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Social networking and the influence of thought

A Christian Science perspective.

November 16, 2009



Online social networking is a phenomenon that's changed the entire landscape of communication, from marketing products and sharing news to keeping up with friends and family. The ability to spread information quickly and broadly has incredible appeal – and power. And its influence is worth some scrutiny.

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A new book, "Connected," by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and James Fowler, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, examines years of research and concludes that "social networks, both offline and online, are crucial in understanding everything from voting patterns to the spread of disease" (Elizabeth Landau, "Obesity, STDs flow in social networks," cnn.com).

The book focuses on any number of ways networking with a broad group of friends can affect the overall population. The authors maintain that finding the hubs of social networks can be invaluable from a public health point of view. For example, as the article pointed out, they put forth the idea that "instead of vaccinating everyone in a population against a disease, it may be just as effective to choose people at random and ask them to name their closest friends, then vaccinate those friends." Or, try this idea on for size: Their book states, "If a mutual friend becomes obese, it nearly triples a person's risk of becoming obese." The book maintains that geography doesn't matter and that you can still gain weight even if a friend 1,000 miles away gets bigger.

What these studies indicate is the spreadable nature of thought – that consciousness is not confined to locality; that thought is substance and is catching, for good or ill; and that physical presence isn't a necessary component in the universe of thought. It also points out the importance of being vigilant to erroneous influences. One of the central points of Christian Science is that very fact. Mary Baker Eddy advised, "In a world of sin and sensuality hastening to a greater development of power, it is wise earnestly to consider whether it is the human mind or the divine Mind which is influencing one" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 82–83). No doubt, there's much good that goes on among networking channels – and the influence of such good is enormous. But there's also a need to guard against the false directives that would take us down unproductive paths. No one really wants a friend to gain weight or catch a disease.

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