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Book Review – Linked

Linked - Albert-Laszlo Barabasi

by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi

This book is technically outside the design realm but it has a lot of relevance to the field of technology and design. Barabasi talks about the growing field of network theory. He gives a good history of these theories and makes it relatively easy for an outsider like myself to be able to follow along. The book starts a bit on the jargon-side in discussing the mathematical theories behind networks and matrices. But he counters this by opening every chapter with a real-world example of the principles he is discussing. His anecdotes prove entertaining and useful in understanding how network theory helps to explain the world around us.

Barabasi see networks helping us understand the nature of order throughout many aspects of life–from genes to the Internet (which is what most of his work is primarily centered around). Briefly, the idea is that we must move away from looking at phenomena in isolation and seeing structures as interconnected networks. One example that comes to mind from the book is his retelling of scientists that were searching for a gene that causes manic depression in different areas. Each group of scientists found different isolated chromosones that were responsible. The reason, Barabasi argues, is that we should not view genes as isolated objects that control things. Rather, they work in a network and act differently under different conditions. This is aligned with my ideas of “systemic design” where designers should not isolate features of design but try to view them as a systemic whole (Malcolm McCullough talks about this in “Digital Ground“).

Barabasi also talks in great detail about the nature of networks and how the Internet is one of hubs and connectors. Again, he explains this well. At times the nature of the material makes it slightly difficult to follow, but he backs up the science with many examples. I often find many non-fiction books to be redundant but in this case the redundancy helps to understand the material. His anecdotes and exploration of the world of network theory makes it easy to abstract from. It’s easy for any reader to relate some aspect of their life to this new(er) way of ordering the complex world. More specifically it’s highly relevant at the dawn of the age of Web 2.0


1 Kevin Makice { 09.21.07 at 2:57 pm }

Nice review. This is a favorite of mine. The writing is pretty crisp and accessible, and a good companion for other similar kinds of books on collective action.

2 Will o { 09.21.07 at 3:18 pm }

I too like to think of design as systemic or ‘the whole’ (as Erik describes it in Design Way). I suspect these perspectives will continue to gain ground as design is conceptualized in new ways. In particular, emerging fields such as service design* illustrate innovative ways to incorporate a more systemic perspective and may offer more positive outcomes in regard to sustainability.

*check out Emergence 2007

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