Social network of email between countries shows homophily between culturally similar nations

A new study of email traffic between countries finds some patterns:

The Internet was supposed to let us bridge continents and cultures like never before. But after analyzing more than 10 million e-mails from Yahoo! mail, a team of computer researchers noticed an interesting phenomenon: E-mails tend to flow much more frequently between countries with certain economic and cultural similarities.

Among the factors that matter are GDP, trade, language, non-Commonwealth colonial relations, and a couple of academic-sounding cultural metrics, like power-distance, individualism, masculinity and uncertainty…

To this point, of course, the study amounts to little more than very interesting trivia. The real conclusion comes toward the end, when the researchers posit it as possible evidence for Samuel Huntington’s controversial “Clash of Civilizations” theory. From the paper:

In this respect we cautiously assign a level of validity to Huntington’s contentions, with a few caveats. The ?rst issue was already mentioned – overlap between civilizations and other factors contributing to countries’ level of association. Huntington’s thesis is clearly re?ected in the graph presented in Figure 3, but some of these civilizational clusters are found to be explained by other factors in Table 5. The second limitation concerns the fact that we investigated a communication network. There is no necessary “clash” between countries that do not communicate, and Huntington’s thesis was concerned primarily with ethnic con?ict.

Interesting what can be done with data from more than 10 million emails.

I wonder if it is even worth doing this analysis at the country level. Isn’t this too broad? Aren’t there likely to be important patterns within and across countries that are obscured by this broader lens?

Another possible issue: is Yahoo mail a representative sample of emails or does it provide a particular slice of of email traffic? I would assume it involves more personal email as opposed to business activity.

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