Timescales of Entrainment

Fusaroli, Riccardo; Marcus Perlman; Alan Mislove; Alexandra Paxton; Teenie Matlock and Rick Dale 2015. Timescales of Massive Human Entrainment. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0122742.

The past two decades have seen an upsurge of inetrest in the collective behaviors of complex systems composed of many agents entrained to each other and to external events. In this paper, we extend the concept of entrainment to the dynamics of human collective attention. We conducted a detailed investigation of the unfolding of human entrainment - as expressed by the content and patterns of hundreds of thousands of messages on Twitter - during the 2012 US presidential debates. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 1)
Entrainment in this context means something like "putting into motion". Much like in Powys's line "as the enthroned Moon bears in her train" it refers back to the etymology of Latin trahere which is "pull, draw" which lead "to ‘line of traveling people or vehicles,’ later ‘a connected series of things'". Thus, entrainment of attention in massive human scales means pulling in the attention of a massive amount of people.
By time-locking these data sources, we quantify the impact of the unfolding debate on human attention at three time scales. We show that collective social behavior covaries second-by-second to the interactional dynamics of the debates: A candidate speaking induces rapid increases in mentions of his name on social media and decreases in mentions of the other candidate. Moreover, interruptions by an interlocutor increase the attention received. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 1)
A phatic approach focusing on (collective) attention would make sense, but would reduce the breath of phatics to the attention-getting device view espoused by Paul Virilio in his concept of the phatic image.
In a canonical case, Strogatz and Stewart highlight firefly behavior as illustrative of fundamental principles underlying entrained systems. In parts of Southeast Asia, one may happen upon a sea of fireflies, in which each firefly's intrinsic oscillatory dynamics have become entrained to others around it. The result is a large-scale collective behavior: The fireflies fire in sync in an impressive display brought on by subtle mutual influences. They are entrained in that the match their behavior to the temporal structure of events in the environment. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 1)
How is this different from "integration"?
These events [US presidantial debates] were thus (a) shared at a massive scale, via Twitter, (b) induced the rapid spread of social behavior across a network of agents. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 2)
In other words, breath and depth.
The enormous magnitude of public attention has turned the debates into major events in the US presidential elections, as candidates have the chance to sway millions of voters through the discussion of controversial issues and planned policies. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 2)
This more hope and fanfare than substance, as the majority of voters make up their minds in the party elections and very few change their opinions in the interparty elections.
Twitter is widely used by marketers, public authorities, and the general public and has become a major mechanism for the rapid spread of information. As such it offers an unprecedented window into how large populations collectively experience and respond to a wide range of real-world events. Researchers have used social media to describe - and sometimes anticipate - epidemics, earth-quakes, stock options, the effect of time and weather on mood, reality show outcomes, and political elections. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 3)
Collectively experience? Isn't it more like individually experiencing and collectively discussing? These authors seem to conflate discourse and experience.
Both experimental settings and real life analyses showed that human beings tend to perceive and support leadership in individuals with extroverted personalities and relatedly in those who display assertiveness, boldness, initiative, proactivity, and risk-taking. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 3)
Bad news for introverts.
Content entrainment. Besides this ebb-and-flow dynamics of interaction, debates are also rife with pointed or "salient" remarks that propagate through social media - often as "memes" that cascade through communications in forums like Twitter. Indeed, viewers pay attention to the content of the debates, focusing their attention on particularly salient, amusing, or controversial elements. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 3)
Exactly how my blog works. Also probably human attention in general.
Interestingly, the model parameters individuated can be used to characterize subtle distinctions in the memes. For example, our results suggest that some memes may resonate more strongly in the social media sphere: the salient event 'binders," despite having a lower raw tweet rate relative to the other two salient events, had both the slowest decaying and the most rapidly rising meme formation. This resonates with analysis by Lin et al showing that the "staying power" of a meme is not only related to the raw quantity of mention, but also other social factors like conversational vibrancy (i.e., the prominence of the tweeters involved) and the interactivity of their audience. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 14-15)
That is, the quality of the mention.
Three dimensions in particular seem to be crucial for the current case study: i) emotional valence; ii) networks of political affiliation and pre-existing beliefs; and iii) impact on public opinion. (Fusaroli et al. 2015: 15)
I will keep these in mind.


arided said...

A useful related reference is Iverson, J. M. & Thelen, E. (1999). Hand, mouth and brain. The dynamic emergence of speech and gesture. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(11-12), 11–12. They argue that language learning includes a physical movement component.

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