Six Degrees of Separation (2015)

by Peter Stamer and Luanda Casella

In 1969, the American psychologist Stanley Milgram designed a study to explore if two randomly selected individuals, strangers to each other coming from different American states, are nevertheless connected by acquaintances in between. Starting the test in Kansas/Nebraska, linking people to one individual in Massachusetts, the experiment suggested that an individual knows of any target person only by six degrees of connecting steps. Even though this experiment showed some flaws in its methodological design, it seemed to prove a fascinating idea which the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy had already carried out in his fictional essay ‘Chains’ in 1929 — that the population of the whole planet was closer together than it had ever been before.
What Karinthy and Milgram were dealing with is now known as “The Small World Problem“, a popular research method, especially in times of immaterial communication or social networks like facebook, trying to merge mathematical parameters of statistics with marketing tools to improve accessibility to one’s consumer behaviour. And yet, the thought is fascinating: that everyone of us is connected with anyone on this planet of now 7.5 billion inhabitants, regardless of race, cultural background, continent, religion, age. Next to the political implication of such a thought this idea provides us with a resourceful generator for stories, narratives, fictions about human beings and their lives.
The “Six Degrees of Separation” Workshop is based upon the desire to create contemporary storytelling formats in which we explore fiction in shared narrative practices. Using a mixed media apparatus (Google Earth; Skype; Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, etc), we go through different storytelling techniques and exercises focusing on the construction of evasive, critical and imaginative narratives.