Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Six degrees of separation

When I started teaching a blogging class at my library I became fascinated with this concept.  (Not as enchanted as I was with WYSIWYG – I mean how can you not be charmed by an apparently random group of letters that actually means something  and is super fun to say out loud?)
Nevertheless “six degrees of separation” is a fascinating idea and I used it in the class to demonstrate the potential impact of the students’ blogs as well as the interconnectedness of humans – something that has perhaps grown exponentially since the advent of the world wide web.

You’ve probably heard of it, right?  According to Wikipedia, six degrees of separation  is the idea that everyone is approximately six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps.” It was championed by Frigyes Karinthy in his 1929 short story, Chains and popularized by a play written in 1990 by John Guare, later turned into a film.
Various experiments have been conducted to try to prove the theory, both mathematically and socially, and while no definitive proof is there, the results tend to support it.  And there is Network Theory, which looks at how networks form and work in society, not just in people’s social lives, but also in disease transmission, job searching, how the web works and so on.

Six degrees of separation seems to go along with the phrase “small world”, something we say a lot as in, “Man, it’s a small world!” and “What a small world, isn’t it?”  So it’s not surprising that Columbia University embarked on a project they named “Small World” in order to test the six degrees of separation theory in cyberspace using email to send information to a friend, to pass to another friend, and so on in order to reach a specific targeted person in as few contacts as possible.  This was similar to the snail mail experiment run by a psychologist in the sixties to test the theory.  Although both experiments were flawed the results seem to support the six degrees idea.
As far as networks of any kind or many kinds go, we may be intimately connected to people around the world without knowing it, especially since we don’t know them!   But when we talk about blogs the world is very, very big.  Statistics show that the average blog is read by perhaps two dozen people - after all, there are billions of blogs on the world wide web.  Hmmm, wonder if we could do an experiment with connecting people through the blogs they read?  Would the six degrees of separation theory still hold or not?

If you want to read more, check out these websites: The oracle of bacon at Virginia  Kevin Bacon Primetime TV tests the six degrees theory  Small World

No comments:

Post a Comment