A Small, Sad World

In which The Author feels sorry for some friends

One of the disadvantages of social networking is that the famous ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ phenomenon becomes a part of everyday life. Whether or not Stanley Milgram’s original research was flawed is irrelevant. As individual people, we have become connected to people we don’t know via friends we have in common. The result of this is that we are more likely to know someone who’s been affected by an event outside our own home town.
An example of this occurred on Saturday. BBC Wales and Traveline Cymru Tweeted that the main road through Gilfach Goch had been closed after a serious traffic incident. Over the next couple of days, the news emerged that a young couple had been killed in the crash. Their names flashed up on the Wales Online website, but they didn’t sound familiar. I looked at the photographs of the victims when they appeared soon afterwards. I didn’t recognise either of them. They’d lived in Tonyrefail, and had recently had a baby. It was a tragic news item, of course, and the community was justifiably shocked and appalled by what had happened.
There wasn’t any reason why I should have known them. Gilfach Goch is a small community a couple of miles from Tonyrefail, after all. I’ve been through it on the 172 bus a number of times. I once accompanied a work colleague to deliver a consignment of books to a business customer in the village. Other than those, I have no connection to Gilfach Goch or Tonyrefail at all.
Once the victims’ names were released, however, one of my friends from university posted a status on Facebook. She had known the young woman, and by implication her fianc√© too. I didn’t like to intrude on her grief by asking how they’d known each other. It’s possible that they’d been in school together, as they were similar ages and lived in the same general area. When I read my friend’s status, it brought home to me the way in which we’re increasingly living in McLuhan’s Global Village.
It’s wonderful when social networking can have positive benefits, as we demonstrated with the recent Shake4Mike campaign. By mobilising our online forces we were able to find a stem cell donor for a young man with a rare form of blood cancer. But it’s also terribly sad to reflect that an item of bad news, which in theory wouldn’t touch your life at all, still has the power to force itself into your friends’ lives. Even though I’m at a full Degree of Separation from this tragic couple, knowing that we had a friend in common somehow made their deaths more real.
This evening, Wales Online reported that a man, believed to be the brother of the female victim, has been charged with dangerous driving and appeared in court today. Police are still appealing for witnesses to the incident, which took place on the A4093 last Saturday (June 7) and involved a white BMW Series 1 convertible. If you have any information, you can contact South Wales Police’s Road Policing Unit on the non-emergency phone number, 101.
My condolences go out to the families of the victims. Even though I didn’t know them personally, they were friends of a friend. In the future, that’s pretty much how society is going to be.