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The Value of Social Inter-Connectivity for Paul Revere as Discussed in Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”

Below I have posted a link to a review (albeit not a particularly laudatory one) of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

The book, a recommended read for anyone interested in the subject matter of this course, considers various “social epidemics,” trends or fads that for some reason reached a “tipping point” and went from unremarkable to statistical explosions. Gladwell seeks to determine what sets these trends apart. Why is it that an unpopular shoe like Hush Puppies became extremely popular in 1994 and 1995? What sparked a chlamydia outbreak in Baltimore? Why was Paul Revere so successful in warning colonists about the British while other similar riders had much less success? This is the example I wish to discuss, as it holds the most relevance to the early topics discussed in the course. Gladwell proposes his so-called “Law of the Few” which states that epidemics “tip” because of certain exceptional individuals who fit 3 categories: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors are extremely well-connected socially. Mavens have intricate knowledge that causes their friends to seek advice from them. And salesmen show contagious enthusiasm for certain products.

Gladwell conjectures that Paul Revere was particularly exceptional, claiming he was both a connector and a maven. But for the purposes of this blog it is more noteworthy that he was a connector. Gladwell asserts that Revere was able to spread his message so effectively because he knew all the right people in the towns that he visited. Namely, he knew who in each town was also well connected, and who then in turn would be able to further effectively spread the message. It’s possible that Revere is the reason the social network of the Colonial-era Boston area was connected, and not separated into distinct components by town. He may have personally formed many local bridges from Boston to neighboring towns like Waltham. Revere would have been a node with an extreme number of edges. Not only that but he was also connected to other nodes that also had many edges. His extreme social inter-connectivity was a major factor in his success in spreading his message and the reason why the famous tale of the midnight ride of Paul Revere is told to every American schoolchild. The reason that most people have not heard of William Dawes or Samuel Prescott can be explained with simple graph theory.



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September 2014