Sorry if the title of this gets the ageless Disney theme park ride song stuck in your head, but when the world seems so large and overwhelming something happens proving just how small our planet really is. The internet connects us with friends near and far, making it possible to maintain relationships over expansive distances easier than days past. We can “meet” people with similar hobbies, shared interests, fascinating experiences, and touching stories. People from our pasts come out of the woodwork, sparking old memories and often reigniting friendships. Families discover long lost cousins through genealogy sites and software, completing sections of the family tree puzzle. All these links across humanity help break down the manmade concepts of countries and nations, connecting people who in the past would likely be enemies rather than friends. Social networking might just bring more peace, tolerance and understanding to the world then any visit by Jimmy Carter. At times the small world can be rather creepy with cyber-stalking, pasts that should remain hidden, or when worlds collide, connecting people from very different parts of your own past.
I am a facebook geek, and love the “people you may know” feature that suggests, as you might have guessed from the title, people you may know because you have mutual friends or shared an alma mater with. More often than not I actually do know the person suggested, and when I don’t know the person it is usually because we only have one mutual friend, a silly way to connect two people since we all possess friends and colleagues whose circles never cross. The likelihood of knowing a person increases dramatically with each mutual connection. It is very unlikely to share ten friends and somehow not know each other, although facebook does think I should know half the Classes of 1997 and 1998 from St. Olaf, the alma mater of my husband and many friends, and a bunch of 15 year olds from my cousin’s extensive high school network of 600. After weeding through these obvious mismatches it is fun to find long lost friends and classmates.
Sometimes the mismatch is not so obvious and this is when the world is so small it’s creepy. On four separate occasions in the past month, a completely unfamiliar name and face popped up on my screen and our connection was surprising and strange. I did not know these four people, but each one of them shared some completely random mutual friends. One of the women from Boston was friends with an old roommate when I lived/worked in Delaware and a classmate of mine from grammar school in New York. Another guy from California and I shared two friends, one who I knew from college in Virginia and the other is the daughter of my father’s best friend from the Bronx. Then there is a woman from India who is friends with one of my college classmates and a guy I worked with in New Jersey. Sharing friends with people from completely different walks of life, common connections that would never be revealed anywhere but on networking sites, is mind-blowing. There are over 6 billion people on this planet, the chances of having two people you know from “different worlds” should be statistically small but somehow it happens; a reminder that there’s so much that we share in only one small, small world.