When my ninth grade teacher explained the theory of "six degrees of separation," I was skeptical. The 14-year-old me couldn't fathom how 6 billion people were only six relationships apart. I was fascinated and in disbelief that I could track the number of different relationships that linked me to my teen idols.
Little did I know that the challenge of finding your relationship to some obscure person in the world would soon disappear. I'm one of those wary Facebook users who attempts to only friend those people I have met. Yet even with my stingy friending practices, I have accumulated more than 600 "friends." Still, it is common for people to have upward of 1,000 friends-and never have I seen that word deteriorate so much. Today, those six degrees of separation are virtually gone: finding a relationship with someone is as simple as friending them on Facebook or following them on Twitter.
Elisabeth Sloan, a junior, uses online social networking programs-like Facebook-but says she has seen a change in how people use them over the past few years. "I mean, I guess when I think about it, not everyone on my friends list is my friend or even knows me in real life," she said. "That's a little weird, but it's important to have these social networking tools to be able to communicate with people all over the world." She added that she also has noticed that many of the sites now help companies get in direct contact with consumers through advertising and marketing.
With the development of Web 2.0, social media outlets and networking sites have become increasingly prominent. The second generation of the Web focuses on communication, collaboration and the ease of information flow, all of which enable greater social networking-making it actually "World Wide." According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted earlier this year, 37 percent of people visit their primary social networking site on a daily basis, and 75 percent of people visit at least once per week (if not more often). Just today I got an update on rapper Xzibit's whereabouts-globetrotting in Spain, evidently.
Social networking, however, goes far beyond celebrity e-stalking and destroying the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. And individuals and college students aren't solely responsible for this phenomenon. Very recently, marketing companies, advertising agencies and even Fortune 500 businesses have all jumped onto the social media and networking bandwagon. Burger King created a Facebook application-The Whopper Sacrifice-that encouraged users to defriend 10 people in order to receive a free Whopper. The result? 233,906 friendships were ended.
Whatever the future might be for social networking and Web 2.0-whether it become commercialized or is used for purely social interaction-we can be certain of one thing: Kevin Bacon would be proud.