Six Degrees of Separation Revisited

Is social media making the world smaller?

Open shutter light painting by the author.

Most of us have heard of the expression six degrees of separation. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Six degrees of separation (also referred to as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth. It was popularized in a play written by John Guare.

I remember reading an article about Kevin Bacon being the most connected person in Hollywood, with all these charts and lines of connection to other actors and directors of disparate film genres and maybe Broadway connections and who knows. The article explained how they used computers and compiled all the Hollywood stars into a database to get a composite picture from which they could extract conclusions.

As it turns out, this whole thing became a fad that became the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game. If you really wanted to get into it, there’s even a website now called The Oracle of Bacon where you can type in the name of any actor or actress and learn how many degrees away they are. Not only that, you can download the Oracle of Bacon app and have this invaluable info at your fingertips day or night.

About seven years ago, with the advent of Web 2.0 and Social Networks, I began to wonder if six degrees of separation may have been reduced to five or four, or even three. Through Twitter, during Thanksgiving 2008, we were two or three degrees of separation from terrorists firing assault weapons in the Mumbai financial district.

I do not know how this (Six Degrees) plays out in the rest of the world, but for sure I would think that in this country we are three or four degrees of separation from anyone, at most. You are reading this, wherever you are. The convenience store clerk is two degrees from me. Her boy friend, that kid with the racy T-shirt and a smudge of chocolate on his chin, is but three steps away. And we all know how connected he is.

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“Keyboard” — Painted and photographed by author

Many people have tried to verify this theory to see if it holds up. In August 2008 Microsoft claimed that after studying billions of electronic messages, they verified that any two strangers in the world were 6.6 introductions away from one another. According to their science you are less than seven steps away from Bob Dylan, Richard Branson, John Cleese and the Dalai Lama, though if you Twitter you can actually be one step away from the latter three, if you follow them… and two steps away if you follow me.

If we accept Microsoft’s 2008 number of 6.6 as a benchmark, maybe they can do another measurement this year to see if people are getting closer as the world’s population expands, or are we actually drifting further away from one another? I suspect that some people are getting burned out on all this connectivity, whereas others get juiced by the social engagement. What about you?

Meantime, life goes on… Dig it.

Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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