Toward One Degree of Separation?

September 03 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: The Web   Year: 2008   Rating: 3

A new O2 media study has discovered that the conventional notion of six degrees of separation is out of date and that the average person is in fact connected by just three degrees:

All respondents were asked to make contact with an unknown person from destinations selected at random from across the globe using only personal connections. By using their shared interest networks the participants were able, on average, to make the connection in three person-to-person links.

At face value these results may seem obvious, but from a historical and evo devo perspective the steady increase in human connectivity is enormously significant for a number of reasons:

Metcalfe’s Law & Economy: Metcalfe’s Law, which states that “the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system”, suggests that the total value of the global human system, or global brain, is increasing rapidly. This supports the notion that exponential economics could be very real.

Convergent Accelerating Change: The O2 study adds weight to the argument that just as technology and information are growing at exponential rates, thanks in part to one another, that human connectivity is part of the convergent equation. To my mind, this also strengthens the argument for including growing human intelligence into that formula. It’s not conclusive, but a bigger, inter-connected picture sure appears to be coming into focus.

Generational/Cultural Blur: I’ve long been fascinated by the effects of technology and communication on the formation of socio-cultural identity and generational formation. The fact that our interpersonal connectivity is increasing at a quick rate reinforces my supposition that “the traditional pattern of generational clusters spanning 22 years has been broken”, which means that human culture is transitioning into a new era, like it or not.

Toward One Degree of Separation and Beyond?: If the brain connectivity trend continues, then it is possible that all humans, or all that opt in, will eventually be directly connected to all other humans through sophisticated semantic and, eventually, AI enabled networks. This would achieve max value of the human network from the a Metcalfe’s Law standpoint. Furthermore, and this is getting totally speculative, it’s possible that this trend could continue past the individual human level to a more micro-neuronal level where different neural pockets are instantly communicating with other neural pockets located in other human brain, animal brain, petri dish, or virtual environments. Such a tendency would mark a broad systemic intelligence increase of the global brain.

So, is this increasing connectivity a good or bad thing?

Objectively, it’s neutral and neither.

Subjectively, well, the study reports that “Almost all (97 per cent) of the respondents stated they felt more connected to people and networks now than they did 5, 10 and 20 years ago.” Sounds like a good thing to me.

(via TechCrunch )

Are we headed for a world in which everyone is directly connected to everyone?

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Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. Perhaps. Wouldn’t everyone have to participate in technology to have a 1 to 1 relationship? Connectivity is on the rise, obviously, but people also want to be “off-the-grid” sometimes. I think we’ll get close to 1 degree of separation but until society is completely connected and this stuff is accepted 100% (which I think is very tough to accomplish) that will be a lofty goal.

    I like being off-the-grid myself, sometimes, even if I have my cell-phone with me everywhere I go.

    Posted by: Covus   September 03, 2008
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  2. Although the connections may be getting closer, I really don’t think it’s meaningful. I mean, if someone casually meets someone at a party and the next day they have a friend invite, does that count as a connection, even though you will probably never talk to or see that person again? Or how about celebrities having hundreds of thousands of friends on their personal profiles? Do they count?

    At most maybe there will be two degrees of separation, but I honestly think as far as a real friend of yours knowing another friend and not someone you met casually, it’ll always be somewhere around six degrees.

    Posted by: John Heylin   September 04, 2008
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  3. JHeylin says “Although the connections may be getting closer, I really don’t think it’s meaningful. I mean, if someone casually meets someone at a party and the next day they have a friend invite, does that count as a connection, even though you will probably never talk to or see that person again? Or how about celebrities having hundreds of thousands of friends on their personal profiles? Do they count?”

    That is a perfect place to look. Who is counting? And how does one count or measure the effectiveness of human connectivity. You can easily measure electrical connectivity, and biological connectivity, and mathematical connectivity, but why is it so blurry when it comes to measuring whether human connectivity is advancing or whatever? The reason it is a blurry place is because the capacity and methodology we use to measure human connectivity has been invented and based on already existing models. However, human interaction isn’t fixed and predictable like these other models. The good news is that we get to create how, where and when to measure human connectivity through language and technology. So when you say, does that really count? Someone could easily say, “Yes, I find it valuable to be connected to 100,000 myspace users. Of course it counts.” Another, like myself would say, “No, the number doesn’t count unless the collective interaction of the entire network is directly impacting reality somewhere. And we can locate the result.”

    This is why the distinction human connectivity is still blurry. We haven’t agreed on what it looks like really, and if we did agree, it would all be made up anyway. This doesn’t invalidate the law of networks in other areas that are consistent over time. The patterns have been discovered. Metcafe’s Law was discovered, and it had to be expressed in language.

    What I am pointing to is that we haven’t collectively created with language, what, where, how human connectivity looks like in reality. It is still in the air. And this is a great place to be because we are heading into an era of being able to effectively measure enough human interaction to establish a mega-structure of data that actually supports theory in this area. Meta-data isn’t meaningful though, it just is. It isn’t good or bad. There is no meaning to a human interaction either, it is just shape and color and sound and movement and nothing. Just think, when we have enough data of human interaction in all formats, we will be able to predict human interaction. Once we can predict human interaction, it will all occur as meaningless. And at the same time, it will be very useful. Right now, people actually think violence is bad. Bad is putting a human and moral assessment on data, good or bad. Can you imagine if we had a mega-data-structure of world violence, and we all interacted with it? Violence could quite possibly no longer be looked at as something to get rid of, instead just data. Perhaps it would still be seen as a behavior that doesn’t work, or isn’t pleasant, but with enough data, it would transcend the idea of good or bad. Just data. No real meaning.

    So, to agree with you jheylin, it is meaningless, all of it. And human interaction will become less and less meaningful as more and more of it is recorded and mined. And this is the moment when humans are truly connected, when they are not separated by the meaning they add to interaction.

    I assert that there is a direct relationship between the decline of the moralistic approach to human interaction and the exponential growth of data. This is a paradigm shift, very similar to the decline in religious belief and expansion of scientific study.

    What you all think?

    Posted by: Peltaire   September 08, 2008
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