It’s a Small World!

Small world theory is one of the fascinating readings I have come across. I think it represents the sentence “everybody knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone you know”. Small world theory hypothesizes that two strangers are only separated by six degrees, meaning we are connected to everyone in the world with only five people in between. This theory became popular when Stanley Milgram conducted a study based on “six degrees of separation”. He designed an experiment where he provided packages to participants chosen in the cities of Omaha, Nebraska, and Wichita, Kansas to be delivered to the destination of Boston, Massachusetts. However, they were not allowed to mail the packages directly to the target person. They were instructed to mail it to someone they know and then that person would continue to do the same. At the end, 64 packages were delivered to their destination with an average path length of 5 and a half or six. This groundbreaking experiment was heavily popularized and critiqued, providing strong support for the small world theory. Milgram’s experiment suggests that weak ties play a significant role in small-world networks.

Six Degrees of Separation Anxiety

Ties are the links or relationships between two actors in a social network. There are two different types of ties in a social network, strong ties, and weak ties. Strong ties include or close friends and family. On the other hand, weak ties include people with whom we do not interact as frequently as our family. Kadushin (2011) suggests that weak ties help us to integrate into social systems, without these ties our social system will be “fragmented and incoherent”. Kadushin’s analysis forces me to think about the number of strong ties and weak ties I have. With only strong ties in my life, I will not be able to fully integrate into the society. They allow us to go beyond our “strong ties” and make connections (even weak ones) with random strangers in the society. Kadushin (2011) provides a brief explanation of what can happen if one has few weak ties, he states “Individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends”. Strong ties also hold significance in a social network but weak ties make the social networks unique.

This picture provides a great example of how weak ties play a significant role in world of social media advertising.

In the world of big data where everything is connected to everything, the importance of weak ties is magnified. The digital world is global. We cannot just stick to our family and friends, in other words, our strong ties while communicating and interacting online. If that was a case, the spread of information like it is now, will not be possible. On my social media platforms, if I connect only with people with whom I share strong ties, I will only consume the information shared by these people. My Facebook friends consist of people I’ve met just once or haven’t even met yet. Having these weak ties as my Facebook friends is what makes my social network larger and produces more information. These weak ties often become a source to most our ideas and information. Like Granovetter (1973) says, “there is strength in weak ties”. This class is a really good example of strength in weak ties. We learn together. We have ideas together. We improve each other.

References,

Granovetter, M.  1973.  “The Strength of Weak Ties”.  American Journal of Sociology 81: 1287-1303.

Kadushin, Charles. Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings (p. 31). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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