Six Degrees

There is a theory of relationships that states that any person on earth is separated from any other person on earth by at most six degrees of separation.

Say that I wanted to get a letter to a friend in Germany but I couldn’t remember her address, only the town she lived in. Obviously I couldn’t mail it to her. I could give it to someone who would pass it on to someone else until someone knew someone else in Germany, who knew someone in my friends town, and within six degrees the letter would have found its way to her. In practice, of course, I probably wouldn’t hand it to the right person immediately, so it might take more than six steps. I’d have to know *everything* about everybody and make a really intelligent – or lucky – guess as to who has the closest ties.

It sounds rather airy-fairy New Age, but a few years ago someone did a social experiment, handing out decks of postcards with a name and town on it and instructions to try to get it to that person through people they knew. To the best of my recollection everyone was able to accomplish the task within 12 postcards. Eh, I don’t remember where I read it. Omni magazine maybe? Well, there are a number of books about it if you’re interested in learning more.

This is where Social Networking is taking us, to a small blue planet where everyone is connected.

There’s even a parody of the concept, a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” in which people trace their connections to the actor Kevin Bacon. *Everybody* is connected to Kevin Bacon.

I guess the caveat would be that the person has to have social contacts of some sort, people nearby who know their real name, etc. Cave-dwelling hermits are pretty much out of the game.

Oh, right, well, here’s the thing. There are people that you’d rather not be within six degrees of. Drug dealers, terrorists, radical fundamentalists, Tom Cruise. Oh, but you are, and that’s the problem.

At least one of the domestic surveillance programs being conducted by “No Such Agency” is intended to find not just terrorists, but their associates, sympathizers, and anyone who might know who the previous three are. As I hinted at above, you have to gather as much intelligence as you can about *everybody* until you have enough to see patterns and relationships.

Every American is within six degrees of Al Qaeda.

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