Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

Overview

In this remarkable book, Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of the new science of networks, lays out nothing less than a new way to understand our connected planet. Between the Internet and e-mail, cell phones and satellites, friends and family, highways and airports, we are continuously surrounded by and subjected to a world of networks -- often bewilderingly so. Whether they bind computers, economies, or terrorist organizations, networks are everywhere in the real world, yet until recently the ...
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Overview

In this remarkable book, Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of the new science of networks, lays out nothing less than a new way to understand our connected planet. Between the Internet and e-mail, cell phones and satellites, friends and family, highways and airports, we are continuously surrounded by and subjected to a world of networks -- often bewilderingly so. Whether they bind computers, economies, or terrorist organizations, networks are everywhere in the real world, yet until recently the fundamental nature of the networks themselves has remained shrouded in mystery. However, in the past few years, Watts and others have spearheaded a new generation of research that is rapidly revealing the rules by which networks grow, the patterns they form, and the way in which they drive collective behavior. From epidemics of disease to outbreaks of market madness, from people searching for information to firms surviving crisis and change, from the structure of personal relationships to the technological and social choices of entire societies, Watts weaves together a network of discoveries across the academic spectrum, from physics to sociology, to tell the story of an explosive new science, the people who are building it, and his own peculiar path through it all.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Watts, a Columbia University sociology professor, combines his own research in network theory with summaries of the work of others who he says are "collectively solving problems which cannot be solved by any single individual or even any single discipline." The result is a dizzyingly complex blend of mathematics, computer science, biology and social theory that, despite the best efforts at clarification, often remains opaque, buried in scientific language and graphs. The book also assumes a high level of unfamiliarity on the reader's part with the subject, treating phenomena like the 17th-century tulip craze or the "Kevin Bacon game" as fresh news. Even more surprising, however, are the significant omissions- there is not a single mention of "tipping points," for example, the subject of a recent bestselling book. The parts of the book dealing with the author's own research are strong on science, but frustratingly vague on the social network of scientists with whom Watts has worked. There are intermittent highlights in the scientific account, such as an explanation of why casual acquaintances are more likely to provide life-changing opportunities than best friends, or a look at how New York City's reaction to September 11 illustrates current thinking on network connectivity and disruption, but, despite an admirable effort to syncretize discoveries in several fields, the book as a whole is too dry to compete effectively with the popularized accounts that exist for each separate field. Illus. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Columbia sociology professor Watts sums up his groundbreaking work on the networks, from computers to terrorist cells, that shape contemporary life. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One of its young pioneers explains the rudiments of network theory, a science almost too new to have a name.

As an example of the complexity of networks, Watts (Sociology/Columbia Univ.) takes the 1996 western US power-grid failure, caused largely by the very safety features meant to prevent a blackout. The nature of a network is determined not by its individual members, the author reminds us, but by their connectedness. The title alludes to the proposition that each of us could communicate to anyone else on earth with no more than six intermediate steps--preposterous at first glance, considering that most of us stay within a small circle of acquaintances. But, as Watts points out early on, even a small degree of randomness in the network, such as one neighbor with out-of-town friends, makes for a high degree of interconnectedness among its parts. He details the research by mathematicians, biologists, physicists, and others that has led to the understanding that networks, whether of people, computers, or even the neural cells of nematode worms, have structural features in common. And while one might sneer at the insights of physicists into human behavior, a key breakthrough in network theory was the recognition that certain structures are universal. The mechanism that starts a large crowd clapping in unison without any signal also lets all the crickets in one meadow synchronize their chirping. Computer viruses spread in much the same way as the flu. Watts smoothly combines a historical survey of the field with real-world examples, often drawn from his personal experience. An extensive bibliography, graded by degree of mathematical sophistication, will be useful to those readersinterested in pursuing the subject further.

Well-done, comprehensive overview of a field that’s likely to be an important growth area of science.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393041422
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface 13
Ch. 1 The Connected Age 19
Ch. 2 The Origins of a "New" Science 43
Ch. 3 Small Worlds 69
Ch. 4 Beyond the Small World 101
Ch. 5 Search in Networks 130
Ch. 6 Epidemics and Failures 162
Ch. 7 Decisions, Delusions, and the Madness of Crowds 195
Ch. 8 Thresholds, Cascades, and Predictability 220
Ch. 9 Innovation, Adaptation, and Recovery 253
Ch. 10 The End of the Beginning 290
Further Reading 307
Bibliography 341
Index 357
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2004

    Our world is small

    'Our world is small¿. This idea may be relevant if our life is an integral part of a continuously evolving and self-constituting system. Duncan J. Watts described it in his book ¿Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age¿ nicely. To support this idea, he gives illustration about a project that he heads up involving collecting data from 150,000 people. He also gathers opinions and research results from different areas to develop his idea. Like a network, it covers materials all the ways from the study of social structures to the study of advanced physics. The idea of ¿small world¿ is interesting because it describes that everyone is connected by an average of only six degrees of separation. Everyone means every people in the world. For example, a teacher in Indonesia may know a professor in Honolulu. A professor in Honolulu may know an engineer in Bangladesh. An Engineer in Bangladesh may know a manager in Nairobi. A manager in Nairobi may know an artist in Paris. An artist in Paris may know an athlete in Sidney. An athlete in Sidney may know a farmer in Vermont. This is an idea that I never consider to think it before. This book gives inspirations and provides new perspectives. It has a great impact to view our world and it reminds us how closely things could be related unexpectedly. Watts has reinvigorated the interest in the small world phenomenon. He has also raised the provocative questions about the importance of those more ephemeral connections for the outcomes experienced by individuals, organizations, social movements, and society as a whole. The most impressive about his book is how he tries to tailor and modify a model and a basic of ideas into account unique features of different contexts. He shows a wonderful sensitivity to how the particular features of the model need to be modified if the contagion phenomenon in which one is interested involves a biological virus, a computer virus, or a technological innovation. In my opinion, some of the challenging ideas in Watt¿s book are in the area of organization design. In his book, Watts argues that the ability of organizations to adapt depends on the degree of which they can take on small world properties, thereby efficiently reducing the social distance between individuals who may need to be connected. However, the changing of organization into a small world depends on the limitation of volume of information that could be processed along any particular path. Therefore, a key characteristic of adaptable world organizations is the capability of identifying overburdened connections reducing the information burden on those connections. This capability may be enhanced to the degree of organizations group. At the high levels in the organization, there will be a high density of ties, and there is a decreasing density of ties as it moves down to the low levels in the organization. In conclusion, Watt¿s book attempts to help me understand the new and exciting field of network and complexity. It offers me a snapshot of a riveting moment in science, when understanding things like disease, epidemics, tragedy of September 11th or financial panic seems almost within my reach.

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