Try to get strangers to talk using objects on April 5th

Sorry, Nina, but I think I need to copy and paste the entire thing here:

Spring is here and it’s time to talk to strangers. On Sunday April 5, I’ll be conducting a collaborative experiment with 15 intrepid University of Washington graduate students, and I’d like to invite you to join in from your own hometown. April 5 is the first day of a class I’m teaching called Social Technology, in which we are focusing on designing an exhibition that features social objects, that is, exhibits or artifacts that inspire interpersonal dialogue.
To kick off the course, we’re doing a simple exercise at the Seattle zoo (but you can do it anywhere). The experiment requires you to go to a public space and do three things:
1. Talk to a stranger.
2. Get two strangers talking to each other.
3. Make and install an object or condition which motivates two strangers to talk to each other without your intervention/involvement. That is, you should be able to watch the strangers talk to each other about the designed social object you have created without being directly involved in the action.
The point of this experiment is to play with design conditions that support both facilitated and unfacilitated engagement with strangers. This is something I am obsessively curious about. And while I’ve been exploring venues, situations, and apparel that serve as social objects, I’ve found few examples of explicitly designed social objects. Most social objects that mediate conversation among strangers are incidental. For example, my dog, while a highly evolved social matchmaking device, is not deliberately designed for that task. I believe that focusing specifically on the social capacity of an object, rather than its content or interpretation, yields new design techniques for museum exhibits and other participatory spaces.
There are three reasons you might value this activity:
1. It will be fun and kind of unusual.
2. It will help you understand the challenges involved in supporting user self-expression.
3. It will help you develop ways to encourage inter-visitor dialogue and engagement around objects in your institution.
And there are three reasons I’d really value your participation:
1. I want to suck your brain and revel in your inventiveness.
2. I want to aggregate all the data, synthesize it and share it. More data means more interesting, nuanced conclusions for everyone.
3. I want to connect these students to a larger group of people interested in exploring topics around social technology in museums.
If you want to participate, please leave a comment here or send me an email at You don’t have to be a museum person or have any qualifications beyond your interest in participating and documenting your experience.
I recommend performing the experiment with friends or family to enhance both the fun and safety of the activities. Do not use plunk your cute baby down in the park, walk away, and call it a social object. You have to actually design something–a sign, an incident, an object, an environment. It’s ok if you fail as long as you try. We’ll learn as much from the social objects that don’t work as from the ones that are astounding successes.
Participants will be asked to write up their experiences (photos/video enthusiastically supported!), which will all be featured on a dedicated website. We’ll also be live-twittering the experiment on April 5 using the hashtag #strangemuse.
I’ll produce a report that will be shared here on the Museum 2.0 blog. And if you happen to be in the Seattle area, I invite you to join us for a post-experiment dinner on April 5, location TBD (suggestions welcome).
So how about it? Ready for a stranger April?

One response to “Try to get strangers to talk using objects on April 5th

  1. Thanks so much for spreading this! An experiment for everyone 🙂 I encourage people to participate–you can “record” your field notes from the experiment here!