The Strength of Weak Ties

 I don't come from a background in social science.  But the requisite Ph.D. course in the major thinkers of the field Indeed introduced me to Mark Granovetter, who demonstrated the strength of so-called "weak ties."  Granovetter proved that people that we only kinda know are often responsible for all sorts of amazing things in our lives: they help us get jobs, we take their recommendations on products, they subtly influence our beliefs.  All this in 1973, decades before Facebook and Twitter.  


Today, I rely constantly on the strength of my weak ties in the media studies community.  Through the networks I've built, both via my personal account and the account for my blog, "Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style," I've cultivated massive networks of weak ties.  In "Teaching Media," academics whom I've never met suggest readings and help me plan the last day of class.  On Twitter, they provide history, details, esoterica, and comic relief.  And I trust them: without my weak ties, I would've spent hours figuring out which episode of Entourage best exemplifies the specific sort of bromantic love I wanted to highlight.  They also provide something that most of us sorely lack in our non-digital lives, namely, encouragement and support.  Something about the internet -- and weak ties -- makes it easier to be sincere with each other. 


In the end, these weak ties have made teaching in a department of two, four hours from the nearest media studies department, as rewarding as the halycon days of grad school, when resources were always just a door-knock away.  Social media "guides" often discourage users from "friending" people they don't know.  I get why.  But friending, following, and otherwise cultivating weak ties via social media has overcome the strength of the most well-founded of concerns.


This post is a bit different from the discussions that have come before, and I like that. Many of the opportunities I've had in life have come from 'weak' ties. I also think of waves of ties, people one connects intensely with for a singular project and then that connection weakens. 

I wonder about the ethos of trusting strangers. In a network, of course, we kind of know ties and can trust them on certain things. I wonder if knowing someone CAN make us trust them less in some respects. I have thought of times when I have not trusted a suggestion because I know more about a person's life and preferences than a weak tie. In a personal instance, I will often look up bands/movies that near strangers suggest, but not if my husband suggests them, because I know our tastes in these categories are so dissimilar.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.