Home > Articles > Networking > Network Design & Architecture

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

How Connectivity Shrinks Our World

In trawling through one of the private online discussion forums in which I participate, I came across a question on shifting high-value customers to online services, so I put in my two cents worth. It turned out that Chris, who had posted the original question, worked in London for one of the global professional services firms that I know well, so we exchanged a few emails directly and arranged to meet the next time I was in London. We went from his office in the early evening rain to a cozy local pub for a pint, where we met up with someone he thought I should meet—one of his former colleagues who has established a network of specialist consultants. After a couple of pints, we adjourned from the pub for a curry—as you do in London—and discovered further common interests, values, and beliefs as we hoed into the vindaloo, washed down with Indian lager beer. Fortunately, I escaped before I was too damaged to do justice to the workshop I was running the following day, but we had shifted from an exchange of brief emails to friendships and the foundation of future business collaboration.

This illustrates how communication technologies allow like-minded people from different sides of the planet to find each other and share ideas (and in this instance, also beers). The impact of the new forms of communication available to us is far broader than that. The whole way people meet and communicate is changing. Email, Short Message Service (SMS), instant messaging, cell phones, online forums, chat, and videoconferencing all allow and even encourage ways of communicating and relating with others that are fundamentally different from what has come before. Together, they dramatically change the structure of society and how people interact.

When did you last say or hear someone say "what a small world"? People have an unquenchable fascination with how richly we are connected, never ceasing to be amazed by the seeming coincidences of how one friend knows another through a completely different route. Yes, it is a small world, and growing smaller all the time. The well-known phrase "six degrees of separation" suggests that we are connected to every person on the planet by no more than six steps.

The concept of six degrees of separation originally emerged from experiments performed in the 1960s by Harvard sociologist Stanley Milgram. He gave letters to randomly chosen residents of Kansas and Nebraska and asked each one to try to get the letter to a specified person in Massachusetts by forming a chain. They were to start by sending the letter to the person they thought would be most likely to be able to pass it on to the nominated target. It turned out that a median of six steps was required for the letters to get to their destination.

Recently, a new branch of mathematics known as "small world theory" has emerged to study and explain this phenomenon. The heart of the matter is the diversity of our connections. In the past, most social circles were relatively closed. People tended to know the same people as the others within their social group or local community. Let's say Joe knows 50 people. If all those 50 people know only each other, it's a closed group. However, if any one of the group has more diverse social connections and knows people outside, that provides a link through which everyone is connected to the rest of the world.

Small world theory—in its simplest form—studies a circle of people, as shown in Figure 1–1. If each person only has contact with the four people closest to them, it can take as many as five steps to reach everyone in a world of just 20 people. If we add just a handful of more distant connections across this "world," as shown in Figure 1–2, it takes far fewer hops to reach others. It is the connections that bridge distinct and distant groups that create the small world.

Figure 1-1Figure 1–1 It is a big world when you only know your immediate neighbors.

Figure 1-2Figure 1–2 Adding just a few more diverse connections can create a small world for everyone.

The formation of these diverse bridges between people describes what is happening in our hyper-connected world. Increased mobility and migration mean that, even in a small community, you are likely to know people born in many different countries. You can easily keep in touch or reconnect with people you've gone to school or worked with by email or alumni Web sites. You can communicate and form friendships with people you meet online, as I did with Chris in London. Children and teenagers consider it commonplace to chat or play games online with people from all around the world. It is no longer unusual for people to have met their life partners online. From six degrees, we are moving closer to four degrees of separation from anyone in the world, with the possible exception of a few isolated tribespeople. We live embedded in an intensely connected world.

New forms of communication are giving us new ways to interact socially. In the past, when we met someone we could only give him or her our address or telephone number. Email gives us more choices. It's easier to give people your email address than your telephone number, and it's easier to contact someone that way. Mobile telephony allows us to lead far less structured social lives. Instead of making firm arrangements to meet, people go out and then use cell phones to meet on the move. Social events are becoming far easier to organize and more diverse because all it takes is a quick email or text message to get a large group together. I run the Party Alert Network email list, which can in an instant let several hundred people know of social events. A friend sends out text messages to let people know of art exhibition openings and social events. In this way, digital communication is resulting in a substantial broadening of people's social connections. Similarly, employees can connect far more widely within their organizations, and those who would be afraid to walk into their chief executive's office with an idea are often happy to send an email.

Micromessages Make Communication Fluid

Sit in a central café in any European city early on a Friday evening, and you will see troupes of teenagers and young adults sporting that essential accessory: mobile phones. They're speaking into them, swinging them around casually as mating displays, and as often as not, using two thumbs to type brief messages with a practiced ease. The global SMS protocol allows 160-character text messages to be sent to or from any mobile phone.

In 2001, around 40 billion text messages were sent on mobile phones, with a forecast of close to 50 percent annual growth in the subsequent years. For several hundred million people, currently mainly in Europe, Asia, and Australia, this new style of communication is becoming a core part of their daily lives. The uptake in America has been stymied by the inability of U.S. telecom companies to agree on standards, meaning subscribers usually can send messages only to other customers of the same network. In the meantime, the rest of the world is busy exploring a whole new mode of connecting with others.

The spectacular takeoff of instant messaging has paralleled the SMS boom. Instant messaging enables people who are connected to the Internet to compile "buddy lists" of their friends around the world, see when they are online and sitting at their computer, and send text messages to them. The major differences with email are that not only can you interact in real-time in what is closer to a live conversation than sending letters, but also the presence function means you know whether your buddies are there to chat with. From its roots as a social tool, instant messaging is shifting to become extensively used in organizations. Salespeople in the RE/MAX real estate franchise network, covering more than 4,000 offices worldwide, use instant messaging both internally for sharing referrals and externally to converse with prospects and clients. The U.S. Navy is rolling out instant messaging across the whole fleet to streamline technical conversations. Communication within IBM is dominated by the technology, with more than two million instant messages sent daily by employees even in early 2001.

Instant messaging and SMS are examples of what I call micromessages. They are short, informal, and unintrusive. You can see the message and choose how to respond, unlike a telephone call. In practice, these new forms of communication rarely replace existing communication, but add to it. People still meet and call each other, but for other exchanges they may use SMS or instant messaging. Most important, the informality of these micromessages lowers the barriers to communication. Although something may not have been worth a phone call, it's easy and unobtrusive to send instant text. This results in a far greater fluidity of communication. When the only way you can communicate with distant people is in large bulky chunks—letters, email, telephone calls, and the like—it means there has to be a good reason to do so. Micromessages allow smaller things to be communicated, and for many teenagers—and increasingly adults—they have become a means of sharing their daily experience and thoughts. SMS and instant messaging can be powerful marketing tools, if treated appropriately, as you will discover in Chapter 6.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020