You Are Connected To Everyone On Earth By Just 4 Degrees Now

The old six degrees of separation has shrunk, and it’s because of Facebook.

You Are Connected To Everyone On Earth By Just 4 Degrees Now
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The well-known six degrees of separation theory is a rule for the interconnected, globalized age we live in. It states that everyone is connected to each other through others they know by, at most, six rounds of introductions (some sillier versions require that actor Kevin Bacon is a step in the chain).


Because of Facebook, the world is getting even smaller than we’ve realized. Researchers studying connectedness on social networks have now proposed that “the average number of acquaintances separating any two people no matter who they are . . . is not six but 3.9.”

Eman Yasser Daraghmi and Shyan-Ming Yuan, of the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, created a database on Facebook that included 950 million people, The Pacific Standard reports. After eliminating duplicate and fake accounts as well as celebrities, the researchers used advanced statistical methods to calculate how far everyone was spread out on the network.

What’s even more exciting is that the “four degrees of separation” rule is that this number included people who are in rare or very specialized professions, who might have a more tight-knit or smaller network. If you work in a more common profession, like teaching or medicine, the degrees of connectedness between you and everyone else is probably even less–an average of 3.2.

If the new theory, published in Computers in Human Behavior, holds, this would be only the latest evolution of the idea of the “small world problem.” The ideal that we’re all interconnected was first proposed in 1929 by a Hungarian author, and was popularized around the number six by sociologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, and later by various movies, such as Six Degrees of Separation starring Will Smith.

While we’re on the topic of giving modern updates to the six degrees idea, I’ll propose a new game, an alternative to the “Bacon number”–since, if we’re being honest, Kevin Bacon’s biggest celebrity moments are long behind us.

After polling coworkers, we’ve come up with “four degrees of James Franco.” He’s got that same ubiquitous and sexy, but slightly generic appeal. Got other suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.