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Two thinky books

I just finished Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, and found it such compelling food for thought that I turned around and dived into What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly.

Sometimes I get in these moods.

Connected synthesizes a whole lot of statistical analysis and meta-studies (is that what you call it when you collect data from studies other researchers have done for other purposes and examine it for new reasons?) into a narrative about the power of connections in human life.

In a nutshell, it says that we are statistically more likely to be influenced by people at the second and third degrees of connectedness--by our friends' friends' friends--than by our first-degree friends. Our friends' friends' friends can make us sick, cause us to gain or lose weight, make us smoke or quit smoking, influence us to vote or not vote--even if we've never met them.

It's a bizarre notion on its face, but as I worked my way through this long and somewhat iterative book, I began to see myself as part of a seething anthill of interconnected human minds and instincts, and my sense of actual individuality took a bit of a beating. Implications that we may inherit our connectedness (our position near or far from the center of our networks) and that many aspects of our wellbeing and success will be determined by this position, are clear throughout the book.

It's worth reading, and (dare I say it?) it's paradigm-shifting, but I recommend approaching it with caution if you're spiritual, religious, or even a bit emotionally fragile this week, because it does not celebrate your rugged individualism. At all.

The audiobook is read by Christakis, who does a lively, enthusiastic and professional job.

What Technology Wants, which I've just started, is more of a think-piece, written by a non-scientist whose credentials are of the "been involved in technology for a long, long time, and here's what I'm starting to conclude" variety.

So far, in the intro and chapter one, he's making a compelling philosophical case for technology being on its own evolutionary track as a living entity. I can't tell yet whether he's going to say that resistance is futile or possible, desirable or pointless, but the journey promises to be thought-provoking.

The audiobook is read by a guy called Paul Boehmer, whose vast catalog seems to be heavily weighted to fantasy and other story-driven fiction, and who therefore makes a really odd choice for this piece of thinky non-fiction. To borrow a term invented by vampirefan, he's a bit "enunciate-y" for the author's conversational style.

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