Monday, March 21, 2016

degrees of connection

A while ago (ie when I started writing this post!) Jo shared on Facebook a link to a BBC R4 programme 'Six degrees of connection' which set out to explore the 'six degrees of separation' theory of Stanley Milgram. In sharing it Jo commented on how it quickly drops to 3 or 4 degrees once you add Quakers in to the mix. Not surprising that this is her view given that whilst not a Quaker herself we have discovered two more random connections to each other through Quakers in addition to Eleanor whose wedding we met at! (Graham through their work, and Sally as their husbands had been at uni together - bizarrely figured out when they were each sharing wedding photos on Facebook!)

After listening to the radio show I thought about how I'd go about reaching Helouise and whether the theory of adding Quakers would help here. Well Chris used to work for the Oban Times and so she's bound to know someone on Coll, and as the guy there said with such a small population on the island you get to know most folk. So yes, much quicker than six!

It was interesting what the programme was saying about turning the concept on its head and seeing it as degrees of connection rather than separation, and how it is that the random folk in your life outside of the circles of people in your life who are all likely to know all the same other people that makes these connections possible. This is how Quakers get to short circuit the system! As a faith community we are both the circle of people who all know each other and the random people in strange places. Even if some Quaker isn't involved with anything beyond their own Meeting, someone in that Meeting will be, and they'll know people who have been involved at a national and/or international level even if they themselves haven't. And whilst we're so often accused, in Britain and Aotearoa NZ at least, of being white middle class and lacking in diversity as a church, we do tend to gravitate to the careers that involve a lot of other people - teaching, social work, health work etc, and we often tend to be involved in other community groups. So to know one Quaker in a town gives you a pretty high chance of having immediate links to half the local community. Then of course you get those individuals who have lived in more than one country, been an active Quaker in each, involved on the international Quaker scene for many years, and have +1,000 Facebook f/Friends (and no I wasn't actually meaning me!). It doesn't take many folk like that to get you links all around the world! Especially if they've also been involved with ecumenical and/or interfaith work.

It's not just knowing/having met a lot of people though that makes the Quaker network shrink the world, it's knowing enough about the people to know who all else they might know. Like knowing Chris used to work for the Oban Times for example. My first thought when thinking how I'd trace Helouise was of Christine who sadly wouldn't be any help these days as she died last year, but her ecumenical contacts would've been what I would've hoped to have drawn on had there been no suitable Quaker in the area; my second thought was Bron who is involved with the Gaelic choir community, but then when trying to think who I knew who lived or had lived in the area I realized that Chris was my best bet. There may be Quakers on Coll, I've no idea these days as my Scottish Book of Members & Attenders is well out of date, but taking away that point of commonality I still had three points of difference, to pursue. Which backs up the programme's theory that it is through those who move in different circles from ourselves that enable the connections.

For me Facebook is invaluable in terms of knowing about people's lives beyond the short space of time where we overlap kanoi ki te kanoi, face to face. And not just their lives but some of the other lives that overlap with their as others comment on posts etc. Another way to short-circuit the 6 degrees! In the programme they had to use phonecalls (the original experiments had used letters/packages) rather than the internet to actually make the contacts, but for many of us so much of our lives is connected to social media that knowing who to call is as a result of that online exposure. Whilst I know and keep in touch with many people around the world I wouldn't have a clue what the phone number is for most of them, I'd need to Facebook or email them to find out! Would that count as cheating?!

As it happens, Eleanor, who I know Jo through, and her family are also emigrating to Aotearoa NZ soon (which I'm very excited about!). Like me she'll arrive with several long standing Quaker connections here already under her belt and I'm sure it won't be long before they too are finding out what an incredibly small country this is in terms of connectivity, and that actually whilst it might be a very long flight to get here, it really is a small world too.

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