It's a Small World After All
Posted in 2012 The Gnovis Blog | Tagged Frigyes Karinthy, Jonh Guare, six degree of separation, small-world phenomenon, social media, social networks
Recently, a photo was viewed 162,239 times and shared 27,603 times on Renren, and the number is keeping growing. On the left side of the photo, several sentences in Chinese, says:
Friends, can you give me a hand? It is known that the Internet in the 21st century is very powerful, so I want to use this power to look for a girl who is very important to me. I got to know this Chinese girl during the days I visited Hangzhou, We spent two days together and I found that she is a very cute one. I found myself have a crush on her. She did give me her contact information, however, after we went apart and back to our own cities, my phone was unfortunately stolen. So I lost her.
Can you please post this photo on your Renren homepage? Maybe one day she will see this, so that she can come and find me. If everyone can help me do so, maybe my dream will come true eventually. Even though the possibility is rare, this is my only hope.
On the right, there is a boy holding a piece of poster in his hand. The only information the boy knew about the girl is written on the poster: Her English name is Alice and she is 22 years old. The boy’s username on Renren is “ilya” (in Chinese character). Although we do not know which country he is coming from, obviously he is not Chinese.
Moved by his motivation and insistence, I was really curious as to how probable it was that he could eventually find his love. The thing that came up into my mind immediately was a famous discourse – the small-world phenomenon, or six degree of separation. This theory was first developed by Frigyes Karinthy and became popular because of a play composed by John Guare. A particular sentence from this play demonstrates the meaning of this theory: “I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet.” The boy will absolutely love this theory since it tells him that he is so close to his dream girl, only between six people, or even less. What a utopia!
However, the reality is always more cruel than we expect. This boy is a foreigner in China, so the scale of his social network may not be huge enough to reach out to the girl who lives in a different city. Additionally, he only knew the English name of this girl, yet obviously Chinese people seldom use their English names in daily life. Therefore, even though the two have a common friend, it is possible that he/she does not know the girl’s English name at all. With so limited information, you could definitely see how if this happened ten years ago, the boy may “lose” the girl forever.
Fortunately, this lucky boy is living in the age of social media. Instead of walking through every street to put up posters or spending a great amount of money to have his posters spread by newspaper or TV, he can just post his message on a social media platform with several clicks and then wait in couch. Regardless of the limited scale of his social networks, and even though the people reading his story are just random strangers across, the fact that they are willing to share his story with a even greater number of others increases his chances tenfold. In this way, boundaries of geography and culture are broken down, since love is universally understood and appreciated.
If the small-world phenomenon is true, with the help of social media, the reunion day of the two is promising ahead of them. The small-world phenomenon provides us with an image of utopia where people living every corner of the world can easily get contact with each other. Thanks to social media, it seems that we are stepping toward that utopia gradually. I do hope that in a coming day, the boy logs in Renren and finds a loving message from his dream girl. With a big smile, he may reply: I just love this small world!
 Easley, D. & Kleinberg, J. (2010). Networks, crowds, and markets: Reasoning about a highly connected world. Cambridge University Press.
Key image from the Village Voice Blogs