Tag: economics

As a transition from education to profession, college is the place where students have gone through lots of changes, and interpersonal relationships are definitely included. For example, let’s say a young and innocent college kid, Bob, has this feeling that although he is always getting to know new people, it is becoming more difficult for him to keep up with existing connections and friends. Of course, he has some “close friends” whom he keeps in touch with every day, but besides that, how close he is to “non-close friends” completely depends on how lucky they are to bump into each other on the way to Ferris Booth.


Graphic courtesy of Leadership Close Up

In our society, interpersonal relationships can be characterized as weak ties and strong ties. When you have a strong tie with someone, you keep up with him or her frequently and there are ways that you two meet or connect frequently — just think of someone in your housing group. When you have a weak tie with someone, one the other hand, you might still share a lot of common interests with that person, but for some reason you are connecting with him or her less frequently, and the cause of such infrequency could be unintentional — it might be because you two aren’t in the same class, or because you are living in Wien but your friend is living in Harmony and you don’t meet each other.

However, such infrequent connection could also, if not more likely, be caused by human calculation, and therefore we can actually draw a parallel between friendship and the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory. Yes, friendships can indeed be a game.

Let’s suppose we have two friends, Bob and Jim, and they know each other. One of the assumptions that we apply here is that Bob is a friend to Jim because Bob believes Jim will make him happy, and vice versa for Jim (I’m guessing you don’t to be friends with someone who makes you unhappy!). They both want to be very close to each other, but they are also aware that it takes some cost to keep up, for example if they hang out for an hour they lose an hour of study time, and therefore the more they want to connect, the higher the cost they have to pay to sustain a high level of connection.

In economics, we believe all happiness can be quantified, so we can do a simple experiment here to see how the outcome is derived. Suppose both Bob and Jim have two choices: either to connect the other one frequently or not. There is a special case: let’s say Bob chooses to connect with Jim frequently but Jim chooses to connect with Bob less frequently, what does each other gain out of this relationship? Remember since there is a cost of connecting, Jim will be better off choosing to connect frequently, because he is getting the same care and attention from Bob with a smaller cost. But, on the other hand, it will be hurtful, mostly emotionally, for Bob when he sees Jim is not giving him same attention and caring he deserves. We can characterize the situation in the following payoff matrix:

If you have taken economic classes you can see what I mean by this matrix, and you know what Bob and Jim will choose to do.  If you are not familiar with economics, the basic idea behind this is that, because Bob knows he will be better off if when Jim contacts him frequently, he contacts Jim less frequently, Bob has an incentive to choose to connect Jim less frequently. But Jim faces the same situation and he will have an incentive to choose to connect less frequently and as a result, they will end up in a weak tie with each other.

It may seem disappointing in the beginning, but such incentives disappear as long as the game of friendship is being played repeatedly for a long time, and for a long time the real benefit of keeping a close relationship will outweigh the advantage of not returning to your friend once, and in such case a strong tie can be sustained. In other words, your relationship ends when you realize that there is an end of it, and upon such calculation from pure reasoning, there is a sentiment of friendship that we cherish.


Photo Courtesy of Abhinav Seetharaman

Photo Courtesy of Abhinav Seetharaman

Meet Abhinav (Abhi) Seetharaman. Abhi is a sophomore from Ashburn, Virginia in Columbia College interested in Economics and Political Science and is on the pre-med track. On top of being a Columbia student, Abhi is the founder of MusiLinks, a 501c(3) non profit that uses music to raise funds for grassroots organizations as well as a professional South Indian classical drummer.

Intrigued about his eclectic interests, I decided to interview Abhi to learn a little bit more about his interests and off-campus performances.

What is mridangam (origins, what it sounds like, importance, etc.)?

‘Mridangam’ is an ancient South-Indian classical drum. Existing for several millennia, its origins go back to Indian mythology, where Nandi (the Bull God & escort of Lord Shiva) was a master percussionist and used to play the mridangam during the performance of Shiva’s powerful “Tāndavā” dance.

The mridangam has a unique metallic timbre – being a double-barreled drum, one side produces treble sounds, while the other side produces bass sounds. The combination of these two membranes allows for the production of distinct harmonics.

How long have you been playing it for? What led you to start playing the instrument?

I’ve been playing the mridangam for about 11 years. When I was around 5 or 6 years of age, my parents used to notice me playing beats on almost every hard surface I could get my hands on! Seeing this, they decided to initiate me into this art form.

Do you feel like there is/are any tension(s) between Western musical traditions and South Indian musical traditions?

Not at all – in fact, for the past few decades or so, South-Indian classical music has converged with Western music (pop, classical, rock, etc.) to create a fusion music concept. This dynamic concept has primarily strived to promote awareness of these music forms to both initiated and uninitiated audiences. Nowadays, many Western musicians have adopted certain South-Indian musical elements to add that new twist or dimension to their music, and vice versa.

It’s always a synergy between various world music genres.The bottom line is to make the music strike a chord with everyone, and really touch peoples’ souls.

How do you manage performing mridangam and your academic workload?

It’s simply my passion for the art form that constantly drives me to pursue it, along with academics.

Where can someone go if they want to hear you play and/or learn more about the mridangam?

My website! www.abhiseetharaman.com

The Lion Profiles project seeks to interview various students, staff, and faculty here at Columbia to offer a look into the diverse minds that makeup our academic community.

Have a recommendation for who we should interview next? Email your suggestions to team@columbialion.com with “Lion Profiles” in the subject line.