Friday, 22 October 2010

Things Happen because they do

After reading The Tipping Point, amongst others, I am inclined to argue that historical events and the way in which we study them need to be reassessed. Far from the traditional way of looking at past events, interpreting them through a social network perspective opens up a few alternate views: We might reach different insights into the reasons why things happen the way they do. We obtain a different grip on the "reasons", the "event itself" and the "consequences" as we use to study them in our history classes -- and perhaps still do.

Revolutions and inventions offer excellent examples of the necessity to understand the power of networks and the potential locked up in being connected. Social Network Analysis is of course the tool with which we study and understand the such networks. A network perspective offers a new way for us to understanding the reason why things happen, why they happen at a particular point in time and why they happen the way they do.

As such, historical events like the first free election in South Africa in 1994, when viewed from a social network perspective reveal the power of connectedness - in particular, the power of connecting the "right" people and the necessary resources required to bring about change at the right time. Imagine how many people had to be mobilised across the globe to give impetus to the "Silent Revolution" that brought freedom and democracy to South Africa.

This thought brings to mind the concept synchronicity and an extra-ordinary movie Crash in which the seemingly unrelated lives of the different characters come together in a very powerful way: a car crash. Starring Matt Dillon, Crash explores American racial stereo types in a thought-provoking way. However, having lived the South African way of live prior to and post the Apartheid era, connectedness and being unconnected have a personal meaning - and a very real one at that. Nowhere else on earth is it perhaps more prevalant how a political system has kept people unconnected than during Apartheid South Africa -- and for that matter any other country in the world where race, religion, creed and class keep connections from being formed.

It is in being connected that humanity's power lays. It is when the "right" people with their individual mix of talent, ideas and resources meet that change comes about -- change after all happens when enough energy is mustered at any particular given time and a tipping point is reached that leads to a point of no return. Without this, History will have no revolutions to study;  humanity will be suspended in an endless chain of unevents.

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