(photo credit: Connected: Amazing Power of Social Networks and How they Shape Our Lives by Ricardo Bernardo on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode)
When I was in nursery school, my best friend’s name was Karen. We were inseparable. We spent hours upon hours at each other’s houses giggling and performing and jumping around the furniture. Naturally, our families got to know each other. One day, my mother was talking with Karen’s parents, when their voices rose and grew in excitement. They called us in and told us the news: Karen’s father and my mother’s father were second cousins. That meant that Karen and I weren’t just best friends but we were related. I’m not sure two children have ever been as excited as we were at that moment in time.
Coming to that realization has a name: Jewish geography. Throughout my life, whenever I meet people of Jewish descent, we end up in this game of trying to figure out who we know in common. Without fail, we always find a connection, through family or friends, usually only a couple of degrees apart.
Another version of this game is called Six Degrees of Separation, made popular by an innocent comment Kevin Bacon made during an interview where he claimed to have either worked with or worked with somebody who worked with every other known actor in Hollywood. That led to a VISA commercial that played on Bacon’s six degrees of separation as well as a new game, befittingly called Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Separation.
The idea that we are embedded in social networks that we can’t see in our daily lives but that exist nonetheless is an exhilarating thought. It means that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves and our immediate environment. And it is a known fact that people crave connection.
Nicholas Christakis, in his TED talk, The hidden influence of social networks (link here), discusses his research, which claims that not only are we interconnected to others around the world through intricate, elaborate, ubiquitous structures called social networks, but these connections provide valuable information with the potential to make the world a better place.
Christakis animatedly tells of how he fell into studying social networks, how it relates to things as different as obesity and emotions, and the roles nature and nurture play in the development of these networks.
I found myself so engaged that in addition to watching the talk, I read his interview with the TED staff, reread the transcript of the talk, and looked into purchasing the book he published with co-author James Fowler (see photo above.)
You certainly do not have to dig deeper like I did but I would encourage you to watch Christakis’ talk and take a moment after to reflect.
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