Archive for June, 2002

Play: Placebo Sunrise (& The Tipping Point – take III)

Saturday, June 22nd, 2002

I saw an off-off-Broadway show yesterday (in reality it was just half a block off Broadway, but this isn’t about geography) called Placebo Sunrise. I can’t fully tell you what it was about, but it was certainly entertaining and different. The stage was not the usual, instead, it extended into the distance in front of the audience as a hotel/resort hallway. There was a lot of great movement with the characters coming in and out of doors and side hallways. The use of the stage was incredible and the actors were great at creating certain ambiance without too many props. I also appreciated the use of dance in this piece. It seemed more like a parody and was acted out in a non-chalant way, but in fact, there was some serious dancing.

So what about The Tipping Point, you ask. Curiously enough, the second half of the play started with a section that sounded extremely familiar. I have now checked and yes, one of the main characters discusses an idea that is also covered at length in The Tipping Point (pp.177-180.). It’s an argument by anthropologist Robin Dunbar about how the size of humans’ brains is related to the complexity of their social circles. The focus is on the size of the networks and their exponential growth depending on how many people you know. (In fact, this is where the 150 rule comes from that I have already discussed earlier in my comments on the book.) I won’t ge into it in detail, Gladwell recommends the following for a good summary: R.I.M. Dunbar. 1992. “Neocortex Size as a Constraint on Group Size in Primates” Journal of Human Evolution. vol 20 pp.469-493.

The Tipping Point – take II

Thursday, June 20th, 2002

Amazon boxI have a feeling someone at Amazon has also read The Tipping Point or at least one of the studies it talks about. I forget which it was (I’ll try to remember to look it up and come back with an update), but I recall Malcolm Gladwell, the author, discussing the ad campaign of a company that managed to significantly increase its sales by adding a little treasure box to its advertisements. (I think it was a mail-order music sales company.) Amazon now has a little treasure box of its own. If you click on it, you get some sale items that are only on sale for sixty minutes. It’s an interesting idea. Unfortunately, that’s about as clever as they got. The recommendations, although seemingly customized based on your prior purchases and interest, have absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever. I now check them out more for kicks than anything else. In any case, I thought this was an interesting coinkidinky.

Book: The Tipping Point

Friday, June 14th, 2002

Thanks to my commute, I finally have some time to catch up on reading. I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Tipping Point. The book is about how social phenomena – from diseases to crime, from popular shoes to popular books – spread across the population.

Gladwell is a great writer. He does a great job of explaining sociological concepts in an interesting and engaging manner. If sociologists could write like this, I think we’d have a better reputation. To be fair, he isn’t writing an academic piece here, on the other hand, he is conveying all sorts of interesting sociological concepts to a very wide audience through his writings. In this book, he covers in some detail all sorts of interesting sociological and psychological studies ranging from why Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues are such hits with children to the effects of little changes in how we visualize things on our opinion formation.

Overall, I don’t know if he really offers a clear argument for the spread of social phenomena as there seem to be so many things that may matter. But the book is nonetheless worth reading just to think about the various factors that may influence why the spread of some phenomena tips at a certain point while other phenomena never diffuse widely.

Read the rest of this entry »

In New York this summer

Tuesday, June 11th, 2002

I’m back.. I didn’t think I’d be blogless for a whole week, but that’s what conferences, meetings and lots of train rides will do to you.

Starting from today, for the next two months, I will be reporting from New York City, more specifically, Columbia University. I have a summer fellowship with the Social Science Research Council‘s program on Information Technology, International Cooperation and Global Security which is based this year at Columbia.

Last week was the program’s summer institute which brought dozens of interesting people to the program to share their work on IT. It was a very rich meeting with people from all sorts of disciplines, which I think is necessary for making progress in our understanding of IT, its diffusion, its use, its potential consequences and social implications, etc.

There are fourteen fellows who will be here for two months, each of us working on a particular project. I will be spending my time on extending my current methodology for studying people’s online skills to an instrument that allows measuring information technology skills cross-nationally. Stay tuned for updates.