It occurred to me today that I know people who know a lot of people. The "six degrees of separation" concept certainly isn't new, but I've always looked at that network as connecting, well, people, and not so much skillsets or areas of knowledge or expertise.
This thought hit me today while thinking through how to help Tyler with a school assignment. Her assignment is to devise a business plan for how she would spend one million dollars. It's a surprisingly liberal assignment, and very few restrictions are placed on the ventures into which the kids sink their money. It is a lesson, though, so they can't simply donate it all to charity, for example. The children need to itemize how the money will be spent, and project whether there will be any return on their investments. Tyler decided to make a movie. In order to do this, she'll need actors, and equipment and facilities, and some level of marketing and advertising. The library was the obvious first stop, and the books we got there are helpful, but they raise a lot more questions than they answer. Does one need to use Screen Actors Guild actors? What is the cost delta between a guild actor and a non-guild actor? Are there any permits required for various types of location filming?
It was then that I remember that my friend Jeff had recently introduced me to a script writer and a director / producer, both of whom live in Columbus. I immediately asked Jeff if he could re-introduce me to these two, that Tyler might be able to pick their brains and draw from their experiences to assist her on her project. The information from the library books is no doubt valid, but how much more might she learn from real-world filmmakers?
Thinking this through more, I realized that I have indirect access to a wealth of experience and expertise. Sure, in a loose sense we all have access to such information through the convenience of the Internet and Internet search engines; but the kind of direct personal connection with a human being with specific skills can't (yet) be easily replicated by technology.
I know a retired anesthesiologist. I know two guys who work in the data centers of two different major U.S. banking institutions. I know one of the founders of the CentOS project. I know a former signals intelligence officer from the U.S. Army. I know a published artist. I know an employee of MySQL. I know a taxonomy specialist working to apply Dewey Decimal classifications to non-library scenarios. I know professional (and amateur) DJs, published authors, school teachers, musicians, and athletes. I know a lot more people, each of whom knows someone that possesses specific skills and has specific knowledge that I lack. Similarly, the folks I know have access to my connections through me.
The importance of this realization is still reverberating. It's not something on which I need to rely for my day-to-day existence, but as our society increasingly becomes one of specialization, it's somewhat reassuring to know that I have access to expertise far outside my own specialization just through my everyday friendships and acquaintances.