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13 March 2006 @ 11:25 pm
The atomic theory of social networks  
In my world, social groupings are like old-school atomic models.

Before the physicists in the room flinch and then start throwing things, let me clarify that I know that atomic theory these days talks about electron clouds and stuff like that. I know that my knowledge of scientific theory, never strong, has degraded into a cartoonish approximation. In other words: creative license, okay?

But to me, social networks are like that old model of the atom: electrons circling a nucleus. Sometimes the electrons swap around from one atom to another, but they do the circling. They don't become nuclei themselves; that doesn't even make sense.

In this system, I'm an electron.

I know nuclei, of course. They're the people who have circles of friends. They're the people I'm a friend of. But it's silly to say they're my friends; that's not how it works.

I know this because I've tried to play the nucleus. I've declared a gathering or an event. I've tried to pull together these other particles. But electrons don't, can't, attract other electrons. A particular force is needed to hold a group of people together, and not only do I not have that, it sometimes seems I have the opposite of that. The atom is unstable; the grouping doesn't hold. Degradation and entropy win the day.

I know there are other factors. I don't host gatherings for about a dozen reasons, most of them unrelated to this flight of fancy. I'm the person who somehow can let a month or two or fifteen slip by before getting around to answering a simple "are you alive?" e-mail. I don't have all that many group-conducive interests. I am in possession of a few social-ineptitude insecurities that, while they fall well short of Asperger's or autism, still sometimes leave me feeling like the "anthropologist on Mars". It's not a simple as a metaphorical intrisic "charge".

But if the model fits ....

So if you find yourself wondering why I never invite you anywhere, or ask you to hang out, or call or e-mail you out of the blue, or suggest any sort of interaction of my own initiative ... it's probably not anything about you. It's just that I'm a dork. Just so you know.


In unrelated news, LiveJournal's autosave feature isn't the salvation one might necessarily hope. But I will survive.
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mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)mabfan on March 14th, 2006 11:34 am (UTC)
An interesting analogy. But I'd also say that it has just as much to do with geography as it might have to do with personality.
michelel72michelel72 on March 14th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC)
Well, that would be one of those dozen reasons, actually. Living a good 50 miles from half of one's friends makes things difficult on its own merits.
introverteintroverte on March 14th, 2006 01:51 pm (UTC)
This is why we're friends -- because I'm (mostly) the same way, with a big dose of social anxiety, too. The reason I host things from time to time is that, while I want to socialize, I'm greatly more comfortable doing so on my home turf, where if I start to feel awkward then I can go and play hostess.

You are not alone, my fellow weirdo.
Amy- ninja extraordinaire, bad monkeyninjamonkey73 on March 14th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)
This brings me to an interesting self-realization. While I suspect you would consider me a nucleus, I was just thinking lately about how my atom has changed over the last few months. I'm going to overwork your metaphor, but hey, you started it...

Last fall, at least on Sundays with football games, I was the nucleus of an oxygen atom. 2 inner electrons, and 6 in the next level. I've spent most of 2006, however, self-demoted to a helium atom. Just those 2 inner electrons. Saturday, I had a nice time being boron all day (2 inner and 3 outer). Mostly, though, 2006 has been all about the helium. I like helium. It's simple. Non-volatile. A noble gas.

I used to moonlight as an electron. I let myself lose touch with those nuclei. It's probably best, given their... atomic mass. Massive objects with unstable electron configurations can pull other atoms apart. Better steer clear.
michelel72michelel72 on March 14th, 2006 05:27 pm (UTC)
I am humbled and awed.

I used to be a geek, once. Now I'm just a geek groupie.
Nomignomi on March 14th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, you're definitely not alone. I, like introverte, am more comfortable socializing on my home turf, because then I can hide in the kitchen when the crowd overwhelms me. And I am glad to have cultivated a circle of friends who don't mind me hiding in their kitchens during parties.
introverteintroverte on March 14th, 2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
Kitchens definitely give me a big comfort factor. There's the illusion, if not the fact, that I'm doing something, and then I can hang out with other people who hide in the kitchen, who tend to be my type. :-)
michelel72michelel72 on March 14th, 2006 05:41 pm (UTC)
Interesting. The "home turf/hostess" thing doesn't resonate for me at all, yet I too tend to gravitate to kitchens. Feeling as if I'm helping makes me more comfortable, and I rather like the class of folk I encounter there. :>
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)mabfan on March 14th, 2006 08:54 pm (UTC)
Kitchens are good because that's where the food is.