In a world of 6.6 billion people, it does seem hard to believe. The theory of six degrees of separation contends that, because we are all linked by chains of acquaintance, you are just six introductions away from any other person on the planet.
But researchers announced the theory was right – nearly. By studying billions of electronic messages, they worked out that any two strangers are, on average, distanced by precisely 6.6 degrees of separation. In other words, putting fractions to one side, you are linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances to Madonna, the Dalai Lama and the Queen. The news will come as no surprise to film buffs who for years have been playing the parlour game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which they link other actors to Bacon in six films or fewer.
Researchers at Microsoft studied records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries, according to the Washington Post. This was ‘the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available,’ they observed. The database covered all the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006, equivalent to roughly half the world’s instant-messaging traffic at that time.