What is this Social Physics stuff? Well, the Social Physics stuff is statistics meets big data to understand people and it’s a phrase that’s about two centuries old. It’s where our modern notion of census and, you know, countrywide statistics comes from, but now it’s got a lot more detail than it ever had before.
A little while ago attended a conference and made acquaintance’s with my former University comrades and of course exchanging contacts both cellphone numbers and emails. In the evening, while trying to scroll through my social media timeline, I saw a connection referral, the one that notifies you that we thought you might know this person so send them a connection request. From then hence forth I started paying attention to the suggested friend connection on Facebook and LinkedIn and trust you me I did notice a pattern after not very long. Every day I would enter a new phone number in my phone book and connect to a wi-fi proximity network, I will find a suggested friend request. That is social physics and big data at work!
So, when encounter things like this what we discovered is something really interesting. There’s the information that you get and you’re very conscious of that, but more importantly there’s data that comes off of you. So, from you iPad or your phone comes browsing data, what apps you’re using and so forth. Who calls you of course is really important. You know, how tight are you with different people? How do you communicate with different people?
Probably most interesting is where you are, where you spend time, where you move next. Your physical location is the stuff that really indicates what you like to do and not just what you say you like to do. Along with that of course credit cards, and now going to be mobile money which is where you spend and what you buy is very interesting. Increasingly we have health data from Fitbit’s and fitness apps. So, we know even what’s going on inside of you. And then a really important thing is from things like Bluetooth we know who else is around because they have Bluetooth on them too.
So, today’s phones, today’s wearable’s, give this really rich picture of your behavior and what you like to do. This is why they’re scary in terms of privacy , but also why they’re so rich as they give enormous insight not just about how you live but how you work with others and where you work with others.
The concept refers to all the sources of data that a person creates and leaves behind while conducting everyday activities. These breadcrumbs or sources of data include things like location data, browsing habits, information from health apps, credit card
So, all of that together is what is Social Physics. And what this very rich data does is it lets us put together mathematical models of how people interact, what persuades us, what influences us to make decisions, and the surprising thing we find is that people aren’t nearly as complicated as we like to make out. Actually a lot of our thinking is rooted in our biological heritage. So, mostly we learn from each other. We have signals about what we’re interested in and what we’re not interested in, things that are not language, not complicated, but things that you have to look at the social context in order to understand, and that’s really the key message of Social Physics. It’s not the individual; it’s the social context. Pay attention to that and you can really understand what’s going on.