Six Degrees

Vanuatu is a unique society in many respects, and one of those is the constant, open scrutiny that everyone is exposed to. We all know that our weekend exploits are going to be recounted around town (and if the Dobber gets wind of it, possibly publicised, too). It’s not at all unusual to meet someone whom you haven’t seen in weeks, and be asked why you were talking to so-and-so yesterday.

We also know that living in a small town involves a good deal of tolerance. Personal foibles and momentary lapses provide good fodder for gossip, but unless you’ve done something really astoundingly hurtful or dangerous, nobody’s likely to keep a tally of your mistakes – or hold them against you, even if they do.

FaceBook and its social networking counterparts, with their hundreds of millions of members, are essentially one really (really) big village. Not everyone is so friendly and forgiving.

[Originally published in the Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent newspaper.]

Everything – and everyone – is related. We’ve always known that. Philosophical treatises on the unity of, well, everything have been around for about as long as humanity has been able to chew on a stalk of grass and contemplate the world.

The only real difference between our understanding of this inter-relatedness past and present is that we moderns have scientifically developed models to lean on. One of the most easily grasped is Six Degrees of Separation. Put simply, this concept states that the vast majority of people in the world are related to one another through no more than six other individuals. A fun way to demonstrate this concept is the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, which shows that virtually every movie star working in Hollywood today has worked with someone who’s worked with someone (etc. etc.) who’s worked with Kevin Bacon.

Once you start to think about it, the only interesting part of this theory is the number – we’ve always known we were all connected, at least in some esoteric sense. But until recently we’d never been able to properly quantify that relationship.

Now that the numbers are well known, so-called social networking services such as FaceBook, MySpace and countless other sites that trade on the common tastes of ‘friends of friends’ have capitalised on that to provide services over the Internet.

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