3 Jul 2015
It’s a small world we exclaim so often when we meet someone and discover that they are either friends with or related to someone we know closely. But how small is it really? Academicians and thinkers in the twentieth century came up with various experiments and studies that pegged the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world at six.
This “six degrees” concept dates to a 1929 short story, “Chains,” by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy. (Just as an aside, for one of our Inter-College festivals, we had enacted one of his hilarious satires ‘Refund’…another link?!) In the story it was a game played by his characters where using no more than five individuals, one of whom being a personal acquaintance, one could contact any selected individual from the billion plus inhabitants of the earth with nothing except the network of personal acquaintances. The idea greatly influenced early thoughts on social networks and led to a whole lot of studies and experiments. But to me (as I guess would be true for most of us) the phrase “six degrees of separation” was first revealed by the nineties movie of the same name. It was fascinating to think that you could take any two random people and manage to connect them with nothing more than a string of six friends!
With the advent of the internet the world shrank some more, and then came Facebook and we became even smaller! Some years back in a study Facebook found that the average number of links among Facebook users from one arbitrarily selected person to another was four (the number may have further reduced since then!) In real life too one is often stumped by the random interconnection you find with total strangers. I remember once in a chance conversation with a person at a party she shared with me how her sister was suffering from early rheumatism. I remembered another person I had known many years back who was also struck with a similar affliction and soon we realised, much to our wonder and amazement, that we were talking of the same person! That’s the interconnectedness of life on planet earth.
The unfortunate part is the more our world shrinks, the more we seek not to find links but create barriers among different people. Globalisation and technology have brought us closer in terms of our circle of friends…one hopes it would even cement closer ties of friendship and make rivalries among nations and diverse groups a thing of the past.