Global communications and the mesh of civilizations

February 18, 2014 by H. Roger Segelken

It has been 20 years since political scientist Samuel P. Huntington published his influential "Clash of Civilizations" prediction that cultural differences and "fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future."

Now a team of social and information scientists has revisited Huntington's controversial prediction by tracing hundreds of millions of interpersonal emails and tweets around the globe. Their paper, "The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Interpersonal Communication," was presented Feb. 17 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago by Michael Macy, director of the Cornell Social Dynamics Laboratory. The paper is co-authored with Bogdan State of Stanford University, Ingmar Weber and Yelena Nejova of the Qatar Computing Research Institute, and Patrick Park, also of Cornell.

The anonymized email data were collected by State while interning at Yahoo in 2012, assisted by Weber and Mejova who worked for Yahoo Inc. when the research project began, geo-locating and pairing Yahoo email logs (without seeing the email text) and Twitter tweets among hundreds of millions of users worldwide. The researchers used the density of message traffic to measure the "density of " among users in different countries. That's how they were able to discern the digital-age "fault lines of civilization" – using the number of anonymous individuals in each country exchanging emails and Twitter messages with one another.

The researchers claim to have assembled one of the most complete global networks of social ties derived from the interpersonal flows of Internet communication.

Their AAAS presentation includes a network diagram of 90 countries, each colored according to membership in one of Huntington's eight "," termed Sinic, Hindu, Islamic, Latin American, Western, Orthodox, African and Buddhist. The researchers say the diagram "reveals visually striking evidence that online social ties are much stronger within civilizations than between." Although Huntington questioned the possibility for a "universal civilization," Macy notes that "The Clash of Civilizations" was written "before our species gravitated to the borderless web of the cyber world where citizens regularly defy the parochial efforts of nation states. Nevertheless," he laments, "we found little evidence that online communication is bridging the of civilization."

Explore further: E-mail use model appears to follow "Clash of Civilizations" prediction

More information: The abstract is available here:

Related Stories

Yahoo Mail trouble hits fourth day

December 12, 2013

An outage at Yahoo Mail hit its fourth day on Thursday, prompting thousands of furious users to ratchet up their criticism on social media.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.