access to resources through connections- they just happen to know what’s going on and how to access it.

Fault-tolerance- This is an engineering term that refers to the ability of a system to keep working even when one of it’s component parts aren’t. I thought of how the human body works when we get sick – with a mild headache we can still work and watch tv and go about our regular lives, even though some major component is malfunctioning. In a scale-free network, if the hyper-connected hubs are working well, the isolation or disconnection of the non-connected folks will keep a society or a project moving forward, with little impact.

self-stabilization – when a system or individual moves towards a balanced fault-free state. I think this can happen in many ways. One way is that the super connecters grow their power and resources in order to overcompensate for the lack of participation by the outliers of the system. Alternatively, the outliers may find ways to band together, connect, and replace the super connecters. Alternatively, preferential attachment theory may reorganize from “the rich get richer” to “the connected get more connected”, and find ways for all members of a system to connect to one another to find stabilization.

I see some incredible connections in this theory of connectedness to social justice movements, shared power and our ability to create harmonious community. I think I’m missing one key concept of attractiveness- that each person wants to be connected to other people. Through a reframing and re-shaping of how we view groups from family, community, society, or systems we may discover a better way to find self-stabilization that creates space for everyone to be connected and productive.

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