The Reliants Project #37

How networks shape our lives

Thanks for signing up to all the new readers! Here are some nuggets about how networks shape your wellbeing, relationships and community to help you actively cultivate yours.


There’s been a lot of talk this fall about the impact of social media on people. In The Question We’ve Stopped Asking About Teen-Agers and Social Media, Cal Newport pulls together opinions from several leading researchers on the topic. His discussion with Jonathan Haidt addresses an important point:

“Haidt drew a nuanced distinction between communication technology and social media. “Connecting directly with friends is great,” he told me. “Texting, Zoom, FaceTime, and Snapchat are not so bad.” His real concern was platforms that are specifically engineered to “keep the child’s eyes glued to the screen for as long as possible in a never-ending stream of social comparison and validation-seeking from strangers”—platforms that see the user as the product, not the customer.”

Think about which platforms you use for connecting vs. the ones that use you as the product.


I love this take from Iris Murdoch: what the writer and philosopher can teach us about friendship. The idea that love is knowledge rings true for me, particularly in the context family and friends from childhood. But it also works when you think about colleagues that you’ve built friendships with over years of working together.

“So while we may have a natural, selfish tendency to believe reassuring fantasies about the goodness of other people (especially our friends), true friendship requires us to be patient, kind and accepting of their negative qualities too.”


A friend shared this fascinating article about the various social graphs behind many apps, how they have evolved over time, and how they influence our experience. And You Will Know Us by the Company We Keep is long an nerdy, but I think it’s really interesting to reflect on the current challenges that social media is facing:

“To take the most famous example, the root of Facebook's churn issues began when their graph burgeoned to encompass everyone in one's life. As noted above, just because we are friends with someone doesn't mean we want to see everything they post about in our News Feed. In the other direction, having many more people from all spheres of our lives follow us created a massive context collapse. It wasn't just that everyone and their mother had joined Facebook, it was specifically that everyone's mother had joined Facebook.”

I completely agree with Eugene’s conclusion and hope that the next wave of social apps address this:

“In a world where finding someone online is a commodity, the niftier trick is connecting to the right people in the right context. I have over a dozen messaging apps installed on my phone, they all look roughly the same. While I've discussed graph design largely defensively here—how to avoid mistakes in graph design—the positive view is to use graph design offensively. How do you craft a unique graph whose very structure encodes valuable, and more importantly, unique intelligence?”

Like what you read? There’s plenty more where that came from. You can check out my best performing newsletters here:

Read More

About The Reliants Project

Reliant is my word for a person that someone depends on, an essential component of our social networks. With each edition, I’ll share useful nuggets about how networks shape your wellbeingrelationships, and community to help you actively cultivate yours. Whether you want to make better introductions, build better social products and services, or activate networks to make an impact in the world, let me help you reach your goals.

You can find more about The Reliants Project here.