Happy Friends Day, Fellow Earthlings! We have some news on this new Facebook-invented holiday that, depending on your view of your fellow planetary inhabitants, may be intensely thrilling or tremendously frightening.
According to the modern-day oracle that is Facebook (FB), we are all far less separated than we imagined. At least, that’s the case for users of the social network.
For years, we have been led to believe by the sages of TV and Hollywood that we are separated by a relatively comfortable six degrees. That is, anyone can find a link to anyone else in the world by just tracing a path through six acquaintances.
But lo, Facebook cometh to shatter our widely held belief in this myth and replace it with cold, hard data: The number is actually 3.57.
“In honor of Friends Day, we’ve crunched the Facebook friend graph and determined that the number is actually 3.57,” writes Facebook’s data team. “Each person in the world (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook) is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people.”
This is mind-blowing stuff, people; this CHANGES EVERYTHING!
To begin with, so much of our popular culture is going to be turned upside down. The joyous thinking of six degrees gave us the wonder of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Will Smith even made a movie out of it, which was based on a play, which was based on some real life events. Somehow, the “3.57 degrees of Kevin Bacon” just doesn’t work.
But it also creates a massive existential dilemma for nearly every user of Facebook who had, until now, come to terms with their place in the universe and how they related to the other 1.5 billion users, not to mention the planet’s other 5.5 billion people.
For instance, until yesterday, I could brag with confidence that Barack Obama is a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine. Yo. But today? Is he a friend of a friend of a friend? Or a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend? The .57 makes it all very hard to sort out. Six was such a nice even number. Easy to wrap our heads around.
Also, now I feel more responsible for a greater swath of humanity. I mean, if you’re only 3 people rather than 6 away from me, what is my obligation here? Are we friends? Should I call in to check up on you every now and then? Or Snapchat you? Invite you to our Halloween party? Or what?
Now, if you think you’re going to have trouble sleeping at night, there’s a tool to help put your mind at ease. On the blog post, Facebook includes a calculator that will tell you how close (if you’re logged in) you are from everyone else. Me? I’m 2.89.
Zuck is 3.17. (I feel comfortable calling him that since we’re practically related now.) COO Sheryl Sandberg is 2.92.
The thing is that even if you adapt to this bombshell of proximity, you can’t rest easy. Facebook says those degrees of separation are shrinking!
“Our collective ‘degrees of separation’ have shrunk over the past five years,” Facebook’s data team writes. “In 2011, researchers at Cornell, the Università degli Studi di Milano, and Facebook computed the average across the 721 million people using the site then, and found that it was 3.74. Now, with twice as many people using the site, we’ve grown more interconnected, thus shortening the distance between any two people in the world.”
If Facebook’s prediction that it will have 5 billion users by 2030 comes true, then at this rate, the whole world will be practically sitting in your digital lap at that point.
But gosh, that’s a lot of negativity. This is Friends Day! So don’t worry about all the creepy lowlifes who are much closer to you than you thought or that vague sense that suddenly the walls are closing in all around you and it’s getting very, very hard to breathe.
Just be happy.