Shards of Consciousness

The Power of One

I started this post to show the amount of influence each of us has in the world. I began on the assumption that the six degrees of separation phenomena is true. That if each us is related to every other person in the world by an average of six intermediaries, we therefore influence every other person in the world.

The six degrees of separation belief is widespread, but from what I've found, basically untrue. In 2001 Judith S. Klein published a review of the research on the six degrees phenomenon. Most of the research was poorly designed due to a lack of random sampling in beginning points and due to a locality of focus. Milgram, for example, whose research is a major source of this belief, bought mailing lists from which he chose participants. Many other studies looked at reaching people on the same town, or even on the same campus. Even so, only 5% to 85% of messages were able to be transmitted from one person to another person unknown to them, with the lower end of successful transmissions coming about when trying to cross class and racial barriers. The average successful completion rate seems to hover around 30%.

What the research does show is that the higher your status, the more social capital you have, the more likely you are to be able to reach another random person.

So that idea's caput. But for the purposes of this post I'm not really interested in conveying specific message to specific individuals. I am interested in how we influence each other.

Intuitively I know that each of us influences many other people. What about a modification of the six degrees of separation concept? Assume that for each person we influence, the influence extends through six degrees before it is too attentuated to matter. Looked at in this way, through each person we influence, we influence 7776 other people. If you affect only 10 other people in your life, through them you effect 77,760 more pople. If you affect 1000 people, through them you affect 7,776,000 people. If you're the president of the US, you affect the entire world many times over.

Each act of communication is an act of influence. The communication may be verbal. The communication may be an action you take in another's presence. The communication may be a blog post or something you write. Many of us believe the communication may be psychic. Each act of communication does influence others. The influence may be small. It may be great. But it is there.

Not only is it there, it is passed on. Consider a pool table. You hit one ball. It hits another, then another, then another. Eventually the amount of energy transmitted between balls is too small to overcome the force of inertia and nothing happens when the last ball is hit, but in the meantime the position of each ball contacted is changed. Influence is passed on from person to person through each act of communication in the same way. Our acts change the person we contact. There acts change who they contact. Eventually, the result of the influence is gradually attenuated until it is too small to overcome the last recipient's psychological inertia.

The numbers may be off. I would be extremely surprised if they aren't, even by orders of magnitude. But the general concept holds true. All we do, all we write, all we say, changes the world around us. Each of our acts of communication reverberates through our society. We change our world just by coming in contact with it.

How do you change the world?

Technorati Tags: , ,

10 Responses to The Power of One

  • I piss and moan to people about wasting water! Nobody listens but I do it anyway.

  • The influence may not be what you want or expect, or even visible to you, but it's there.

    Interesting that you bring up the example of water. I've been working on another post about how we ignore the water situation in the world while carbon dioxide gets all the press. A shortage of potable water is having as much, if not more impact on people's lives than climate change,whether influenced by man or not.

  • The more people I meet and the more parts of the globe I explore, the smaller I am convinced the world is. I'm willing to bet I'm less than six degrees away from the most remote Ethiopian villager.

    Speaking of influence, the entire course of my life was changed by a stray Pizza Hut flyer. (Story in link.) Fully realizing the impact one "small" act by one individual is both terrifying and empowering.

    Have you read Atlas Shrugged? If we all try to better ourselves and take care of our own needs, the whole planet becomes a better place.

  • Welcome, Marina.

    Your story is powerful. You're right about the impact of our actions being "terrifying and empowering". Possibly it is terrifying because it is so empowering. We may be fortunate in not knowing the long term result of most of our actions. I have the feeling it would inspire paralysis in many of us. Just to know that what we do does influence those around us may be enough to awaken the sense of interconnectedness between ourselves and the rest of the world and inspire us to examine what we say and do with an eye toward the possible long term results.

    I have read Atlas Shrugged as well as The Fountainhead, but not for many, many years. Ayn Rand was one of the inspirations who helped shape my thought.

  • Can't wait for that post. I hope I don't miss it! People in general just don't get it.

  • "Each of our acts of communication reverberates through our society. We change our world just by coming in contact with it."

    It is pertinent to be aware of how we affect the world we come in contact and likewise be aware of how it affects us.

  • Janeywan,

    The entire post isn't about water. I use it as an example. The easiest way to not miss it is to subscribe to Shards' feed. :)

  • Well said, Ottayan. The trick is being aware of these things at the time and not after the fact. Often it is impossible to know how we affect those we contact, as Marina's story shows, and sometimes we don't see until years later how an encounter has shaped our lives. But if we want to wake up, we do need to do our best to examine possible ramifications now.

  • Rick,

    Love this post. I was thinking that influence works like Einstein's energy equation e=Mc2, where M is the social status of the messenger and c is the content of the message. Even a relatively obscure fellow like me can make a big impact with a strong message!


  • Hello Mike,

    We're putting that theory to the test here, at Spooky Action, and every blog and small publishing site on the internet. Each of us can affect millions.

Exploring Pathways to Freedom