Tag Archive: Mass Communication


While reading, Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody,” I came across an example using the Birthday Paradox. It explains how relationships within a group are much more complicated than the individuals within the group. Shirky uses the scenario of 36 people in a room allows for a greater than 80% chance that two people will share a birthday. How does that work?

My thoughts lingered on this topic for the next few days. I would wake to my mind trying to grasp the setup. Instead of singing in the shower, I found myself attempting to work out this scenario. How could 36 people have a greater than 80% chance of sharing birthdays? 36 people cover about 10% of all possibilities. The so called paradox explains that each person has a relationship with each other and thus allows for greater chances than you can see on the surface. Huh? I sought out Wikipedia for an understanding, and it explained through lots of mathematical formulas that Shirky was indeed telling the truth. But it still just didn’t make sense to me.

Every opportunity I get to poll 36 people within a room, I will. Birthday Paradox doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I just can’t wrap my mind around this. Maybe I’m right and the world of academics and mathematics are wrong. That last one probably isn’t correct, but hell, why should I start doubting myself now.

Have you ever read something that came from someone with a long list of credentials and think “duh?” It’s understandable. Social sciences focus on human beings and their tendencies. I’ve been a human being for over 26 years, and within that period, I’ve interacted with a lot of other humans beings. I might not be an expert, but I’m not any form of novice either. That statement can be spoken by almost anyone and everyone who has ever looked at those around them with any kind of intellectual observation.

Which leads me to my conclusion that social sciences like to state common sense in such a matter of fact way as to allow the readers to witness some kind of eureka event. The epiphany is an illusion. Not because the message doesn’t have some validity, but because it is common sense wrapped up in a fanciful selection of words. So the next time you read a passage from a person of implied importance within a field, take a hard look at the message and decide if you knew that before he said it. Maybe you knew it, but never thought about it before in that manner. I guess that holds some value.

Perhaps I’m just in a cynical mood, but those are my thoughts for the day. I hold the right to admit that I’m wrong and change my opinion. But, first I need a reason to believe that I’m wrong.