Six Degrees

[Originally published in the Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent newspaper.]

Everything – and everyone – is related. We’ve always known that. Philosophical treatises on the unity of, well, everything have been around for about as long as humanity has been able to chew on a stalk of grass and contemplate the world.

The only real difference between our understanding of this inter-relatedness past and present is that we moderns have scientifically developed models to lean on. One of the most easily grasped is Six Degrees of Separation. Put simply, this concept states that the vast majority of people in the world are related to one another through no more than six other individuals. A fun way to demonstrate this concept is the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, which shows that virtually every movie star working in Hollywood today has worked with someone who’s worked with someone (etc. etc.) who’s worked with Kevin Bacon.

Once you start to think about it, the only interesting part of this theory is the number – we’ve always known we were all connected, at least in some esoteric sense. But until recently we’d never been able to properly quantify that relationship.

Now that the numbers are well known, so-called social networking services such as FaceBook, MySpace and countless other sites that trade on the common tastes of ‘friends of friends’ have capitalised on that to provide services over the Internet.

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The Case for Openness

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

I’ve been an interested observer and sometime participant in the development of communications in Vanuatu for coming on five years now. In all that time, probably the most interesting phenomenon that I’ve witnessed has been the effect of openness, both within the IT community and among users of this new technology.

I’ve written about this before, of course. Here is a brief excerpt:

“Those in business and government who have traditionally worn the office of custodian of the public good will find that, while the[ir] role is not diminished, it will be shared among a great many others. To coin a tortured phrase, improved communications means that we’ll have to learn to communicate better.

“Barriers between institutions will need to come down as well. Some of them, such as interconnectivity between competing mobile phone systems, will be legislated away, but others will only fall through our collective willingness to accommodate others, to show some flexibility in the face of change, and most of all from our collective willingness to allow these new channels of communication to flow productively in both directions.”

The last 12 months of rapid change have been accompanied by mixed results in this regard. I was originally tempted to report on progress in the form of a report card, but this is neither the time nor the place for naming and shaming. The purpose here is not to embarrass. On the contrary, it’s to demonstrate how taking advantage of Vanuatu’s status as a small community is more rewarding than conventional wisdom might lead us to believe.
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