Evolution of meanings of handshaking

Your Hand
My Hand

Text Anastasia Davydova Lewis
Collages Patrick Waugh

In the spring of this year, the research team at Facebook took upon the task of investigating whether there was much truth to the theory that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Are you familiar with that theory? Sometimes it’s presented as the “theory of six handshakes”, introducing a specificity to what a single “degree of separation” in itself, is. If you were to measure how close the world is based on something other than handshakes, the degree of separation would either rise or fall, depending on the type of intimacy you map as connective tissue. Perhaps we’re separated by no more than six handshakes from anyone else, but how about kisses? Sent emails? People we are on a first-name basis with? What is the furthest away we can be from each other to calculate a figure of being as connected as possible? What is it to know a person, to be connected to a person? It’s no surprise Facebook would impose the idea that being internet friends via their service is now the new connective tissue, the new handshake. They announced with excitement that the distance between any person and any other person on the planet hovers around the low figure of… 3.5. Only 3.5 degrees of separation — wow! We’re more connected today than we’ve ever been before! But how can that be exciting news when we’re still convinced of our own isolation? Ultimately, the answer lies within our new definitions of proximity, alliance, connection, family. The fabric of a social media website is far too fine to rope people into a meaningful web of connections, but that doesn’t mean the medium can’t be redefined. We’ve been redefining the medium for as long as we’ve been on this planet. Take handshakes, for example. Originating as a symbol of peace, they transformed into the equivalent of a paper contract, and today act as hellos, goodbyes, political statements, sometimes an overlooked necessity, sometimes a coveted first moment of contact. So how did we get here?


※This essay is an excerpt from PARTNERS Issue #1