I Am Infinity . . . . .

A segment of a social network

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I”ve been trying all day to get to this post. But I’m like an octopus with endless tentacles. And so it’s been for better that 35 years. I wrote for grants; started programs, requested support for the TV Studio to tape our projects, and meanwhile tried to write a textbook, or two.

Somehow the results never coincided with my plans. I remember crying once, asking Carol if Washington would raise Cain if I asked to put our grant off for just one year. I was  so tired of juggling so many pieces at once. And here I am, 35 years later, still doing the same thing.

Zen, yoga, and meditation, combined with exercise, when I’m not juggling too much, really do let me get centered. Centered, like planting my two feet firmly on the ground and refusing to move. Like breathing with the Happy Buddha until I’m sure I haven’t gone into orbit, hovering too close to Nirvana for my own comfort.

My therapist keeps trying to get me to slow down, to do just a few hours work a day. Everyone I’ve ever known, with the exception of Dr. Bercel (psychiatrist) in the early Sixties, tells me to slow down.  Bercel, beloved by the Department of French at UCLA, merely said “You’ll live longer and more happily at your own pace. You would be miserable in a convent or monastery, and die much younger.”So that’s why I threatened to run away from the convent (the Holy Angels Academy in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, I think it was)  when I was 9 or 10. See, even my memories come in stochastic blobs.

Bercel was right. Here I am at 76, having survived a freeway wreck that broke my neck at 60, the night before our annual performance. Of course the performance went well, it was just one of seven or eight things going on. I’m tired of juggling things again, but it will all turn out well in the end.  Susan and I are closer than ever to being able to set up our project of community development of the public-sphere. Understanding how to do the analysis we need for public-sphere growth is going to involve just the fifth programming language I’m going to have to learn.

A small price to pay.  I was attending a class in biostatistics at  UCLA  medical school for when I learned about stochastic processes. It took me eight weeks of the 10 week course to figure out that we were basically trying to determine statistically whether certain events, like huge globs of cars coming along all at once, or people showing up at a cafeteria counter in large groups, followed by periods of no one showing up, were random or could be accounted for by some external event, meaning that we might be able to control the flow of people or traffic or whatever.

I was at the time trying to explain patterns at a famous old restaurant  just across from McArthur Park behind Otis Art Institute. Most of the clients were elder adults, so I didn’t think their lunch or dinner hours should revolve around  specific time slots. But I wanted to see how the lunch and dinner trade varied throughout the day. I went with a few students to simply count the numbers of clients as they entered, trying to decide if, in fact, the pattern was random.

One old man, with a cane, wandered slowly toward the main door. I stood ready to count him. But he stopped cold, and stared in the huge plate glass window at the other diners. Surely, he would continue on his way shortly. Fifteen minutes or so later, I was still waiting for him to continue to the entrance. But no, it was as if he had fallen asleep, right there, on the sidewalk, looking contentedly in that window. This is what happens when you go in the field. The unanticipated. I made peace with my impatience by naming him my Sleeping Event. And I still remember him fondly, though I don’t remember if he ever woke up and made it into the restaurant.

I hadn’t considered the possibility of Sleeping Events. Hadn’t even thought that sleep might disrupt other factors that could perhaps be controlled to keep the flow of customers from breaking into mobs, then no one, then mobs again. The math was pretty wild with stochastic processes.  I don’t remember a lot. It was long, long ago. We multiplied both sides of some equation by delta, maintaining equality. With delta, we were able to manipulate the numbers. Then when we had our results, we divided both sides of the equation by delta, again maintaining equality, and behold: higher math yielded some answers.

At Dominguez Hills, no one in our department was playing with higher math. I’d done that work with demography at USC. And Susan and I, with my seven balls juggling almost constantly, never had the time to take our qualitative analyses to that level. So just imagine my surprise when Social Network Analysis for Startups arrived on Saturday from O’Reilly. I always got e-mail from FQS, the qualitative analysis journal out of Germany. Sometimes I even found the time to read it. But little seemed to fall within our meager possibilities for meaningful analysis of our projects.

We had so little energy left over with our teaching loads (as do almost all state colleges) that we rarely managed to even do descriptive reports of how our efforts were working out. I vaguely recall having read some kind of sample at O’Reilly’s before the publication. So I’m assuming that this tiny volume was just published and that O’Reilly  just sent it along from a pre-publication order.

This has led to so many coincidences in the last few weeks that I’m beginning to feel that I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole, and that this is some sort of Alice in Wonderland sign. The sudden need to write the story of Derrick Bell’s visit, which I’d never managed to get to till now, the reshaping of our Dear Habermas project to community development through public-sphere activities, the eagerness of so many in our local communities to begin the public-sphere work, and now a wonderful mathematical update, complete with digital software that is aimed specifically at qualitative analysis of just the kind of project we envision.

So do I follow my own instincts? And go where these myriad coincidences keep offering me books that say “Read Me,” witing programs that say “Try Me,”  languages that say “Program with Me,” and then, just as I start to say, “No. I mustn’t!” Python says, “I can show you how to do all that social network analysis so fast you won’t believe it. I can tell you what you’ve always wanted to know. I have bi-modal analysis. Go ahead; say it: Python Rules!”

Weakening, my resolve spills in a puddle at my feet.  I must cook. I must clean this huge house. I must .  .  .  Then Arnold says, “Come with me for lunch in Beverly Hills tomorrow.” OK, OK. My will power is worn to a frazzle. I promise to eat well. I have no choice but to sleep well, since my age demands it. What fun! I’ll come.  And Python whispers, “I told you so. Python Rules!

Now I am tired. I wouldn’t mind settling into one of my books. But Susan has to know about Social Network Analysis for our startup project, and she’ll need to teach it in Media and Criminal Justice in the Spring Semester of 2012. I don’t think Maksim Tsvetovat and Alexander Kouznetsov’s text would be right for criminal justice undergraduate majors, because there’s lots of computerese and graphs, and explanations of higher math. And today, our criminal justice majors rarely minor in math.

On the other hand these authors offer a very clear narrative on social network analysis and links analysis.  The also footnote numerous sociological texts that would help clarify. Tonight I have time only to give a brief summary of their explanations.

What stuck with me most was one author’s brief explanation of analyzing data from Facebook and Twitter, and his explanation of the need for bi-modal analysis. As a physicist and a theorist, I have always been a little disdainful of worshiping  quantitative data. Physics and math have measured complex systems. But way back when Galileo tried to use his measurements to explain why he believed the earth revolved around the sun, he was accused of being a heretic.

These stories, held in reserve for telling in later stories, flooded back into my consciousness when I read on page 5 of Chaapter 1: “[T]he application of quantitative metrics centrality measures is dangerous because mixing nodes and edges of different meanings (e.g., money and telephone calls) produces a result that is mathematically invalid. Unfortunately, this does not stop the software from computing these metrics.” The author then adds as a footnote: “Did I just make some enemies? I might live in Washington, DC, but I don’t play politics with math. It’s either right or wrong. . . sorry, guys.”

Even the sexism of his addressing “guys,”with no “gals,” made me feel at home. Some of us really are gals.  Maybe old gals, even. But his sense of measurement not being as easy as it might be in the physical sciences is right on. We are seeing this now, with entire chunks of our population rejecting scientific method in favor of “their beliefs.”  Not only is that whole process either “right or wrong . . .  sorry, folks;” it’s scary when we throw reason back to Galileo’s times. The human race can’t afford to go backwards to attitudes and behavior of centuries past.

I was also impressed with the authors’ analysis of the kinds of relationships that can be quantitatively measured on Facebook and Twitter.  On Twitter a “retweet” is a closer relationship than an original “tweet” sent to all one’s followers. On Facebook, answered messages and series of messages represent closer relationships than do messages just sent out and not receiving “likes” or responses. The authors recognition that they would very much like to get interview and other kinds of data to better understand what determines who is an opinion leader, or, indeed, whether social networks do shape and change opinions for many people.

Most of the people on Facebook, at least as I have experienced it (as one of those balls I’ve tossed in the air to juggle), are weak relationships. As the authors of Social Network Analysis for Startups note quite openly better data would be appreciated so that we could have relationships of varying intensity and importance to the participants.

What Susan and I have set up for the public-sphere project is a website intended to nurture relationships that will go beyond the scheduled activities that bring us together in the first instance. We also do not contemplate running these local projects ourselves. Nor do we contemplate asking anyone else to be formally in charge of these public-sphere exchanges between neighbors and friends. But we are approaching adults in each of the projects to encourage the relationships that develop naturally. We believe that the adults who emerge from these activities would more willingly accede to requests for interviews or story telling, or a variety of other methodologies that would provide for professional practitioners of Social Network Analysis and Link Analysis.

Susan and I hope to be able to help collect such data and make it available for analysis to the young professionals who can then foster the project as it grows. Our local communities, both real and virtual, need such discourse on all the social, economic, and political issues we hope to see pop up all over, on their own.

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About Jeannie the Red Jay

Emeritus Professor, lawyer, physicist, mathematician, French teacher, Ph.D. in learning theory and philosophy. Artist, wife, mother, political activist. Teller of ever so many stories gathered along the way. Emeritus Prof. in sociology at California State University, Domingeuz Hills. Web Mistress for Dear Habermas in research study with Susan R. Takata of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside: Study of Social Network Analysis in Developing a Public Sphere in Local Communities, Real and Virtual.
This entry was posted in California State University Dominguez Hills, community development, Derrick Bell, establishing community links, rabbit hole, using the internet to draw partiipants and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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