Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

I was just thinking today how strange and unbelievably possible the theory of “six degrees of separation” really is in today’s world. The topic came about when a friend of mine realized that we had a mutual friend at the University of Texas and that spawned a series of other strange coincidences and similar stories from those around us. Is it more possible today because of technology and the global network that has been created because of the internet and advances in technology? This then takes me to the very short poem “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

When you think about all of the people and all of the faces you cross paths with on a daily basis you must ask yourself—by how many degrees do I know that person. I feel as though most of us get on the metro, bus or car every morning on our way to our day’s duties and don’t stop and think about the thousands of people we see doing the exact same thing and wonder if we in some strange way know them. Are they just faces in the crowd? Think about those people that you strike up a brief conversation with about the weather or last night’s big game. Did you just create another degree or if you had continued your conversation would you have realized that degree already exists and you have someone in common.

Saying “it’s a small world” is quite ironic because the world population is growing daily yet everyone seems to think it keeps getting smaller because of the connections and relationships we have formed across continents, between languages and beyond cultures. What does the future hold for the “six degrees of separation” and it is my belief that the saying may change and become a lower number of degrees if the world continues to connect in various technological ways. So next time you come across a sea of faces in a crowd ask yourself the questions I have posed and consider how you may know one of them.


  1. Jordan, your questions about whether or not technology has helped bring us closer together are ones that have been pondered by writers like Marshall McLuhan, Henry Jenkins, and many others. One simple answer is, yes, technology has helped "create the mass [culture]," as McLuhan argues in The Medium Is the Massage, probably his most famous work.

    That said, as we discussed briefly in class, it's also possible that technological advancement has brought about an increased sense of alienation. For one, the rise of technology in the early 20th cent., during which Pound was writing, facilitated the massive destruction of human life in the two World Wars. Also, thinking about this medium called the Internet, just look at how people actually present themselves on it. In fact, just look at our list of blog contributors! Certainly, there are people behind those handles, but who are they? Do we really know them? Are we really connected to them in any meaningful way if there is a veil of anonymity shrouding their names--and identities? Whuddya y'all think?

  2. I have to say that I'm surprised that I really enjoyed this short poem. Truthfully, Williams and Amy Lowell somewhat anger me. I understand the significance and reason behind the imagism movement, but for me personally, I do not feel as though there is any meaning behind their poems. Sure, you can make up a story behind their handful of words, but in the end it is just a handful of words. With that said, I thoroughly enjoy Pound. Although he also uses only a handful of words, he creates a better picture and one with more meaning, I feel.

    Pound's poem does have a lot to do with the "six degrees of separation theory" and what Joseph said. While there is a chance that you and a random person on the street share a common friend, is that connection really meaningful? Although it seems that technology is making the world smaller with the Internet, it is not always easy to make connections with people you have never met. For example, you may follow a blog and feel connected to that person's experiences and stories, but with miles of land between you and your favorite blogger, is the connection strong, real, etc.? This question can be found in Pound's poem. There are the faces of the crowd in the metro. To me, I feel as if the line "Petals on a wet, black bough." suggest that the faces are blurred or not as visible. Sure, everyone is sharing a common goal to make the correct train on time, to get to work, to go home. This technology, the metro, brings people together but one with the experience, even on the DC metro, knows that you don't really talk to who you're sitting or standing by. Pound is suggesting the anonymity and hollowness of these connections I feel.

    Then again, I could just be reading too much into these handful of words.

  3. I agree with Lauren, that though we may have connections with people they may not be meaningful.

    In regards to the sense of alienation brought about by technology, I have recently challenged myself to put away my laptop for the entire weekend, every weekend. I turn it off, put it in its case and put it in my closet on Friday and leave it there until, usually Sunday night. I started this practice because I found myself wasting so much time on the computer, reading various blogs, checking facebook, and looking something up, which led me to something else, to something else, on a whim. Ironically, when I disconnect - I feel more connected. I feel more connected to my roommate because I'm actually listening to her when she talks, and not half listening while reading something else. I also feel more in control of my time, time seems to be more abundant when I don't have the computer to distract me.

    Anyway, I'm just finding that the technology that is supposed to connect us, ends up isolating us.

  4. I agree with what Lauren said as well. When I read Ezra Pound's "Station of the Metro" I pictured all of the faces blurred together. I saw the fast paced environment of a metro station where people are buzzing by each other, not really interacting with one another. This got me thinking about what we talked about in class about ipods and how we use them to isolate ourselves, like others have already said. We isolate ourselves so that we do not have to communicate with other people. However, aren’t you communicating to others that you do not want to talk? Does all communication have to be verbal? Or can you simply tell someone you do not want to stop and talk nonverbally?

  5. i think internet and digital style communication is totally weird and not completely real... Definitely separates people truly and brings them together on a superficial level. I was given an iphone for christmas, and while it is an extremely fun toy, it is a gigantic waste of time and puts you more into your own bubble, technology definitely isolates people (in my opinion) or at least makes interactions less meaningful. Okay long sentence. I think the way that technology and communication are moving, human interaction will become more and more seldom, and then who knows! Text messaging and cell phones alone have changed the social scene... everything is very casual and unplanned (or perhaps my friends are really lazy??) there is never really a need to make solid plans on weekends, because everyone can be contacted throughout the night. If we only had a phone in the dorm (not so long ago) you would need to make plans with friends, dates, whatever. Ah just a thought!