New Zealand is a tiny place. Six degrees of separation between strangers? Hah. In New Zealand it’s closer to two – in fact there’s a phone company that named itself ‘Two Degrees’ for that reason.
The idea that we are all separated by only a few steps of who-knows-who floated about during the twentieth century, based on some not-too-scientific research. It’s gained a lot of currency of late, and recent research via Facebook suggests that everybody on that network is separated by less than five degrees. A friend of mine calls them ‘rashers’, after the variant connecting any actor to Kevin Bacon via movie appearances.
One way to close that gap, I think, is by writing. Certainly that’s been true for me – and for me, those links span time as well as space. My own Tardis, metaphorically speaking. I write a lot of history, and that puts me two degrees from another New Zealander, Bernard Freyberg (1887-1963). Which in turn puts me three from a lot of well known historical figures, including Freyberg’s good friend Winston Churchill; Freyberg’s old room-mate, J. M. Barrie; his friend Rupert Brooke; and economist John Maynard Keynes. Which in turn puts me four steps from Admiral Sir John Fisher (1841-1920), who invented the term ‘OMG’ in 1917. I am therefore just five steps from Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, the late Queen Mother, who used to be his neighbour.
All those flow from just one contact, Freyberg’s former ADC, who I got to know in the late 1990s while writing several Second World War books and my Freyberg biography. That’s pretty typical. Contacts cluster into little networks – and every so often, you find someone who connects to another cluster. It’s standard sociological patterning, and I think – for slightly different reasons – that Facebook replicates the same broad pattern in cyberspace.
I expect it’s probably the same on Twitter, too. Certainly it seems true of blogging – the recent flurry of awards highlighted a lot of who-reads-who connections and the same names kept popping up via different strands of the network.
Is there anybody you’re just a few degrees from? Has your writing – or something you’ve done – closed the gaps, somewhere? I’d love to hear from you – do tell!
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011