Was talking to my mother about Virginia Tech. I remember their football team, coming from Ohio State. I remember Cho Seung-Hi‘s teacher – Nikki Giovani – from a shout out in a Kanye West song.Â Today at work we had a department meeting with 19 people. The massacre is very random, and very close to home. It’s weird that Genesis pointed out his adolescent and violent plays. The school and Nikki Giovani caught him at that point and tried to help him via private tutoring, but it was just too late. From what I’ve read I think the University did, actually, a great deal. They actually reached out to the kid as much as an institution can, but for this random kid it wasn’t enough. There’s no one to blame, cause even the killer is pitiable. There are just 32 dead humans, less than the 100 a day you get in Iraq. There probability of it ‘happening to me’ is lower than me getting in a bad car accident. But it resonates nonetheless.
From the reports I’ve read, Cho Seung-Hi didn’t talk to anyone. Like ever. If a teacher called on him in class he simply wouldn’t answer. He never made eye contact. When asked to write his name on a sign-in he put ‘?’. He simply didn’t interact in a basic human way. We all have problems and neurosis, but he simply did not interact. He IM’d, but he didn’t have a MySpace or Facebook page. The last murder I read about was deeply documented on MySpace, online where even loners can find comfort. He just wasn’t there – until he was on every station.
The sheer amount of people he killed is unbelievable, plus 29 injured at last Wikipedia. At the office meeting today I was thinking of how there were 19 of us there, like in a university English class. In one room that Seung-Hi walked into, only four students walked out alive. So random, so dark, so deeply hurtful to friends and parents who just let their kids out of the home. For the mothers, and fathers, to lose someone at that moment of promise. For the lifelong friends you make in college, to lose one of them.
On a personal level it’s shocking. On a network level – a policy level – it’s not really about gun control or university policy, it’s just a part of the global insecurity. Spam, Terrorism and Gun Violence are all similar threats to the human network, with a similar structure. If you have X people you get Y crazies. In a time where people have access to technology ranging from Cheap AK-47s to Commercial Planes to Computers, you will get abuse. It’s not a moral problem as much as a statistical one. You’re never going to fix all the ‘bad’ people – especially if your population keeps growing. You have to fix the network.
Virginia Tech had ample information – Nikki Giovani asked for security and finally for Seung-Hi to be removed. There was paperwork, conversations among administrators. That information just didn’t connect to any security networks. American federal law enforcement is in shambles – still reeling from 9/11, spun further off course by Bush-era incompetence. State police have no particular legal or operational recourse for a ‘kid that doesn’t talk’. The solution, in fact, isn’t more heavy handed security. I actually don’t know what the final solution is, but there is a method to that solution.
Traffic and Smeed’s Law
One record of network death is road accidents. Those happen generally through human behavior and like any animal behavior, they are measurable. Car accidents kill an estimated 1.2 million worldwide. Which – given the vast amount of people that don’t own cars – seems tiny. However, in the United States there are about 43,000 car fatalities for about 10,200 gun fatalities. Basically, Americans are about 4 times more likely to die in a car crash.
What’s weird about car crashes, and I’m getting sleepy, is that they are declining at a mathematically predictable rate. Specifically, the formula above. It’s unfortunately named Smeed’s Law, and it basically states that:
Smeed’s Law, after RJ Smeed who first proposed the relationship in 1949, is an empirical rule relating traffic fatalities to motor vehicle registrations and country population. Thus annually increasing traffic volume leads to a decrease in accidents per vehicle. It was posited after an analysis of figures from a number of countries over several decades.
Smeed’s formula is expressed as:
or, weighted per capita,
where D is annual road deaths, n is number of registered vehicles, and p is population.
So, increasing network traffic means less accidents per vehicle. The mechanism is unclear, but the formula predicts actual behavior in 62 countries. That is, this is just a what, not a how. How is a speculation – I’d guess that networks are self-healing and that they adapt to the environment. If driving without seatbelts is destructive to the human network, the network will adapt that part of itself. Haltingly, through the halting technology of laws and institutions, but nonetheless. In the same way I think that Terrorism, Spam and Gun Violence – the jaguars of this night – will eventually be resolved. Or, as it were, evolved out of. Because we have to.