This is my second post about the attacks in Boston, MA which occurred exactly two weeks ago. While it’s not always healthy to dwell on a tragedy, the attacks revealed that we live in a very small world. Last week’s Time article by Erika and Nicholas Christakis, “Six Degrees of Separation from a Bomber,” told the almost eerie six-degrees of separation phenomenon that played out on social media after the suspects were revealed. As professors at Harvard, the Christakises found that through they were connected to hundreds of students and children of co-workers who either personally or indirectly knew someone who had interacted with the Tsarnaeves in Cambridge.
“This is what happens when we peel back the skin of our social networks, using modern technology, to peer inside the human social organism: we can no longer hide behind the comfort of anonymity… once these connections become visible, we naturally feel we have to do something about them: act on them, or, at the very least, worry about them.”
In this instance, Harvard or Cambridge, MA represents the core in the core-periphery network. Through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, people within the core were surprised to find short the distance was between themselves and the bombing suspects. Also, we have to consider the density of high-status people in Cambridge plus those who were at the Boston Marathon which could be viewed as an overlapping core. This explains how many of us who are on the periphery, geographically distant from Boston, can find so many connections to both the event and/or the suspects. I was shocked at how my Twitter feed exploded with concerns for family members participating in the marathon, or my roommate from Massachusetts who received panicked calls and messages from friends who were hearing gunfire at night. It’s true, we do live in a small world, but what does it mean?
My last post, Cascades of Kindness, spoke about the importance of supportive content online. While major media outlets were spreading panic, social networks provided both moral support and a flood of resources. I believe the reason for the quick spread partly because kindness is adopted quickly on a social network, but also because we realized that we are not removed from the victims and citizens of Boston. The official City of Boston website incorporated the hashtag #OneBoston in a campaign to raise funds for the victims and provide resources to anyone affected by the attack. These are the kind of supportive movements we will begin seeing. Social networks are providing the framework for government and official organizations to enact unifying campaigns. Hopefully, the practice of uniting in the face of tragedy will only get stronger. Through our vast web of relationships we will embrace that fact that we are One Boston, but we are also One World.