A Real Live Social Network


"Sooner or later, all vagabonds discover that something strange happens to them en route. They become aware of having wandered into a subtle network of coincidence and serendipity that eludes explanation. On tiptoes, magic enters." -Ed Buryn, Vagabonding in the USA

August 30, 2012, Washington, DC: In the days before Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, some friends and I living in San Francisco drew our social network on a napkin at dinner. In illustrating how a circle of friends was connected, we mapped out an explanation that resembled a tangled cobweb. A story of serendipity and coincidence emerged from those scratches on the napkin: Somehow we had created a strong network of new friends some 3,000 miles from home without ever uprooting the ties we'd established as children.

My natural network is a mobile one, strengthened infinitely by travel.

The sociology student in me has always been intrigued by our natural networks, particularly as they relate to the places we've lived. While it's easy to see why a network remains strong when generations of families and friends stay rooted in one place for life, it's interesting to witness how a network solidifies and expands farther afield. How connections we make in a new neighborhood somehow stem from someplace else. How our communities at home grow from our travels abroad.

It's happened again and again: The friends I made as a child in Baltimore went off to college and coincidentally became friends with the friends I'd made as a teenager in Connecticut. I met a close friend in Australia only to realize our respective close friends traveled in the same circle in Virginia. When my Australia friend and I moved to California together, we were each given the name of one person to look up -- the same name, it so happened, and she lived down the block.

I'm thinking about our natural networks today because I'm reminded that things click when we don't fight them. Our days feel more challenging we resist our networks and our roots, a bit easier when we embrace them. There are times I've tried to start from scratch only to bump back into my natural network -- not on Facebook, but in real life -- all over my neighborhood, my city, and my many hometowns. Even those of us who are nomads, perhaps especially those of us who are nomads, belong to tight-knit communities we can't ignore.

The more places I've called home, the more tightly woven my real, live social network has become. Maybe that's no surprise. After all, It's as travelers that we are most receptive to making connections, to going with the flow, to opening ourselves up to new possibilities.

Has your network expanded through travel? Are there certain places your natural networks seem stronger than others? 

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