My sisters and brother-in-law just finished a visit to North Carolina, so I have been thinking about a recent post on Scatterplot about “the geography of friends.” The post highlights an analysis of friendship links on Facebook from the New York Times.

The article cites existing research as showing: “The typical American lives just 18 miles from his or her mother. The typical student enrolls in college less than 15 miles from home.”

Although this is true for my sisters, who live less than 3 miles from each other and our parents in our hometown in California, I could not live much further from home. I live over 2,300 miles as the crow flies, and over 2,700 miles driving distance. Although I graduated from UC-Berkeley (30 miles from home),  I began college 2,500 miles away in Washington, DC at The American University. I haven’t lived in California since I graduated from college in 1991, and having raised kids and married a woman from North Carolina, the odds of moving back are slim.

I would think that the social networks of California Facebook users would be broader than North Carolinians, but the data show otherwise. The interactive map in the NY Times story shows that the county I grew up in is not very different from the county I currently live in. In San Mateo County, California, 54% of Facebook connections live within 50 miles of each other and 59% within 100 miles. In Forsyth County, North Carolina, those percentages are 54% and 65%. Nationally, the average is 63% within 100 miles.

Even in the world of online social networks, most people know people close to them. And people who live and work far from home are outliers.

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