The technology folks just don’t get it. They’re crowing today because Facebook has changed the distance between people. The traditional metric, of course, has been that we are each separated from any other person on the planet by “six degrees.” (Only academics would use such terminology. Why not just say we are each six people apart … but hey, that’s another issue.)
Anyway, the scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan have now calculated that – thanks to social media and Facebook, in particular – we are now separated by just 4.74 degrees.
But wait, it gets even better. In the U.S., where Facebook penetration has reached epidemic proportions, we are just 4.37 degrees apart. We are, as they say, truly plugged into one another.
But, here’s the rub. Distance means absolutely nothing in the course of human events (to borrow a phrase). If you’re constructing a network to, say, find a lead for a new job or solve a problem at work, degrees of separation are irrelevant. What matters most is the quality of the connection.
For example, you can be separated from a person by a single degree, but if you think they’re mean spirited or unpleasant there’s probably little chance that you will assist them with a problem they’ve encountered on-the-job. Conversely, if they hold the same low opinion of you, it’s unlikely that they will recommend you to their employer as a prospective new hire no matter how strong your credentials.
What the technology guys don’t understand is that networks may be composed of bits and bytes, but their power is created by relationships. They are human connections, not machine contacts. Their value is not the proximity they afford us, but the potential for personal interaction that proximity creates.
So, here’s my modest suggestion to the deep thinkers at Facebook. Instead of calculating how far apart we are, why not try to figure out how to close the gap (in familiarity and trust) that exists between so many of us these days? That would be an accomplishment that we in the human species could really get excited about.
P.S. To read more about Career Fitness and Career Activism, get my books, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System and The Career Activist Republic. Both are available at Amazon.com, in many bookstores and on Weddles.com.