We have dramatically more friends and we can connect with them faster and more frequently than ever.
Think back, ten years ago. How many people did you have regular telephone contact with ten years ago? Probably ten or twenty or thirty in your personal life, and maybe 100 at work?
Now, take a look at your email inbox and your Whatsapp list. How many people do you hear from every week?
We are far more connected than we ever were. And now, we have got second or third or fourth order connections. There is an email in my box from someone who is married to someone I went to summer camp with twenty years ago who got my email address from a third friend.
Another message is from a former employee, telling me about a doctor who’s about to lose his license for trying radical medical treatments, and how her mother-in-law will suffer if this guy can’t practice any longer.
It’s hard for me to imagine either person contacting me if they had to walk across the village and bang on the door of my hut or pick up the phone and call me. But the moment you connect to the Internet, you connect, at some level, to all of us. And the connections make ideas travel. Fast.
What’s the difference between word of mouth and an ideavirus?
First: Word of mouth tends to spread slower, be more analog. If you like a book, you might tell a friend or two. And then your friends are unlikely to tell someone else until they read it for themselves.
Second: Word of mouth dies off. Because the numbers are smaller, it doesn’t take many people who don’t participate in the word of mouth for each generation to be smaller than the one before it.
With an ideavirus, both principles no longer apply. Ideaviruses spread fast and they spread far. With word of mouse (word of mouth augmented by the power of online communication), you can tell 100 friends, or a thousand friends. Because the numbers are larger and faster, the virus grows instead of slows.