Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Linked And Apart

Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi is a disarmingly charming little book. It does not read like a scholarly tome and is like an interesting story told by someone erudite with a mildly avuncular air. In summary it makes for very enjoyable reading and a Sunday afternoon well spent.

It was fun to test the six degrees of separateness rule. I picked Bill Gates to check if the rule applied to me. Turns out I could be about two degrees away given that I have an acquaintance in Microsoft who worked pretty close to Gates a couple of years ago.

Knowing someone that links to a major hub puts you several degrees closer to anyone you care to link with. For instance, my friend Kate's sister is an aspiring Hollywood starlet and that gets all of us who know Kate several degrees close to stars who would have otherwise been completely out of reach. Kate becomes our connection to the Hollywood hub.

Everyone knows someone who is either connected to a hub or knows someone who is. It was fascinating to work out how many major hubs were less than three degrees away from me.

In spite of all the closeness and the bewildering maze of connections that I seem to be a part of, I have no idea who lives next door and would not know of a way to connect to them. A hundred years ago, we would have been living in a village where everyone knew everyone with only one degree of separation between them. Maybe we could have never been able to connect to anyone half way across the globe or claimed to be two degrees apart from the Clintons.

Yet on a difficult day, there was a community that came over and stood by you. It was hard to both feel alone and be left alone. What's to say life in a village was not superior to our six degrees separated existence where so many connections exist in theory but not in spirit, or in any way that touches our lives.

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