Dec. 13, 2006 — -- If it truly is a small world after all, does it matter how connected you are when you're born into it?
"Primetime" sought to answer that question by conducting a groundbreaking social experiment on whether the idea of six degrees of separation holds true.
With the help of Columbia University professor Duncan Watts, an expert in the theory of social networks, "Primetime" created a test that pitted real people against one another in a race to see who could connect to a random third individual the fastest.
While upper crust Manhattanites Kristina Stewart Ward and Darren Schick tried to establish links to inner-city Brooklyn boxer Petey Pierre, Pierre attempted to connect with Broadway dancer Heather Parcells.
That didn't mean Pierre could simply go to the theater and ask to meet her -- he had to go to someone he knew personally, then hope that that person either knew Heather or could introduce him to someone who might know her.
Pierre would have to continue building this human chain until he finally met someone who knew Heather, who could then introduce the two.
Parcells was optimistic about the search.
"All he has to do is find one person in this business, and they will find me. One person!" she said.
But Pierre didn't believe he could meet the challenge. He said upper class people with Rolodexes full of contacts could probably link with anyone, but the task would be much more daunting for him.
"They're like coming from the top of the food chain, you know what I'm saying? They're the guys with power and stuff. It's easy to be at the top of the hill and look down you know, but to look up?" he said with a sigh of exasperation.
Watts said Pierre's shortsighted view is common.
"It's what we would call the local view of the network, which is just the people that you know," said Watts.
"And of course, that is just a tiny little chunk of the whole global network, and the trick -- the mental trick -- is to be able to understand that your local view is not really representative of the global view. That in fact, someone you know can connect you to someone else that you don't know, who connects you to someone else who you really don't know ... and that's where the power lies," he explained.
Watts said everyone has a power that often goes unrealized: the ability to get almost anywhere using our own personal contacts.
Was Pierre able to harness the power of social networking? Did he make the jump from a boxing ring in Brooklyn to a Broadway theater?