You feel as if your life is being influenced, unbeknownst to you, by the actions of strangers thousands of miles away. Are you: (a) paranoid, (b) a typical anxious citizen of the globalization era, or (c) a character in a watercooler-buzzed movie or TV series? In this week’s print edition of TIME, the latest installment of my Culture Complex column answers: (b), (c) and possibly a little bit of (a). In movies like Babel and Crash and TV shows such as Heroes and Lost (not to mention The Nine, Six Degrees and others I ran out of room to discuss), chaos theory has come to the big and small screens, as storytellers become obsessed with complex billiard-shot chain reactions connecting strangers around the globe.
All this, plus a rumination on the cultural power of Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect, yo!) awaits you at your local newsstand, right next to the Combos and Butter Rum Life Savers. (Snack-food makers: want your product placed in the next Dead Tree Alert? Slip the unmarked, untraceable bills under my office door!)