In 1967, psychologist Stanley Milgram famously declared that there are six degrees of separation between all people. Eman Yasser Daraghmi and Shyan-Ming Yuan of Chicao Tung University hypothesized that the degree of separation is shrinking due to online networking. The scientists incorporated Facebook networks into the six-degree theory and found that the average number of separation between two individuals is actually 3.9
Networked communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are narrowing the distance between global citizens. If you’re anything like me, working on your computer and consistently checking various social networks, then you’re having daily interactions with people around the globe. Chances are high that you’re interacting with your Internet connections more than your geographical neighbors.
Social networks connect individuals based on affinity rather than geography. For the first time, we can choose our friends based on interests and similarities rather than proximity. If you’re one of the millions of city dwellers living in a community without a connection to your neighbors, then you might even feel more comfortable interacting with your online social networks than your next-door-neighbors.
The geographical distance between the people that we share our daily lives with is expanding, and that means we need to re-evaluate our definition of neighbor and community.
Small towns are famous for their hospitality. The kindness stems from the knowledge that they will inevitably run into the same people time and time again. Chances are high that the person you smirk at in the grocery store will become your new co-worker or, worse, future boss.
The density of the city almost guarantees that we interact with new people on a daily basis. But exercise caution: chances are high that you’ve interacted with these ‘strangers’ on digital networks in the past. Chances are even higher perhaps, that you will interact with them in the future.
And so, what is the proper course of action for these strangers that we encounter in our urban communities? Kindness. Be kinder than necessary to everyone that you meet at the market, the café, the park and the bus stop. You may not meet again in the exact same space, but chances are high that you will reconnect in a digital sphere.