#strangemuse

Yesterday marked day one of the University of Washington’s Social Technologies class with Nina Simon – and it was awesome.

The challenge for the day

1. talk to strangers.
2. get strangers talking to each other.
3. design objects that get strangers talking to each other without facilitated intervention.

Heres What happened:

For this experiment I wanted to try something simple with my group. I thought it might be a good idea to devise a simple game that would build on itself. Step one, talk to strangers, find out their favorite things, and give them a card. Step two, approach multiple unrelated groups at one time and ask them together as a group activity, let them talk amongst themselves, and give them each a card. Step three, watch individuals, groups, couples, and families all exchange cards and share their favorite things.
strangemuseWe had a stack of multi-colored 3 x 5 cards and chose one color for each area of the zoo – Blue Cards for the Gorillas, Green Cards for the Rain Forrest, Yellow for the African Village, etc.  We then went around asking people what their favorite things about gorillas were. As they were talking we wrote down a simplified version of their responses on the card, one thing per card. Some couples got one card, some groups had one card for each person depending on how “into” it they got.  They were then instructed to visibly carry the card around for the rest of their visit. I encouraged folks to make their cards visible through silly gestures, like fanning themselves, and one visitor tucked it into his hat.

For the second portion I decided to add on to the previous method by approaching a general area and addressing multiple groups at one time. This was a little more awkward because people were waiting for someone else to answer first, but eventually the awkwardness often led to people asking each other their favorite things and divvying up singular traits among people. They then encouraged each other to trade with other groups and egged each other on. I saw two groups exchange cards and walk out of the exhibit area together, only to see them later at the café together. That was kind of neat.

The third part of the experiment consisted of me lurking around the zoo, watching to see if people would continue to exchange these cards. I saw it happen a number of times, both within the exhibit they were given out at and elsewhere in the Zoo.  Since I had a stack myself, as I was writing them up and handing them out, I was approached a number of times by folks who wanted to trade, so I ended up with quite a few myself.

The questions and cards provided an easy way to approach strangers individually or in groups.  It became a “thing” – like joining a secret club or game. People got really into it after a while.  The cards gave people an easy excuse to approach each other, and those that were really into playing the game got others more involved too – pulled them out a little. I found that it was easier to outright ask a question with genuine interest, then to approach someone and ask if you can ask a question.  I also found that the less nervous I was talking to people, the more comfortable they were talking to me.

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3 Responses to “#strangemuse”


  1. 1 Nancy Anderson AKA Mom April 10, 2009 at 3:51 am

    What a delightful day…. sorta like the ‘ice-breakers’ we do at retreats or social gatherings where most people are new to each other. It is true… once it gets started… and the ‘starters’ are relaxed… that the experience takes on a life of its own…it requires spontaneous engagement…being present in the ‘now’… good for the heart and the soul…

    Keep me posted on your other assignments…so that I may smile with joy as I read of your adventures!

  2. 2 w h i t n e y April 11, 2009 at 1:54 am

    too cute mom. thanks for being a good social media citizen.

  3. 3 harold hollingsworth May 5, 2009 at 9:11 am

    What a great idea, very cool and very spring oriented! I Enjoy your blog!


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I'm also a contributor to the Henry Art Gallery's Hankblog and editor/producer of the Gallery's ArtCasts.

I'm currently working as a Wallace Foundation Fellow with emp|sfm to foster a new network for the NorthWest all ages music & arts community. Its called The Sound Board and you should totally check it out.

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