In getting into a philosophical debate the other night with a friend, I realized society has no measurement or parameters for an individual’s impact on humanity. Self-identifying as a realist, he was arguing that most individual people have no effect on society or the direction our humanity takes. My argument was that every individual effects our society, and, thus humanity. My statement centers around on an individual’s effects on other people. Generally, we have no idea the impact we have on others around us because we don’t ask each other. However, what we say, what we do, and how we act can greatly change another person’s perception of the world and “their society.” From this sense, impact works through our social networks and is a ripple effect. Whether individuals realize it or not, every person impacts the course of humanity. Some individuals clearly have a larger impact than others. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa are just a few that drastically altered the course of humanity. These individuals were visionaries for their times, but their experiences and what led them to become visionaries were shaped by others around them. Other individuals impacted Martin Luther King and Ghandi’s perceptions and, thus through social networks, impacted society. Impact is like water drop creating a ripple effect. It can’t always be seen and is virtually silent. So how do you measure something this intangible? Can an invention or formula be created? Economists are able to measure countries relative happiness through a variety of measures, such as the Happy Planet Index and the OECD Better Life Index. One of the problems is that happiness is subjective. This would also pose a problem in measuring impact. Impactful is subjective and in the eye of the impacted. Another potential method would be to use Network Theory, which is the study of complex interacting systems that can be represented as graphs equipped with extra structure. Network theory is very formula-focused, complicated, and difficult to conduct studies. It would be nearly impossible to gather all the necessary information (of social circles, information, and individuals) to accurately measure impact-fulness of individuals. If Mr. Musk were able to create a formula, measurement or index, it would change how we as individuals see our position in society. It would change society’s notion of the individual.
Top Image: http://blogs.newcastle.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/481704019.jpg Bottom Image: http://www.replicatedtypo.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/largestComponent_Networks.png