Though we live on less than 10% of the Earth’s landmass, the built world is quite big. It might sometimes feel small, but it would be a mistake to assume the world is actually small. It is “our” world which is small.
A city is a network of neighborhoods. People conflate their neighborhood with the image of the city. If they moved across town their experience might be quite different. The interfaces for interacting with “the city” varies greatly across neighborhoods.
Earlier today Lao Vang was explaining to me that it was amazing just how small the world is. She experienced trying to meet up with another group of travelers but never being able to meet up with them despite making several plans. However, months later, she accidentally met them again on an arbitrary street in a different country. She said that these kinds of things cannot easily be easily explained.
It is my opinion that these things are much simpler than we would lead ourselves to believe and we don’t need New Age beliefs to understand and describe them. Despite the hundreds of millions of people that travel internationally every year, there are some patterns which could be useful for understanding the “small world” effect.
For example, let us consider the occupants of a room in a hostel in Gyeongju on June 12th, 2019. There are four beds. Though I do not know very much about statistics and probability, I would be more willing to believe that the occupants’ nationality would not be a probability distribution of 1 to 195 of the possible countries. Instead, I believe that the distribution would bias towards the countries with larger populations, frequent-travel culture, and higher affluence. Of course, this varies with events (temporality and spatial autocorrelation).
The simple answer is that we often meet people similar to ourselves when we travel. We will almost always travel in predictable ways. Even the movement of hitchhikers is quite predictable (though they themselves may not know exactly where they are going).
My main point that I want to explain here is that we visit places which sound nice to our ears. We choose to walk down roads that appeal to our eyes. We follow smells and feelings which most appeal to our specific personality.
Spatial autocorrelation not only applies to more “static” objects, but it is also a momentum that exists along a path, within the movement of a traveler. It exists in the physical world, but it is being replicated within the digital one.
Digital cookies help companies like Google create a profile for you. Google will then modify the search results to feature content that appeals to your individual personality. There is nothing deviant inherent in this one thing (though the same tool could easily be used for mass psychological programming). The personalized results help you find information which you deem more useful than what I might deem useful so it is useful for such a thing to exist.
It doesn’t surprise me very much when such coincidences occur—despite the enormity of the built world. Finding a friend on a street in a different country seems like a very probable thing.