I have a problem. No matter how many books are downloaded and ready to read on my Kindle, I almost always end up buying a physical book (or two) while I’m at the airport. It starts out innocently enough. I’ll have an hour before boarding so I’ll just browse through the books to see what is out there. Then I come across books that sound interesting and then I end up with an extra 5 pounds in my carry on. Oh well, that’s how I’ve come across some really good and some not-so-good books.
One of the most recent acquisitions from Sea-Tac was the book Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons From a New Science. It mainly focuses on “idea flow” or, rather, the way that information is exchanged within any given social grouping (friends, businesses, cities, etc.). The ideas that were touched on in the book were pretty interesting, but something that seemed to take away from the message of the book was the fact the author mostly spoke about studies he (and sometimes his students) were involved with. Granted, it is nice to know that the dude knows what he is talking about, but it would have been nice to hear about other studies/books on the subject as well. There is a point where it starts to make your book sound like a resume or that you need to reassure yourself that you’re a real scientist and the author had hit that point for me.
Writing style aside, the ideas presented in the book were actually pretty interesting to me and align with some of what I want to study for my future Master’s degree. A couple points the author made really hit home when I thought about them in context of the hacker and infosec communities. Specifically, at one point the author talks about the importance of diversity and states “When everyone is going in the same direction, then it is a good bet that there isn’t enough diversity in your information and idea sources, and you should explore further. A big danger of social learning is groupthink.”
I know what you’re thinking “duh, Tottie.” But hang with me for a moment. He then (much later in the book) goes on to discuss how meetings where one or a few number of people leading the discussion in a meeting results in a lack of engagement from the others in the meeting as well as limits the amount of new ideas/solutions generated. To me, this can also be used to describe why we like hall/bar/lobby con more so than the actual convention itself. We are in smaller, tighter-knit groups where usually everyone is engaged in the discussion and as a result usually feel more fulfilled intellectually than we do after sitting in an hour long talk or panel. Generally, folks also have been saying that their favorite cons now are the smaller ones (Derby, shmoo, BSides x, etc.), which also facilitates our want/need to have these smaller/more intimate discussions.
Or I could just be extrapolating. Whatever. Point is, although I wasn’t a fan of the writing style, some of the points made and the data to support it was pretty interesting. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being this book is shit and you should only get it in case you have a toilet paper shortage and 10 being this book is the second coming of Christ), I’d rate it a 4.5.