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  • Writer's pictureHai Xiang

How Networks Determine the History We See Today


1. History is shaped by push and pull of hierarchy and networks, two phenomena that share some basic traits. While hierarchies have usually had the final say, networks have long played a vital role in driving historical change and transforming societies. The French Revolution was facilitated by the salons of the 18th century Paris, where different groups could meet to discuss their ideas. We tend to bond with people similar to us, through the network, people with alike minds connected and become stronger. In hierarchy, the “central node” is the king or queen from the top, but in networks, the central node is the person that connect with most persons in the network.


2. Networks are defined by key traits such as centrality, weak ties and brokers.

  • Degree Centrality: the number of connections that a person has in the network.

  • Betweenness Centrality: how much information was passed through the connecting lines.

"The individual has the highest “betweenness centrality” does not necessarily has the highest number of connections, but they have the most important connections."
  • Closeness Centrality: How many steps separate different nodes from one another. People with high closeness centrality have the best access to information.

  • Weak links are important too, they connect people from different social worlds.

  • When the weak tie is not available, the brokers can shoulder up the same function by providing a meeting opportunity for people from different people to meet.


3. Global exploration and the invention of printing press created important new networks. The people with unrestricted and more access to information gains power.


4. The Reformation shock the foundations of hierarchy and kick-started a new age of network. Networks, unlike the hierarchy, is harder to wipe out, since centrality is spread out.


5. The Enlightenment, and both the American and French revolutions were network-based. The early Americans have s strong associational culture, while France was a more hierarchical society. So the French Revolution is the bloody one. The successor of that revolution is a new hierarchy.


6. The 19th century witnessed the birth of reformed and networked hierarchy. The 1815 agreement between the five super powers in Europe created a new network of interconnected hierarchies, which is proved to be efficient in avoiding wars and conflicts. The monarchies that ruled individual countries also proved to be an efficient network, where most of the noble families are connected by blood.


7. The British Empire made use of existing hierarchies to build an empire and spearhead globalization. In the colonies, they carry on the hierarchy order by devolving power to “chiefs” and “sub-chiefs”.

"If granted a fancy British title and allowed a limited amount of freedom, these men effectively agreed to work for the empire. Through the innovation of the Industrial Revolution, the Empire can connect to its colonist through steamed ships and telegrams."

8. Two of the 20th century’s most lethal ideologies started out as networks. Nazi can succeed in ballot is due to its strong networking power, but its high-power policy muted neighbourhood and make people more isolated.


9. The post-war years were defined by hierarchy but the end of the 20th century saw the re-emergence of networks. Modern corporate structure is modelled after the hierarchy system.


10. The decentralized networks we know today emerged as hierarchies and came under pressure in the 1970s. Due to the increased amount of information, which puts unbearable burden on corporate directors to make correct change among volatile business environment, network proves to be more efficient than hierarchy.


11. The early 21st century proved that anarchic networks could have a major impact on society. Islamic states and ISIS fill the void after the topple of dictatorship and replace the power vacuum with networks. Use social networking platforms to spread its network. For a well-structured network, the decapitalization strategies (skill the leader) wont work very well, as more will come up after the fall of one.


12. Recent events have shown that networks can challenge hierarchies in the West as well. In Brexit, the party provocates leave the EU make good use of social media to pass on key information.

"For a social media strategy to be useful and viral, the online message has to be provocative and irritating enough to provoke offline discussions, only then the effect maximizes."

13. Unless regulation is imposed, the future is likely to be both more networked and much more chaotic. Like in the case of Facebook, Amazon, and Google, although proclaiming open network, but these tycoons have grown big enough to form monopoly, which inhibits the emergence of new companies, which means the network becomes more rigid and less open. While the economy now becomes truly global, the nation state remains the base of political power. Need to reconcile the two or a populist backlash and a turn toward authoritarianism will be in place.

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