Human Networks

The inspiration for this article was drawn from my own experiences with people, in Bangladesh. Seeing their actions, reactions and words taught me much more about behavioral analysis and behavior than just reading any theory. Having studied people, I then began digging around for already existing knowledge on the aspect of “human networks” or “social networks” (not the online networks).
Disclaimer: I did not study any anthropology or sociology.

A report was released around two months ago that outlined how a network in America was trying to influence the way Americans perceived Islam and Muslims. I haven’t been able to go through the entire report but read about it from various sites, here’s one of them.

The report fascinates me, not because it is just outlining something of political significance, it is actually showing something of social significance. It shows the effect of “human networking” in propagating information and influence.

It outlines how well-funded groups give funds to a selection of think-tanks that then use the funds to promote certain ideas. That’s how think-tanks operate. That’s not how people in society operate nor is it how information flows. It is not money that pushes the information. In a society, the function of money is performed by “privilege”. That privilege can come from many different sources. Wealth, successful business owner, big name corporate managerial player, educational institution attachment, philanthropy, sports, etc.

Take the case of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Anything they have said is lapped up by millions around the globe. That is because their sphere of influence extends to the whole globe, their business products touched billions of lives and they are hence able to influence the thinking of millions. There are smaller players in a society though. People whose circle of influence does not extend far beyond those they directly impact.
Not everyone has the same influence in all matters. Bill Gates having an opinion about the tactics used by his favorite American football team will have a very different effect to an opinion on business strategy or human resource management.

Interesting effect to note is that the larger the sphere of influence, the more clearly defined are the borders of influence. A person who is famous as, say, a philanthropist, having an opinion on some topic related to the national economy will be met with stronger support or opposition from the economists, and even people in general. This can only happen because people have a clear idea in their head about the person’s specialty.

The case of a person whose sphere of influence is smaller is different, and it is dangerous because of that difference. For people with a much smaller sphere of influence, they are able to influence another person more deeply than one with a wider sphere of influence. A likely reason for this effect could be the proximity to the center of influence. This allows local personalities to affect the lives of their followers in ways other than the immediate specialty of the “semi-famous person”.

This is where the danger lies. A semi-famous person easily ends up with an over-inflated sense of importance and self-worth, therefore is most likely to easily “over reach” in exercising their influence in areas that are not their specialty. The end result is almost never good. What else is to be expected of faking expertise or knowledge or even know-how?
Shouldn’t those having a wider sphere of influence be more effective? Not always. That is because their statements are under more intense scrutiny. Those who have a smaller sphere of influence often get away with saying incorrect things, even outright lies, because their words are not inspected that critically.

Therefore people should not consider another’s words or deeds above scrutiny.


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