I repeat: my name is Nobody, I am a virus and I infected 3 people in Wuhan on January 4. Around April 3 in Oegstgeest, the Netherlands, Mister Node wondered not only how I managed to reach and infect his near neighbor in 90 days, but whether thinking about the six-degrees of separation conjecture helps.
At first glance, the latter is nonsense. I do not consist of one package, but of an explosively growing number of more or less identical packages. My distribution is more like a broadcast than a letter. But there are also similarities. The broadcast bridges no more than a few meters. That means that social distance does play a role. But that also means that there must be ways in which I can (like a package via the postal service) cover longer distances in good health.
The first is also nonsense. The participants in the small-world experiment are people who can use their minds and who can be given an assignment that they can consciously try to carry out. I am only a virus and have no consciousness. Once it has happened it may look as if I had been instructed to infect my near neighbour in Oegstgeest, but of course this is not the case. But wait, the participants in the experiment didn’t know their targets or how to get there either.
The results of the small-world experiment have contributed to understanding two fascinating phenomena.
The first concerns network structures, and which network characteristics promote the emergence of the six-degrees of separation phenomenon. Anyone who wants a random sender to deliver a parcel to a consignee at maximum social distance in six short-social-distance steps must have access to a logistics network with a small-world architecture. Most logistics networks have such a structure.
The second concerns the phenomenon that actors are usually nodes in multiple networks that have their particular ways of determining distances and thus make their contribution to the resilience (or chances of survival) of the actor concerned in the situation in which it finds itselve. Anyone who needs to deliver a parcel from any sender to a recipient at maximum social distance in six short-social-distance steps must have access to different networks that represent different values (for example: social, political, economic, scientific) and thereby help promote the finding of a specific addressee.