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SOCNET  March 2003

SOCNET March 2003

Subject:

Dying, Cellphones and Social Networks

From:

Michael Foulds <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 26 Mar 2003 22:26:28 +1100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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*****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.sfu.ca/~insna/  *****

I'm relatively new to network analysis, but a recent event caused me to
reflect on some issues which may be of interest to members of this list,
even if perhaps covered previously.

A friend died suddenly, and unexpectedly, last Friday night. Although we
found out soon afterwards, today my wife received a call from his
brother-in-law (whom we do not know), who was contacting everyone in the
deceased man's cellphone contact list.

Initially, I was struck by the meaning of the act of calling everyone on the
cellphone contact list. In many cases, the nature of the relationship with
each person would not have been known - the contact was simply a name on a
list. Presumably the mere presence on the cellphone list indicated some kind
of significance. What about email lists, where presumably the message
content could be reviewed to glean an idea of the nature of the
relationship, and where contact by email could be less personal? Is this a
new ritual, required in an age where details of people we know are stored
electronically, yet may not be known by those (kin) closest to us.

Then there are the reflections on life that the proximity to death often
brings on. The imagery of all the different networks of which my friend was
part (usually at the core, rather than the periphery, which was a mark of
his spirit), and how many of them will meet for the first time tomorrow at
his funeral. Will these "structural holes", which were invisible while he
lived, now by definition disappear with him? Analytically, nodes are removed
in order to better understand the networks of which they are part. In a way,
the same understanding dawns at funerals, triggered by surprise at the range
of contacts and friendships of the deceased. It is almost a shame that the
whole person is known only at the end. At the same time, the networks
reconfigure, and life goes on. Still, I was starkly reminded that the
networks we are part of, and the quality of our relationships are central in
life, yet often taken for granted.

Regards
Michael Foulds

_____________________________________________________________________
SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social
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