Contagious without direct contact

The two ideas from Connected that I've seen get the biggest buzz are not the two I mentioned yesterday as my biggest takeaways. One is how many facets of life can be contagious. The other is how we can catch them indirectly, from weak ties like a friend of a friend of a friend.

We are acculturated to accept the concept of "catching other people's germs via direct exposure". We assume there has to be a pathogen involved to come down with another person's sickness. We're aware of maladies that are not contagious like broken bones, acne and diarrhea. We're also apprehensive about getting contaminated when someone is highly contagious, as when they are sneezing and coughing. When there's a pandemonium like the fear of anthrax shortly after the 9/11 attacks or the H1N1 influenza strain last fall, we're doing more to wash our hands or mask our noses and mouthes. This is our paradigm of contagion by direct contact in operation.

Our familiar paradigm cannot explain how we could catch someone else's happiness, bad moods, obesity, or promiscuity. We assume those are conditions like broken bones, acne and diarrhea. We can know about it, hear about others with it and even see it for ourselves, all without coming down with it. We presume we are not as connected as we really are.

Nicholas A. Christakis's book confirmed a long-held intuition of mine: that competencies and incompetence are usually contagious. We catch on to someone who seems capable of producing results with effective methods. We easily imitate someone we admire. Likewise, we can become as awkward, ineffectual or scatterbrained as someone in that condition. We can become like our enemies, pets, or other obsessions without even trying.

What's new for me from Connected is how we can catch on to competence indirectly, from weak ties like a friend of a friend of a friend. That explains how pervasive we find mismanagement, poor teaching and failures of regulatory agencies. That also amy give us hope that large segments of the population can catch on to effective ways to enhance others' lives, communities and opportunities for their contributions.

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