The Duck of Minerva

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What I’ll Be Reading on the Plane to Thailand

June 30, 2010

I’ll be mostly off the grid traveling for the next two and half weeks, and I want to thank readers for their many suggestions as to what I should take with me. I probably won’t flesh out my entire reading list until I get to the airport Barnes and Noble, but I have decided on one book I’m definitely taking with – and it’s not even a paperback: Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do by Albert Laszlo Barabasi.

Barabasi first captured my imagination with his book Linked, a lay person’s guide to network science, and his new book is said to extend his analytical vision through time as well as space. His argument – drawing as usual on wide swaths of interdisciplinary science plus fascinating historical and current events anecdotes – is that “we work and fight and play in short flourishes of activity followed by next to nothing: our daily pattern isn’t random, it’s ‘bursty.'” But what I’m in it for is not his findings but his methodology: Barabasi has developed this theory by culling data from our digital lives. “Mobile phones, the Internet, and email have made human activities more accesible to quantitative analysis, turning our society into a huge research laboratory. All those electronic trails of time-stamped texts, voice-mails, and searches add up to a previously unavailable massive data set that tracks our movements, our decisions, our lives. Analysis of these trails is offering deep insights into the rhythm of how we do everything.” I’ll be interested to see how he converts that mass of data into an argument, and I’ll be interested to see if I buy it.

TTFN.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.