Wheels keep on turnin’

I’ve been thinking about the goals of social technology and networking people who might not have had contact otherwise, and doing it all through museums.  Why are we trying to do this?  What will it ultimately accomplish?  Are we learning or just having fun?
We addressed this issues of “educational” social interaction verse any kind of interaction briefly in class at the beginning of the week.  I agree that social events in a museum do not always have to be a means to an educational end; people should be having fun in the museum.  But like many of the games and activities our class tried out at the zoo last week, these simple interactions do not always lead to deeper enrichment.  So how do we create meaningful social interactions?
Kylie mentioned that museums might not be museums if they become more about people interacting with each other than about objects or cultural heritage.  I think this is a completely valid point.  Once museums attempt to offer too much social interaction, will the museum lose itself?  Will museums be torn apart by competing purposes?  Nina mentioned that most networking sites have a specific purpose that helps them attract visitors and grow.  Sites that are created with a weak sense of direction often fail for lack of purpose or interest.  I can only guess that the same would be true for a physical network as well.
I don’t necessarily like talking to strangers, but I have worked in retail for a long time and I spend most of my time talking to people I don’t know.  But I have a very specific goal when I talk to a customer: to sell a product.  I think it’s helpful to have a very mission/museum centered agenda when we attempt to try to talk to strangers in order to make meaningful contact.  We talked about this in class a little.  Just like writing a mission statement, the social interactions and events of the museum should reflect the basic goals of the institution; visitors come to the art museum to talk with other people who are interested in Calder, or to the science center to chat about evolution.  Without the foundation of the mission, or the objects or stories, the museum is not reaching its full social potential.
Finally, I think that creative, museum-centered social technology can, not only get people talking to each other, but also to the museum.  And as we’ve seen many times with community curated shows and other methods of presentation, having multiple voices tell a story is more powerful and memorable than a wall panel.  Through these social technologies, visitors might feel more comfortable telling their stories or might identify with others.
I know that I’m just glimpsing the forest from a distance right now.  I’m looking forward to exploring the trees.