Around 50 years ago a farmer in Kansas in the US received a brown folder in the mail. The folder contained instructions to be followed in order that the package would be delivered to a student in Boston called Alice. Four days later, in faraway Boston, Alice was out walking in Cambridge when one of her instructors at the divinity school where she was studying approached her holding out the same package the Kansas farmer had received in the mail.
Having followed the instructions provided the farmer passed the package to an Episcopalian minister in his local town who then mailed the package to a colleague in Boston where it soon reached Alice.
All of this was part of a scientific experiment by Stanley Milgram, the social psychologist, designed to prove we all live in a small world.
Stanley was attempting to prove two perfect strangers have only a few human links in between them.
After sending out hundreds of packages to various participants he published his findings in 1967. He concluded that any two people were only six or fewer acquaintances apart. In effect, any two strangers are only separated by a maximum of just five intermediaries.
Now let’s fast-track to today.
Back in 1967 there was no Internet and communicating with each other was slow and in many cases expensive. When we wrote a letter to a friend or relation abroad, we had the choice of surface mail which was cheap but slow or air mail which was fast but much more expensive.
Air mail letters even had their own lightweight paper which you folded and sealed after writing your message before finally writing the addresses of both the sender and the person receiving the letter.
Facebook has now advised us that they have concluded we are now down from six degrees of separation to between 3.5 and 4.5.
Obviously, this is partly driven by the popularity of Facebook which is shrinking the human social world. Facebook states they now have over two billion regular users on their social media site and through their statistical algorithms they calculate how connected we all are today.
Is this good news or bad news?
It certainly brings us closer together using the Internet but are we really getting closer to each other?
Listening to some politicians and to those who use social media to further their strong opinions it would seem some who threaten our well-being are getting closer spreading their radical views and opinions.
I regret to conclude that many are being radicalised because we are now connected more than ever before. Radicals who are good communicators use the Internet to dissipate their often-distorted view of the world to millions at the touch of a button. They can very quickly reach a vast audience with many willing and ready to believe their propaganda.
Thankfully in the past distasteful people who rose to positions of power were not advantaged by the Internet.
Can you imagine what madmen such as Hitler could have achieved if he had access to the Internet and YouTube?
Food for thought!