Interconnectedness proven during weekend

Lew K. Cohn/The Highlander

At one point during her Choctaw Casino concert Friday night, there was about six feet of separation between me and Joan Jett. She is still an incredible performer. 

by Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Highland Lakes Newspapers

 

Very few people have not heard of the theory of six degrees of separation — the theory that everyone and everything in the world are connected by six or fewer steps from any other person or thing in the world.

This theory was originally introduced by a Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, in a 1929 short story, “Chains” (Lánczemek) and is used to demonstrate how the world, though incredibly large, can be a small place through our interconnectedness.

The theory became part of the social lexicon when John Guare wrote a play with the title “Six Degrees of Separation” in 1990 that was adapted into a successful film starring Will Smith and Stockard Channing. There is even a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which the theory is that any actor or performer can be linked to actor Kevin Bacon by six steps or fewer.
While the theory seems implausible due to the population of the earth, which has more than 6.6 billion inhabitants, that any two people can be connected by six or fewer links, just eight years ago Microsoft researchers announced they had evidence in the study of electronic communications on Messenger among 180 million individuals that two random people could be linked up by an average of six to seven steps.

Mathematics bears this out. Assuming that everyone in the world knows at least 44 people, that each of their friends knows an additional, entirely new 44 people, if you were to extrapolate that information further into six degrees, you would come to a figure of 44^6, or 7.26 billion, which is greater than earth's population.

The proliferation of Facebook and other social media sites have made our world even smaller today. Scientists, including noted astrophysicist and University of Texas at Austin alum Neil deGrasse Tyson, now believe that the level of connectivity between any two given people worldwide averages around four to five steps. Facebook itself has analyzed data and suggested that 92 percent of its users are connected by an average of about five steps.

During this past weekend, I experienced two episodes myself in which our interconnectivity was made apparent to me. The first started while my wife Betty and I were attending the Joan Jett concert at Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma.

Running into someone I know at Choctaw is probably more likely to happen than most places because we have been to the casino for a number of concerts and I used to participate in poker tournaments at the casino as it was not far from Sherman, where I used to live.

Through Facebook, I saw that at least one couple I am friends with was in attendance as well. But sitting just to the right of Betty and me was a woman who, it turns out, recognized me from being in a musical in Sherman with one of her best friends. There was proof of just two degrees of separation. Both Betty and I are friends with Katie, my former cast mate, and Katie is close friends with this woman we met for the first time at Choctaw.

That was not the most odd occurrence of the weekend, however. I was driving back to Marble Falls from Plano with a load of our furniture in a Budget rental truck. Somewhere south of Temple on Interstate 35, I saw a Kia Forte in front of me with an Elon sticker across the back windshield. My niece Stacey drives a Kia Forte and will attend Elon, a liberal arts school in North Carolina, starting this fall. I thought, “No way, that can't be my niece!”

As I got nearer, I saw there was also a Planoette sticker on the vehicle with Stacey's name under it. There was no doubt anymore that it indeed was Stacey driving in front of me. I called her on my cell and gave her the surprise of her life that the big truck behind her was actually being driven by family.

Stacey had been working at Greene Family Camp in Bruceville and had been given a rare night off and was headed to Austin on I-35. She did not know that I was on my way to Marble Falls with a load of furniture for the house when she left and we never talked to each other beforehand to plan any sort of meeting.

Yet, here we were, two people separated by a single degree, traveling on the same highway in the second-largest state in the Union, and just a few feet away from each other, all by random coincidence. The idea of interconnectedness and it being a “small world” certainly has been proven this weekend, as far as I am concerned. I think we will find that, though the world's population continues to grow, we will find ourselves becoming even more connected to the rest of our world. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing, but I think it is inevitable.

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