Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Six degrees of separation?

Someone recently told me that we are connected in some way to every third person that we meet. I was surprised by this ratio, but I am familiar with the “small world experiment,” and “six degrees of separation” (or “human web”), a theory that everyone on earth is somehow linked to each other through an average of only six other people. Odd as it may seem, there is even a game out there called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenges people to see if they can connect any film actor in history to actor Kevin Bacon within six links. I’m not sure why he was the subject of the challenge, although for a time he seemed to be in every movie being made! Several scientific studies have been conducted to support these theories. I’m not going to spend any time here summarizing the studies, but if anyone wants to learn more, The Google is ready and able to help. I will, however, share just a few thoughts on the subject, and once again the realization of what a small world we live in, especially if we twist it my way.

At first, it’s hard to imagine how a kid from the east side of St Paul could ever be linked, through only 6 people, to someone in the Third World, or Queen Elizabeth, or Vladimir Putin. Even though I would be extremely surprised if a connection could be found from me to someone like Osama Bin Laden, I suppose, if a person could find just one link to another country, one could get real creative and find ways to link to almost anyone. It is just a matter of how many degrees apart we are separated.

Depending on what types of rules we place on this challenge, I think we could creatively link ourselves in odd ways to all sorts of people. For example, every time we attend a music concert or go to a sporting event, there is (somewhat of) a link starting to the people on the stage and playing field. And if one got an autograph or caught a foul ball, there is a definite link. Who knows where some of those links might lead?

When I took a writing class through community education a couple of years ago, my instructor was also a writer for Prairie Home Companion, so I suppose I could say I was therefore linked to Garrison Keillor. In addition, my sister-in-law works for Minnesota Public Radio and has met him on several occasions. In either of these situations I am linked by only two degrees of separation from the author/humorist.

As my wife and I were walking on a street in downtown Chicago, we nearly bumped into Oprah and her entourage. Does this mean we could say we are linked to her? If so, then we would be linked to everyone appearing on her show.

Several years earlier, the graphics company I was working for produced a small control panel decal that I later heard was applied to equipment that went to the moon. Therefore, could I be linked to Neil Armstrong? Well, that one may be stretching it.

There are, of course, plenty of direct links, when we have an opportunity to actually meet famous people. My friend and I noticed Minnesota Twins great, Tony Oliva, at the airport when we were waiting for a flight. When he had finished saying goodbye to his family we approached him, introduced ourselves, and asked for an autograph. We spent the next 5-10 minutes talking, and making a legitimate link. This connection then began a link between us and everyone else on the Twins, and potentially to many people living in his native country of Cuba.

One time, when I was having breakfast in a Milwaukee hotel restaurant, I recognized half-a-dozen Twins players sitting at the counter. I made a pest of myself and asked them all for autographs, unknowingly creating a link to each of them and their worlds.

One of my favorite artists, Robert Bateman, was in Forest Lake for a book signing a few years ago, and I took that opportunity to meet him and have a copy of his book signed. That was a direct, or real, link.

So there are the real links, and then some creative links like I have mentioned above. We all know what a small world we live in. There probably are many ways that we could find real or creative links to people, worldwide. The possibilities are endless, and the connections can be intriguing.

Do any of my readers wish to share links from their lives?


mamamouseiam said...

Since I am a shirttail relative of actor James Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, I figure that gives me a very strong HEAVENLY connection! ;-)

John Nampion said...

Great post as always...but I'd watch the references to Garrison Keillor if I could help it, Dennis.

Just sayin'...(in a sonorous, pontifical, SUPERIOR voice, whilst a dulcimer clanks in the background)...the guy's a total WACK JOB, but of course that's my opinion...he's probably REALLY cranky now that Acorn's hit the skids....

Good job otherwise.


Bob Jackson said...

I received an autograph from Jack Morris a couple years ago, my better half helped him at her work two weeks ago, and daughter Dana has met, and had conversation with him several times. We now consider him a family friend and fully anticipate being in the social circle of all Major League Baseball. Think of all the connections!