Dr. Slammy’s Law of Social Communication

This came to me just now in an e-mail exchange with our friend John Harvin. So, tell me – am I onto something? Has this already been said?

In any public communication system where access is generally open, noise tends to expand at an exponential rate while the expansion of signal is merely additive.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine why this would occur to me…


  • Sam,

    That’s been said before, and is so correct.


  • Doesn’t it depend on the “popularity” of the signal? For instance, take “the impact of interleukin-1 on brain-immune communication.” It’s a hugely important signal in the psychoneuroimmunology field, but anyone outside the field has no idea WTF it is.

    Although, now that I think about it, the health/natural remedy people have certainly added a bunch of noise to the conversation…

  • I guess that would be feed back. If that were the case, even if they were both exponential, all it would take for the noise to quickly overwhelm the signal is for the “noise” feed back constant to be greater.

  • Oh, and I bet both signal and noise are more sigmoidal than exponential. There’s a lag phase, a relatively linear (or maybe even exponential) phase, followed by a plateau. Basically, you saturate the market and/or suck up all available resources.

    • I don’t know what’s scarier – the fact that these three posts (especially your “sigmoidal” one) could qualify as “noise,” or the fact I understood them well enough know that they’re anything but….

  • Hehehe. Sorry. I’ve been trying to understand particle swarms and population dynamics the last few days and some ideas are jumbled up in my head. 🙂 Sigmoids seem to show up everywhere from the lowest bacteria up to social networks.

  • Mike: not talking about a particular communication. Talking about the system as a whole. And re: the blogosphere and our current social media landscape, let me know when the noise plateaus.

  • That last one is easy. Is you readership continuing to expand or has it peaked? If it has peaked, then the noise has also probably peaked. There’s only so much noise 5 people can generate (even if one of those 5 people is me. heh).

    The system as a whole will follow the same rules. What do you mean by “system?” What’s included in that? Just the Interwebs? Or are you also including TV, Radio, etc? If you are talking about them separately, then I would consider them individual entities, competing for for finite resources. And the finite resource is “people with access” and, possibly, bandwidth (as hackers know all too well with “denial of service” attacks).

    In the end, I guess it really doesn’t matter. As long as we have an increasing population, and as long as we have increasing access, you will have exponential increases in both noise and signal. Saturation becomes increasingly unlikely.

    Now, once we fill up the planet, that’ll be a different situation and a plateau becomes a possibility.

  • You know, I’m probably just really really slow, but I just realized that S&R = SNR (signal noise ratio). How did I not see that before?

  • Haha. I think anything with the word NAD in it would be overruled by default. 🙂

    I think we have officially exponentially increased the noise. Heh.

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