Ok, multiply the "influential friend" effect by 5. Who are you now? I bet you are unrecognizably different.
the old world model
In the "old world" model, we make friends by accident. Our family is from Seattle, so that’s where we were born. Or, our Dad got a job in Chicago, so that’s where we went to school. We like to ski, and that’s how we ended up in Vermont. Accidents of birth, occupation, inclination, all of these constrain the set of people with whom we can be friends.
Once in place, some channeling takes place. We’re grew up in Seattle, say, and as it happens we lived in a neighborhood called Laurelhurst. This increased the chances that we would go to Lakeside School, and this, in turn, is why we know Bill Gates on a first name basis, and this, in turn, is the reason we retired from Microsoft some years ago to work on our golf game. (And this is why people struggle to get into the right neighborhoods, clubs and schools…to tap channeling and improve on accident.)
But even within the channeling, there is accident. It just turns out that we end up with a locker beside Bill Gates at Lakeside. Or, no, this advantage goes to some guy called Paul Allen. Our "best" friends will be supplied by serendipity. We will never know that these kids are not nearly so interesting and formative as three kids in a grade ahead of us.
the new world model
One of the things that the internet extinguished was the need for accidental sociality, for post-kinship connections that depend on spatial or institutional proximity. And if there is a mission for the next generation of the internet, Web 3.0, as it were, it is a magnificent sorting of the world that identifies people with whom we are most likely to see eye to eye, meet idea with idea, draw innovation from creativity in a pell mell rush to revelation. I mean, that’s what the world could look like. In the short term, it will be nice if we build these networks. In the longer term, it will be obligatory.
Linkedin does a very bad job at this. People use MySpace and Facebook to "audition" friends and I would love to hear about relationships so discovered. As it stands, machines can sort the social world for us, they can begin to craft more interesting networks, but so far they haven’t done very much of this. As I was saying in a previous post, I have met new friends through the internet. But machines didn’t find them. I did. (Unless we consider blogging a great sorting exercise, and this might be exactly what it is [among other things].)
My guess is that machines once they are dedicated to this purpose will do a much better job of building social connections than I could do even if I were to devote all my time to it. It can detect patterns in the stuff I put on line, and find hidden resonances with the stuff others put on line. And this would be interesting. It would be fun to get an email that says "we’ve found a match." I get these know from the DNA databases that Andrew Zolli persuaded me to join. There are a couple of people out there with whom I am virtually identical from a genetic point of view. No, it turns out we don’t have anything else in common.
But this much is clear. One of these days our descendants will be astonished to hear that we build our social networks by hand out of accident and coincidence (aka randomness, chance and probability). "What," they will want to know, "that was enough for you?"