We are clearly influenced by people around us, our circle of friends and relatives. These folks impact our beliefs, our health, our careers and how we feel – some for better and some for worse. We live in interconnected networks and become like the people we spend time with. The number of theses connections we have affects the quality of our lives, influences our expectations, determines the sort of people we marry, where we live, our emotional maturity, and our health.

We often copy our friends and they give us permission to do things. If a friend has done something/bought something/been somewhere, then we are much more likely to also do it/buy it/go there. Not only that, we are influenced by our friends’ friends and surprisingly by our friends’ friends’ friends.

No one controls or owns the network that you and I are in.  It self-organizes and is complex, dynamic, and constantly evolving.  It has no central control point but rather a shared intelligence. Some people are on the edge of networks, others at the very heart of them. Some people have lots of connections within the network, others are more insular.

Emotions are a genetically inspired way of quickly spreading information that people pay attention to. Certain people are more susceptible than others and likewise, certain people are more influential than others.  Likewise in teams, emotions quickly spread – and when a team is happy, it has been shown that performance improves. Unhappy people tend to cluster with other unhappy people and vice versa.  Furthermore, unhappy people seem more peripheral in networks.

It is not just that happy people prefer the company of happy people, it’s that happy people make other people happy.  People with friends who have lots of friends are also more likely to be happy.

The closeness of happy people affects us.  When a friend living less than 1 mile away becomes happy, it can increase my chance of becoming happy. Consequently, the people I spend the most time with heavily influence my mood.   Likewise loneliness begets loneliness. Proximity to other lonely people also increases my tendency towards loneliness.

Networks can heavily affect our personal identity. The way people react to us either builds or weakens our self-valuation, confidence, and esteem. How we look also affects how we are treated.  Since we are heavily influenced by others, we dress in a way that our network will accept. We are mightily influenced by the norms of our society/group.  We unconsciously copy others to be part of that group. The more we relate to a group or want to be a part of it, the more influential their norms will be upon us.

The power of social compliance is often underestimated.  Comparisons to others are a key factor in determining contentment. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once determined that many consumer demands stem not from innate need but more from social pressure.   Merely observing another person’s behavior (especially someone we admire) can be as influential as words.  Our best friends influence how we perceive our prospective partners attractiveness.

When people sit next to a person who is over-eating they will also tend to eat more.  An obese person has more friends, friends of friends and friends of friends’ friends who are obese than would be expected by chance.  If a mutual friend becomes obese, it nearly triples a person’s risk of becoming obese.  Groups such as weight watchers and alcoholics anonymous form powerful social networks of influence – it is the people not the techniques that drive success. An individual’s success story echoes throughout the network. This provides a positive reference experience of success, so building their own belief that success is also possible for them.

For networks and connections to be effective they also need ties into other networks – e.g. those people who have a number of different circles of friends/acquaintances are the critical connectors that allow information to flow between networks. Networks that are more insular are less equipped to solve novel problems than those networks with lots of interconnections with other networks.

The circles we live and work in are fundamental to the opportunities and quality of lives we get to lead so it is less about absolute ability as it is about the connections one has around you as they create the initial opportunities and levels of expectations.

Human social network behaviors are hard wired – its genetically conditioned.   Networks have been fundamental to the advancement of the human species. People who worked together were able to kill more prey and were able to protect each other against predators (human and animal). Thus the ‘connectors’ survived better than the loners.

The Internet has created multiple ways to connect and share.  We are now hyper connected, sharing large chunks of our daily lives with a wide group of friends – thus we know more about more people.

Will these social network relationships replace our deeper personal connections? Research suggests that like the advent of the phone, these technologies supplement the development of relationships rather than supplant them. The media often reports that intense use of the Internet increases the risk of alienation, isolation, depression, and withdrawal from society. In fact, available evidence shows that there is either no relationship or a positive cumulative relationship between the Internet use and the intensity of sociability. Overall, the more sociable people are, the more they use the Internet. And the more they use the Internet, the more they increase their sociability online and offline, their civic engagement, and the intensity of family and friendship relationships, in all cultures.

A new social structure has emerged from the interaction of a technological paradigm based on the digital revolution and some major sociocultural changes. A primary dimension of these changes is what has been labeled the rise of the Me-centered society, or, in sociological terms, individualism, the decline of community understood in terms of living space, work, family, and achievement in general. This is not the end of community, and not the end of place-based interaction, but there is a shift toward the reconstruction of social relationships, including strong cultural and personal ties that could be considered a form of community, on the basis of individual interests, values, and projects.

The process of individualism is not just a matter of cultural evolution, it is produced by the new forms of organizing economic activities, and social and political life. It is based on the transformation of places to live, work, and engage  in economic activity (networked work processes), culture and communication (shift from mass media to mass self-communication based on the Internet); on the crisis of the patriarchal family, with increasing autonomy of its individual members; the substitution of media politics for mass party politics; and globalization forging networks around the planet. The Internet has created the opportunity to connect up with people around the world who are interested in a very specific activities/interests (such as people with specific health issues but it can also be used for some less palatable groups such as self-harmers, anorexics, suicides and bomb makers). The connections with each other reinforce their belief system and legitimize their actions.

Internet use empowers people by increasing their feelings of security, personal freedom, and influence, all feelings that have a positive effect on happiness and personal well-being. the Internet does not isolate people, nor does it reduce their sociability; it actually increases sociability. 

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