Thursday, October 7, 2010

How Are We Connected?

When I showed photos of my new grandson to the gals at my gym the other day, Lori asked, "Who's that holding the baby?" "That's my sister Chris," I answered. She said, "Not Chris...?" and mentioned my sister's last name. I said, "Yes! How do you know my sister?" Turns out, Lori and my sister are friends from their church. I've known Lori for several years now and, obviously, I've known Chris all my life--but I never put the two of them together. I was surprised to find this connection between two people in my life that was totally unexpected.

It got me to thinking about other possible connections that might exist between people I know. Do any of my other gym friends know any of my other family members? Do people I know here in Illinois know any of my friends from the others states where I've lived? Do any of my academic colleagues know any of my new murder mystery writing and publishing friends? Could be. The chances are greater than one might believe.

In the old days, when people met people, they introduced each other and spent some time discussing their family and backgrounds. It was that interpersonal communication that revealed the connections. When they conversed, they discovered connections that existed between them. Maybe my second cousin worked for your first cousin. Maybe my aunt was divorced from your husband's boss. Who knows?

These days, we move so fast and we meet so many people, that our relationships are frequently compartmentalized. That is, my gym friends are just that; my relationships with my gym buddies don't typically spill over into my family or business relationships.

Of course, there is the great equalizer of the Internet. One way that many of us discover connections between ourselves and others occurs online. Facebook can automatically inform us that one of our friends is connected to one of our other friends. Our online friends know our other online friends. People from our past find us online--for good or for ill.

A while back, you may remember the "six degrees of separation" craze in which it was theorized that we can all connect directly to any other individual on earth through no more than six other people. John Guare popularized the notion in his play "Six Degrees of Separation" and the concept took on cult status as a game in which people tried to connect any one movie star to Kevin Bacon in six links or less.

I don't know if I believe the "six degrees of separation" theory, but I do think that when we interact with people and attempt to find these connections face-to-face, that when we do discover the links, it is all the more satisfying than when we discover them online. Either way, I love to find connections that I have to other people. Maybe you and I are connected. What do you think? Can we find the connection? Can we find it in six degrees or less?