How Influence Spreads Through Human Interactions — Recommended Readings

Centola, Damon. How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Ferguson, Niall. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. New York: Penguin Press, 2018.

How do networks work?  How does influence spread amongst people, through human interactions?

Historian Niall Ferguson digs into the archives, exploring how people have spread influence for thousands of years.  “Social networks have always been much more important in history than most historians, fixated as they have been on hierarchical organizations such as states, have allowed–but never more so than in two periods.  The first “networked era” followed the introduction of the printing press to Europe in the late fifteenth century and lasted until the end of the eighteenth century.  The second–our own time–dates from the 1970s, though I argue that the technological revolution we associate with Silicon Valley was more a consequence than a cause of a crisis of hierarchical institutions.  The intervening period, from the late 1790s until the late 1960s, saw the opposite trend: hierarchical institutions re-established their control and successfully shot down or co-opted networks.  The zenith of hierarchically organized power was in fact the mid-twentieth century—the era of totalitarian regimes and total war” (p xxv).  Professor Ferguson explores why different forms of human interaction are just different forms of networks–an arrangement of interrelated people.

Communications researcher Damon Centola explores the dynamics of how behaviors spread through social networks, mapping the pathways of network diffusion to accelerate social change.  “Diffusion, like schooling, is a collective social process that unfolds through the complex interactions of many independent actors” (p4).  The network dynamics that are required are quite different than what most people think: who is in the network, how they are connected, and how their influence flows, sustainably.