The power of social networks

When I was 9 years old, my family moved to Finland and I went to the International School of Helsinki until the age of 11, when I went off to boarding school in the UK. My best friend, probably the first one I had, was an American girl called Katja Ollendorff. She lived in the next suburb to us, so we spent a lot of time at each other’s houses and we were both obsessed with the Police. I remember evenings spent dissecting all the inner meaning of the lyrics of every song on Zenyatta Mondatta, and probably ascribing much more meaning than the original authors ever intended.

In the way of diplomatic kids, though, our respective families moved on. We kept in touch by letter for a while, but eventually lost touch.

Fast forward to 2014. I use a mail application called Mailbox, which encourages you to aim for #inboxzero. When you get there, you get an image, curated from somewhere on the web. Today it was a very striking pattern, and I was intrigued, so I clicked on it.

It took me through to an Instagram page and you can probably imagine my astonishment when the account was owned by a graphic designer called Katja Ollendorff! Like Antonia Mochan, this is hardly a run-of-the-mill name! I left a message on the page, to see if it was indeed the same one, and it is.

We all know that the 6 degrees of separation seem to have been reduced to half that through social networks, or maybe they are just more visible. But this connection seems utterly random. The connection between me and Mailbox, and Mailbox and Katja is so tenuous as to have made this connection hugely unlikely. What if I hadn’t got to #inboxzero today? I might never have come across her again. Even when I do reach it, I rarely click on the picture – this one was just particularly eye-catching. The whole thing is completely weird and wonderful at the same time.

As you know, I am a passionate advocate for the power of social networks to bring people together. It was joyous to have this example of how that happens given to me today.

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