Friday, 6 November 2015

gradient and avatar

Though the concept became cemented as sort of an academic urban legion through the stories of futurist Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy whose interbellum characters first speculated on social networks and social capital in a rebuilt world and the work of playwright John Guare, the notion of Six Degrees of Separation, the chain that binds any two people together with six steps or fewer, reaches even further back to the pioneering wireless transmissions of Guglielmo Marconi, speaking on the shrinking globe and growing interconnectedness among people.
Incidentally, this was probably the most original thing that the radio-promoter said or did, as Marconi rarely acknowledged the significant contributions of his fellow researchers and was very parsimonious about crediting other innovators. The Small World tracer experiments of psychologist Stanley Milgram also helped fix the notions of virality and algorithmic exploration in the public imagination: seeing if letters from geo-social endpoints could research their targets through a chain of casually acquainted couriers alone. Perhaps until the ice-breaker Six Degree of Kevin Bacon emerged, Milgram was best known for his controversial Obedience Experiments, wherein test-subject became acclimated to the idea of administering electric shocks to another individual as corrective-reinforcement to demonstrate how just following orders leads to dehumanisation and catastrophic collapse of perspective—that most would choose to be one the right side of authority, even if that meant inflicting pain on others. Another sort of hybrid experiment between these two extremes of connectedness and detachment involved stand-in actors dubbed cyranoids, after Cyrano de Bergerac’s device to woo Roxane through a more handsome interlocutor. As another heuristic tool, Milgram hoped that the understudies whispered their lines might open up insights about bias and stereotypes and self-perception too. I wonder if there are cyranoids for ghost-writers at large.