I recently came across a fascinating article introducing me to the concept of the Erdos Number; possibly not the most useful academic device for everyday life, but nonetheless a principle that can be applied in a multiplicity of interesting ways. Erdos led me to the Bacon Number, and perhaps predictably to the more commonly known, and far less esoteric principle of six degrees of separation.
It’s a crazy, but often accurate observation that any one of us could – in theory – make contact with one another through a network of no more than six connected people. In some ways it’s also a bit worrying that someone like Donald Trump is connected that closely to me, even if it is only by way of a friend of a friend, of a friend! It may not even take six connections… Some studies have posited that in the US, the connection between any two people could be as few as three, or even two links distant.
Such connections have, of course, become a lot closer as a result of the growth of travel and technology, and the information age – go back a hundred years or so, and I’d suggest that the degree of separation between two people would be much greater; a few hundred years further back than that and you’d likely have stronger genetic links with strangers than you would as a result of any other connection. Today however, easy international travel and especially the spread of social networking via the internet have brought us ever closer. And, in our case, that also includes SL.
I still find it a bit weird that I can know people as friends and acquaintances in the virtual world and become pretty close to them, yet know little of their real lives, or even what they look or sound like in the real world – it’s entirely possible that I could live in the same street, work with or spend my time with someone in RL, with whom I have strong connections in the virtual world, yet have no idea that we share that connection. We might pass each other on the street without acknowledging the other’s presence, without any inkling that we are best friends inworld. We may be worlds apart in real life, yet separated by no distance at all in the virtual world.
And who exactly are we anyway? The anonymity afforded by SL means that fame, fortune and position have little meaning once we’re inworld – a king and a commoner can consort with each other in ways that their worldly degrees of separation could never permit in RL. I may hold any station in the real world, but unless I tell you who I am, you will remain blissfully unaware of my circumstances.
Even so, we a remain connected at a fundamental level. In the same way that we may never meet in SL, yet share a common bond – our participation in the virtual world – so it is, that no matter how far apart our real lives may be, we share the common bond of being a part of the human race. There may be many degrees of separation between us – perhaps through choice – but there is one common bond we all share that we cannot distance ourselves from – we are all human beings.
Not so long ago, I fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition when I paid a visit to Nairobi National Museum to see one exhibit in particular: Australopithecus afarensis, otherwise known as ‘Lucy’. Many have suggested that Lucy can be considered the mother of us all, and as I gazed at the preserved remains of that tiny 4 foot tall, 3.2 million year old woman, I struggled to contain my emotions. Even now, thinking about it, I find it hard to describe the feelings that I experienced. It was something I’d never experienced before, and never will again.
The simple truth is that there really are no degrees of separation between any of us. No matter what our physical, location, social standing, beliefs, sexuality, gender or colour, we are all related; all members of the same family…
And I’m very happy to have you as my relative!
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone
The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds