Two Degrees of Separation From a Bomber

A column I wrote today with my husband, Nicholas Christakis:

Unknown-1We spent a tense hour last Monday checking Facebook and Twitter to account for all 400 of our students at Harvard College, several of whom had been running in the marathon and were close to the blast site. As heads of one of Harvard’s undergraduate residential “houses,” news of last Thursday’s MIT shooting also reached us within minutes (because one of our students happened to be on the school’s campus and texted us, “gun fire at MIT; somebody shot — all I know”). Word continued to spread at warp speed as reports of shootings and sirens were shared from the real-time police feed.

The social networks through which information flows may seem like a 21st-century phenomenon, but people have always lived their lives embedded in networks, ever since we emerged from the African savannah. And we have always had an astounding ability to cooperate that exists side-by-side with a depressing ability to kill. This past week in Boston, our new online world crystallized both of these age-old features of our humanity.

Over the course of a few hours, we watched a surreal game of Six Degrees of Separation unfold: we learned that our 18- and 20-year-old sons, independently, knew several people who’d hung out in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s house, gone to prom and played sports with him, and knew his teachers. Our students reported similarly eerie, yet banal, connections. A few knew him directly — the storied Cambridge Rindge and Latin School sends plenty of kids to Harvard each year — and one of our colleagues had been the younger Tsarnaev’s coach at one time, which was a particularly horrifying connection insofar as yet another one of our colleagues was the heartbroken sibling of a victim killed in the attack. Many in Cambridge discovered oddly specific but nevertheless tangential links to the suspects. And we all became aware of these perplexing bonds together, well before they appeared in the news, while sheltering in place under the governor’s order…


Continued at:

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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1 Response to Two Degrees of Separation From a Bomber

  1. Dear Erika,

    I like what you wrote:

    “This is what happens when we peel back the skin of our social networks, using modern technology, to peer inside the human social organism: we can no longer hide behind the comfort of anonymity. All of a sudden, certain strangers (those ubiquitous ‘friends of friends of friends’) assume a prominence in our lives that can be either heart-warming or terrifying. Laying these connections bare can create all sorts of anxieties when we contemplate what lies just beyond the social horizon we previously could not see. And once these connections become visible, we naturally feel we have to do something about them: act on them, or, at the very least, worry about them.”

    But can’t we at least admit in our Christian upbringing that we naively have been preached in our churches “love” to the extent that we are in a “fix it” mode? I was taught that we had REAL enemies. To be cautious. Mistrustful in the way that you first find out about a person. Then get involved more. But, through social networking we say to people we don’t even know what we want. Don’t we need more boundaries? The Good Book says to be at “peace” with all men as long as it depends on you but what if it doesn’t? What if there are sworn enemies that will not let up? Do we naively think we can “love everyone” to the point where they will change? I think we need to discuss and re think this. I know too many “fix it” Christians who think if you just “love” someone they will change. In 54 years I have seen some evidence of that but not enough. Our social network used to consist of people who came to America who really wanted a new life, who were determined to leave the war ravaged lands or poverty stricken lands of their former lives and build a new one here. As Americans. Not losing their ethnicity but tying it to a new land with new neighbors and a new culture. But these Chechen boys didn’t do that. Felt alienated. Acted out in terror. This Saudi National is suspect. What was he doing being registered for college in Findlay, Ohio and not attending and having an apartment in Boston? Not all is as it seems. We need to rethink our society. It has changed. Social networking with people saying whatever they want to people they don’t know is getting dangerous in the news. I have heard of one too many slayings over Facebook. Luring someone to a party. Stabbing them. Beating them up. This is just girl on girl violence I read about. People are trying to fix this too. I am not above trying to fix something but people have to want to be fixed and some people just don’t want to be fixed. That has been my experience as well. Peace, Liz (a compassionate conservative)++

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