Fewer degrees of separation in the Deaf world

Have you heard of the "six degrees of separation" theory? It's the idea that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by six connections by way of introduction. So you are to connected to anyone else through five other people. Are we really all connected by just six degrees of separation?

This number of degrees of seperation in the hearing world sounds like somehow really exaggerating. Deaf people on this earth is very much more interconnected as they are highly networked among Deaf communities and schools for the deaf worldwide.

This six degrees of separation is kind of a lot closer to the truth in the Deaf world. If this number is the case in the hearing world, then it must be about two degrees of separation compared to the hearing version of six. But then again, two degrees of separation would be a lot closer to the truth among Deaf globe-trotters than local Deaf folks.

A Deaf person connected to another Deaf person around the world can be easily traced through intermediaries. A distinct, cultural feature in introduction that is different from the hearing culture is evident. When introducing someone or meeting a new person, we typically ask about our backgrounds such as where we come from, where we live, what deaf school we went to, where we were born in, whether we went to Gallaudet Univeristy (and what year), and so on. Not all questions are asked but one leads to another where fit.

Now someone says that the collective degrees of separation have shrunk online. A Facebook page calculates that "each person in the world (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook) is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people."

In that case, would that be one degree of separation in the Deaf world on Facebook? Who knows? Maybe. Let's explore the degrees of separation in real life.

A case study: My Deaf parents' Italian close friends Sala and his wife came to visit us in Wroclaw, Poland, from Italy for a week in circa 1975. At that time, Sala was also a close friend of Swedish-born American-resident Yerker Andersson who was Vice President of the WFD (World Federation of the Deaf). My father wasn't sure whether he had met Yerker once but didn't know that Yerker was a close friend of Sala.

Years forward after my family emigrated to Canada, Yerker and I chatted in Italy. Incidentally, he mentioned about a close friend Sala from Italy. Ah! I told him that my father is a close friend of Sala. Bingo, we connected. If it weren't for him to mention, we might not have known that we were connected.

degree of separation in the Deaf world
Image left to right: Sala's daughter, Sala's wife, Yerker, Sala, and Jolanta (myself). Circa 2001.

Years later, a Canadian emerging interpreter from my city went to Italy for some kind of a training under Sala's daughter learned of my connection to them and she came back to tell me a 'hello' message from them. Reconnection.

As for a hearing person in Deaf space following a typical introduction ("what's your name?"), Deaf community members may ask the usual questions "are you hearing?", "where did you learn ASL?", "who is your ASL instructor?" and bingo. Often an ASL student may be connected to a Deaf community member via their ASL instructor.

There are so much many interesting stories about 'small world' connections in the Deaf world. Not all connections are made but they are built or embedded in a circle of circles.