Sarah and I attended a very interesting meeting at the Hermitage yesterday, Kom je ook? 2 (preceded and followed by other Kom je ook? meetings). From the 350 curators, new media designers and artists and cultural sector actors who attended, many already reported on twitter, Facebook and Flickr on the event, which leaves me to add here my own reactions.
Originally uploaded by maaikelauwaert
First, there was an amazing energy in the room. That buzz of people being excited to see each other, unsure and curious about what they were about to hear, and grasping at new input with the goal of doing something–very enjoyable! (And the sugar from the ubiquitous candy probably helped too…) The atmosphere probably also struck me because of its contrast with most (academic) events I attend, which have other pleasures, but not that kind of energy (nor spontaneous participatory opera!)
Parade of Platforms
The audience was promised an afternoon free of techno-enthusiasm, and given the means to punish any offending speaker (toeters were handed out at registration). And indeed, there was little of that kind of talk. There was, however, a strong tendency to focus on platforms, and to draw out their design advantages (several fantastic-sounding tools were shown). We heard very little about actual uses and users, about variations and creativity in the way the platforms were used, etc. With the exception of Gillian Moore who spoke eloquently (but somewhat generally) about the values needed for creating relationships with audiences (honesty, respect, integrity, commitment, innovation), there was little about people and meaning and interaction.
Beyond ‘public’, ‘audience’, ‘community’
So I came away feeling there was a big role for social science and cultural studies to fulfill in this emerging arena. For example, we can provide a vocabulary to talk about the kinds of engagements with cultural institutions, via these platforms. The words community or audience were mentioned once in a while, but these terms are very broad and general. It gets you about as far as talking about a museum collection as ‘containing paintings’, or saying of a website that ‘it has hyperlinks’. True and relevant, but quite poor as a way into a good description and real understanding!
So, what can be done? Also involve people who are not only creating, but also studying these new modes of interactions. And ask the speakers to talk not only about the best practices of their designers, but also to address the following points, which I think would bring out users and uses:
1. surprises–ways in which their tools/sites/platforms were used in unexpected ways, and by whom?
2. dynamism-ways in which visitors or users get involved in different ways with institutions and platforms, and how they might go through different kinds of involvement (i.e. from information-seeker to produser?)
3. new skills–the issue of needing new expertise and to dedicate human power to developing relationships came up several times yesterday. Might this also be true of visitors and audiences? Are they developing new skills and new knowledge?