About that ‘The world is a global village’ theory

One of the biggest buzz phrases we hear is how the world is getting smaller and becoming more of a global village. This is one they like to throw around in the social media world a lot as a way to get us thinking about how we communicate with each other. The problem is that this theory may not hold as much water as everyone would like to have you think.

According to Jacob Goldenberg and Moshe Levy the opposite might in fact be closer to the truth. They come to this conclusion after studying the messaging habit of some 100,000 Facebook users by zip code and suggest that the volume of e-mail traffic, as a function of geographical distance, follows an inverse power law.

Distance power law Their conclusion is that contrary to reducing the importance of geographical location all our different forms of electronic communication may have in fact increased it. This they suggest is probably because people swap more messages with with those they have a more personal interaction with.

If that’s true, why have we gone so wrong in thinking that the world is getting smaller? One source of confusion, argue Goldenberg and Levy, is the famous six-degrees-of-separation experiments originally performed by Stanley Milgram with letters, and later by Steve Strogatz and Duncan Watts using e-mail. These seem to indicate that a “small world” effect is at work in social networks.

But Goldenberg and Levy point out that most of Milgram’s letters were lost; only a dozen or so reached their targets. And in Strogatz and Watts’s experiment, they say, only 384 out of 24,163 e-mail chains were completed. That suggests that there may be more barriers to communication than we thought.

Source: Technology Review

I’m not sure that basing the changing of our concept of the world becoming a global village should be based solely on such a small sampling of people on a social media service like Facebook.