Going Critical

What I learned from the simulation above is that there are ideas and cultural practices that can take root and spread in a city that simply can’t spread out in the countryside. (Mathematically can’t.) These are the very same ideas and the very same kinds of people. It’s not that rural folks are e.g. “small-minded”; when exposed to one of these ideas, they’re exactly as likely to adopt it as someone in the city. Rather, it’s that the idea itself can’t go viral in the countryside because there aren’t as many connections along which it can spread…

…In an urban center, each person could see upwards of 1000 other people every day — on the street, in the subway, at a crowded restaurant, etc. In a rural area, in contrast, each person may see only a couple dozen others. Based on this difference alone, the city is capable of sustaining more fashion trends. And only the most compelling trends — the ones with the highest transmission rates — will be able to take hold outside of the city…We tend to think that if something’s a good idea, it will eventually reach everyone, and if something’s a bad idea, it will fizzle out. And while that’s certainly true at the extremes, in between are a bunch of ideas and practices that can only go viral in certain networks…

…Finally, we can apply this lens to the internet, by choosing to model it as a huge and very densely networked city. Not surprisingly, there are many new kinds of culture flourishing online that simply couldn’t be sustained in purely meatspace networks. Most of these are things we want to celebrate: niche hobbies, better design standards, greater awareness of injustices, etc. But it’s not all gravy. Just as the first cities were a hotbed for diseases that couldn’t spread at lower population densities, so too is the internet a breeding ground for malignant cultural forms like clickbait, fake news, and performative outrage.”

-Kevin Simler, “Going Critical.” meltingasphalt.com. May 13, 2019.

Interesting throughout.

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