The week between Christmas and New Year’s was quiet, especially this year in NYC. Snow drifts up to car door handles imposed a still silence on Midtown streets. Short days, snowed in, and no business to be done. Somewhere between a Sabbath, when no project switch may be thrown, and a good ol’ fashioned Aztec nemontemi, the five empty days before xiuhmolpilli, when the universe hangs in the balance before the new year comes in. You know, like in 2012? “For five full days, activity in the normally bustling metropolis has ceased. Commerce has been suspended, ceremonial and household fires extinguished, clothing, furniture, crockery and religious idols torn, broken and smashed. It is a time of fasting, sexual abstinence and uneasy waiting.” Nowadays, the fasting and abstinence thing is as out of fashion as human sacrifice, but the empty days are still with us.
So like all bloggers under the baleful influence of the star goddesses and approaching deadlines, we reflected on the year past, which was Facebook’s year, thus the image above. Facebook intern Paul Butler created a map of Facebook friendships. “I began by taking a sample of about 10 million pairs of friends from Apache Hive, our data warehouse,” he said in a post on Facebook. “I combined that data with each user’s current city and summed the number of friends between each pair of cities. Then I merged the data with the longitude and latitude of each city.”
Butler was “taken aback” when he first saw that the project worked and the lines took the form of a map of the world. “Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well,” he said. “What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.”
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each ‘eye’ of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold,” wrote Francis Harold Cook in the book Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. For this Facebook image is our planetary portrait of Indra’s Pearls. Picture proof of the web of souls, each a jewel reflecting all the other dew drops. The bright cables of light that bind nation, language and ethnicity are strong, but the elegant arcs of the bonds that unite friends separated by wide oceans are the magic here―something so startlingly new to the human experience. This has gotta be bigger than “It’s a Small World (After All).”
To see this vast spider web in action, click below for a tracking of 24 hours of air traffic. Each dot represents a flight full of multifaceted little souls busily spinning social webs around the world. And this is just the beginning of the bonds of friendship and mutual interest that are spreading spore-like around the planet. Here’s hoping that all of you will be spinning the same happy silk in 2011.