Sorry, no koolaid...
Notes on Social Network Analysis
This is a story summary I wrote up for Plastic.com sometime in November '01; it didn't generate a lot of discussion. I was really hoping to get something going with this one, since the subject really seemed to me to have resonance for how we'll judge social class in the future -- and, of course, with my old, slightly cynical but little-altered view of what modern capitalism really is.
Six Degrees Of Mohammed Atta
'Organizational Network Analysis Consultant' Krebs Valdis has used social network analysis to produce a map of the inter-relations between the 9-11 hijackers, based entirely on public-domain data; it looks to me eerily like the site-maps I've been drawing since 1997, or like the output from the old Kevin Bacon game.
I was led to this map by a succession of two NPR stories my brother, a vector biologist, put me onto: The first [Real-Audio here], from Friday, about the "Kick Osama Butt" song/Flash-ani that many of us have already seen, which led me to the second, more serious one, from mid-October [Real-Audio here]. These stories, I think, can help us to understand a lot of things about how intelligence is being gathered, and why our intelligence gathering sometimes fails: This is hard, complex work, even (and perhaps especially) if automated.
But it's also fraught with potential to radically alter our lives if carried out to the depth that would be necessary to ensure the level of safety I fear Americans will demand. David Jensen (U Mass, Amherst), in the second story, comments: 'One of the surprising things right now is that marketing companies really know more about us individually than the government does.' And this, in turn, exposes a problem with the civil-liberties questions. This information analysis, this unprecedented level of attention that many of us are now afraid the government's going to be paying to the details of our lives, has been going on for a long time, carried out by entities who don't really answer to us, even in theory. And to prohibit the level of access that makes it possible would hinder commerce incredibly -- and commerce is after all, as our President has repeatedly reminded us, the life-energy of American society. Very few people who are actually integrated enough into society to not stick out could escape this type of analysis -- I'm reminded of the knife-wielding assassin from Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, who leaves no trace except a trail of dead bodies.