Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Red Queen Hypothesis 2.0: Social Networking (and the Internet) as a response to disease

After hearing someone in the next cubicle start hacking away, I got thinking about how the probability of me staying healthy is so greatly decreased by working in this common environment. That made me start dreading the arrival of new undergraduate and graduate students who might further pollute the air with their... um... filth.

The recent bedbug scare spreading across the nation (where Ohio is one hotspot) fits into this line of thinking too. One unlucky or unsanitary person turns into a possibly unaware transmission vector. Even those who are aware of the problem may be unwilling or unable to stop the problem. Of course, this goes for other pests like fleas as well. Moreover, as more people come back to the workplace, there is more chance of these pests moving from person to person, perhaps with a chair or a floor or a cubicle wall in between. It is the dual to herd immunity; it's herd vulnerability – a large group of healthy people are only as strong as their sickest link.

Driving to work today, I heard someone on NPR talk about how about the Internet is making offices unnecessary or deprecated. People are able to do work at home while still staying in contact with their customers and the rest of the work force. That is, they are still able to leverage the power of humans to form productive groups without having to actually be in the same space of those humans. With this still ringing in my ears coupled with the new sound of the guy in the next cubicle hacking away, it made me think that maybe the Internet and social networking are just another product of the Red Queen running to stay in one place. That is, although the ostensible purpose of physical isolation alongside virtual collaboration has nothing to do with disease, a collateral effect is that many communicable diseases have a hard time commuting across wires and fibers. So that's a happy thought, right?

On the other hand, there's that Bruce Willis movie that seems to be show the dystopia of my fantasy disesae-free future...

As if on cue, that thought is interrupted by a sneeze from the next cubicle over.

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