The idea of 6 degrees of separation fascinates me. So many times I have come across this situation where I am connected with someone who knows someone else. Even across the water, miles apart. Always brings a smile to my face and makes me realise it really is a small world.
What is six degrees of separation? Have you heard of it? The concept of six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is 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 to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.
A ‘degree of separation’ is a measure of social distance between people. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know, and so on. The concept was popularised by John Guare’s 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation, which was turned into a film starring Will Smith, Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland and Ian McKellen.
In the 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s small world experiment confirmed that two strangers could be connected in six degrees. Stanley Milgram asked initial participants to mail a letter through friends, and then friends of friends, to a designated stranger living in Massachusetts. He found that people, who successfully completed the task, did so with a chain of six or fewer connections.
A similar study was conducted in 2001 by Professor Watts at Columbia University. This modern day experiment was performed using email messages at the packet that was passed along. His findings also concluded that the average number of people within a given chain was six.
There is so much theory on the six degrees and with social networks being so big now, it makes you wonder whether that 6 degrees could be reduced to a lower number.