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Information Cascades in Post-Sandy New York

Today’s society has become so dependent on technology to stay connected to each other that it is hard to imagine not having it. However, after Sandy hit the East Coast, many of the people who were left stranded without power for their devices have to learn how to cope without the use of technology. Without the accessibility of the internet and cell phone service, people must resort to more primitive methods of getting information. As stated in the article: “The lack of information was unnerving,” said Tay McEvers… “You would hear that the water wasn’t safe to drink or that the lights were going to come back at 4 and have no way to verify it.”

Technology, and social media in specific, relate to information cascades in that each person can have, virtually, an unlimited supply of information from the internet. The validity of the information is, of course, not guaranteed, but each person is privy to the actions of many other people in the world. Each individual person may have their own base opinion about a certain topic, but if he sees that many other people are thinking (acting) a certain way about a topic, they may disregard their own opinion and go with the majority.

However, in a society without these advantages of technology, one’s information is reduced to a much smaller scale. Information cascades still exist since if one has limited information about a certain topic and sees that many other people are acting a certain way, one may follow the rest of them in case they know more. For example, using the quote from above about the safe water, I may have some limited information such as what I see when I look at the water, but if many other people tell me that it is not safe and they are not drinking, I would not drink it either because I assume that everyone has some reason for not drinking the water. The difference lies in the number of other “actions” that each person can see before making his/her own decision.

As stated in lecture, this can happen easily since if 1 person influences 2 people by not drinking the water (regardless of whether he actually knows anything about the water), a newcomer can see that 3 people are not drinking it and thus, the cascade would grow. It is also fragile in that if someone decides to be brave and drink the water, but nothing bad happens, everyone might then assume that it is now safe and another cascade would grow.





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