6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation 

The concept of 6 degrees of separation has come up a lot in my life.  I hail from Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand (Google Maps), where my Father is the local Gynecologist and Obstetrician so I spent a good portion of my young life encountering new people who would either introduce themselves to me with “Your dad delivered me” or at least hear it from their folks.

Numerous times I was thwarted in the middle of some dumb adolescent tomfoolery by a phone call from the parental units informing me that one of their friends, friends, friends had seen me pulling doughnuts on the school field.
In this community scale its easily identifiable, however as that broadens out to any 6 steps away from any other person in the entire world, it becomes for me a hard concept to grasp.

The test set up by the BBC documentary ‘6 Degrees of Separation‘ was truly a fascinating and insightful look into this subject and how what perhaps started out only as the fantastical words of a Hollywood screenwriter, are now in fact the hypothesis for a truly scientific study of populations and our communication habits.

In the opener the claim is put to the test by challenging forty people to track down and send a package to a geneticist in Boston Massachusetts, they are not allowed to look him up or track him down via the internet. Preposterous I thought to myself as I watched, sure this concept may work on small scale but forty people from all over the world all able to track down one individual in an average of six people only known on a first name basis.

It’s a large scale idea that I just couldn’t wrap my head around.

As the first of the test subjects, a European College Student explains how she plans to get the package to the target in just four logical steps it becomes slightly less inconceivable…

When a Mathematician and founding mind behind the practicalities of proving this theory explains it first through the push and shove of a romantic relationship I feel myself hitting a brick wall. Not because I can’t understand his perspective, it is a logical one but one that does not allow a latitude of freedom, I’m a romantic and always tend to pull away from ideas which try to “mathematize” the chaos of real life with “The simple elegance of numbers”.

When it comes to matters of synchronisity and the spectacles of the natural world I choose not to conclude scientifically because to do so takes away from the curiosity and wonder in which I view the world.
I grasp the ideas behind they’re thinking sure however to me those hypotheses simply can’t be agreed with, as in doing so I lose the ability to be an individual and become trapped in a box like their first test subjects, Crickets.

The initial experiment with crickets here leads them to the “6 degrees” and then onto networks.

This is portrayed as a breakthrough in human thinking but is it really? Humans have been “Networkers” throughout their existence, be it the members of a particular faith or the migrants of one particular country creating mini populations in other countries all over the world.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that as human beings we are all connected nor do I put a lack of importance on Networks, as the first segment of this doco exclaimed early on these networks make up an endless amount of possibilities for new ground to be broken in all areas from marketing to healthcare. This to me does not seem to be a new idea yet rather one that is topical and obvious to the masses currently due to where we as mankind now sit on the verge of a new era of information sharing and increasing global connectedness.

The fact I can input my information onto an App like LinkedIn, find my circle and immediately look outward to every one of those peoples networks is overwhelming and the possibilities of this are seemingly endless. Who won’t be connected in the future? How will people look back at this time now in the future? Will we change fundamentally as a result of it? Will we turn it into a tool of evil? Unfortunately for me these scientists cannot accomplish much more than creating a whole lot more questions.

This piece on the degrees of separation, is thought provoking whether you jump on board their bandwagon or let it skeptically drive by.

I choose the later, because personally thats how I continue to challenge my curiosities and remain full of wonder.


Additional Links

BBC UK – Six Degrees of Separation

BBC News – Facebooks’3.74 degrees of separation’

US News – Networking, Social Media, and the Six Degrees of Separation

BarnRaisers – 5 Studies prove social media is less than six degrees of separation

Wikipedia – Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon


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