You have something in common with the person sitting next to you. Maybe it’s your favorite band, the team you both cheer for or, quite likely, your mutual friends. The idea of “six degrees of separation” — that any two people are separated, on average, by six connections — was first suggested in 1929 by Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian author, and was later tested by American psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1960.
On November 21, 2011, Facebook released the results of a comprehensive study that approximated the degrees of separation to be 4.74 rather than six.
Still, “When we limit our analysis to a single country, be it the United States, Sweden, Italy or any other, we find that the world gets even smaller, and most pairs of people are only separated by three degrees,” Lars Backstrom, a data scientist at Facebook, wrote in a post titled “Anatomy of Facebook” on one of the network’s pages.
What if the analysis is limited to one city? If the names of UR’s buildings aren’t dead-enough giveaways, Rochester connects you to George Eastman, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. They were all Rochesterians.
Likewise, you have more in common with singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger than a love for music, with YouTube personality Jenna Mourey — also known as Jenna Marbles — than a desire to make others laugh and with Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach than the hope that the United States will win the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
All three of those familiar names have lived in Rochester, too.
Geiger moved to Rochester when he was eight years old and attended Allen’s Creek Elementary, Pittsford Middle School and McQuaid Jesuit High School. He’d loved music since a very young age, and, as he got older, his life began to revolve around it.
“A lot of my friends would play music, and a fun weekend for us would be getting together and writing music or jamming,” Geiger said.
He eventually played in and formed a few bands with friends.
“At some point, my mom heard about this audition for a reality show on VH1 and she kind of forced me to go,” Geiger explained, referencing the network’s “In Search of the New Partridge Family,” a casting competition in which he wound up as a finalist. “I was scared and really nervous about the whole thing, [but] it ended up being the thing that opened the door to a career in music!” Maybe parents don’t always know best, but that push seems to have paid off.
Mourey, best known for her YouTube video “How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking,” is a graduate of Brighton High School. In an interview with Tubefilter, a company that compiles online video entertainment, she described the sequence of events put forth in her video, which now has close to 40 million views.
“I basically start out as a natural-looking, ‘beautiful’ girl, I make fun of the fact that I have to wear glasses and a retainer and I go through the steps of making yourself look like a streetwalker so that people think that you’re good looking.”
Mourey also noted that she believes what is now her career as a YouTube personality was the product of a viral video.
In her most recent video, published on Wednesday, April 25, Mourey assembles a series of clips in which she scares her dogs — Mr. Marbles and Kermit — with a fart machine.
“This is certainly the most immature video I’ve ever made,” she admits at the beginning of the clip, but this, as well as any of her weekly uploads, showcases the humorous personality her fans have come to love.
Wambach — born and raised in Pittsford — attended Our Lady of Mercy High School. She began playing in soccer leagues when she was just four years old and is now ranked as the second highest all-time goal scorer for the U.S. women’s national soccer team behind retired player Mia Hamm. She was integral in helping the team reach the finals in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
In an interview with ESPN, Wambach attributed her success as a player to not just her experiences playing soccer, but also honing her skills in more than one sport while in high school.
“Nowadays, kids are being told and encouraged to play just one sport for an entire year, and I personally couldn’t have done that,” she said. “I got kind of burnt out from playing one sport and then would go and play basketball or go and play soccer and kind of get reinvigorated with the spirit and the passion that you’re supposed to have as a youngster.”
That youthful vigor laid the groundwork for her now boundless success.
“It’s all bigger than us — playing sports, having a passion for something that’s bigger than yourself and being an idol for some fans — it’s hard to grasp the concepts.”
Mourey, too, finds her success somewhat startling.
“It’s unfathomable to me,” she told the Democrat and Chronicle in the article “Jenna Marbles finds fame on YouTube,” published on Jan. 6. “Even a million people is unfathomable. That that many individual humans have clicked the subscribe button to my channel because they want to see my video every Wednesday, you can’t wrap your brain around it.”
As the fans play a part in each of Wambach and Mourey’s success stories, they are also guiding Geiger’s next album with Pledge Music — a platform through which fans can give financial contributions to artists’ projects.
While he “spent a couple years trying to write material that would make a label say ‘here is the green light, let’s go,’” Geiger’s project with Pledge is about giving his fans the opportunity to be a part of his record. “I really enjoy that direct connection and being able to share stuff as it’s being created.”
The project also brought him home to Rochester in early January for a performance at The Club at Water Street.
“It had been a while — like two or three years — since I had played live, so I was pretty nervous and excited,” he revealed. “Everyone who came brought so much energy and it ended up being one of my favorite shows ever. Such a blast!”
That Geiger would thoroughly enjoy performing at home might follow from the fact that Rochester has, in one way or another, driven his music career.
“My first record was all about growing up in Rochester as a teenager and that experience,” he said. “All of that still inspires me. My family life back home is always inspiring me. Now that a lot of my friends are scattered across the country, I’m inspired to write about how things change … and how that can be hard but also necessary and beautiful.”
Sure enough, things change every day, and, with the school year coming to a close, life is bound to be different sooner rather than later. Whether or not you find yourself hating Rochester for untimely snowstorms or a lack of things to do, the city is a place to call home and it connects you to all walks of life, from big-time historical figures to current celebrities to the person sitting next to you.
Seligman is a member of the class of 2012.