The Social Object
M. Scott Tatum
Can we talk?
In exploring, in more depth, the current trials and tribulations of various classical music organizations and whilst looking at emerging forms of the arts in this Middle Spaces blog, a rather heady theory about social interactions, and their root and causes, came across our screens. Hugh MacLeod’s The Social Object begins to help us understand what might just be missing from some of the Fine Arts and why an ever decreasing audience is the result. In a nutshell:
“The Social Object…is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if [we] think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.”
In taking apart this superficially simple concept that we need things to talk about if we are going to talk, the arts quickly becomes a stodgy, reductive, redundant, and ridiculous social tool. By this I mean that, we in the fine arts, are so often drawn to claims of fidelity, tradition, and cultural certainty that we not only ignore or are unaware of the world changing around us but actively decry this change as blasphemous. We wrinkle our foreheads in shock that ANYONE would dare not understand why and how this symphony or painting or 300 year old play could possibly be considered useless in today’s society.
The Social Object-ification of the arts, as a default, is an older mode of a time when the landscape wasn’t nearly as dense with opportunities to create meaningful social connections. Today, social objects such as a bottle of wine and dinner (see above), bowling, Star Wars trivia, charity balls, a recent new book, your child, and even the new iPhone draw people into connections that result in meaningful dialogue, relationships, and action.
And perhaps this is what is missing now…the point of the Social Object. The Social Object cannot be the only portion of the formula. In fact, it is just the very beginning, the impetus. Social Objects help draw in people so that they may share human connections with each other. As the arts have become more insular and obsessed with their own tradition, the arts for art’s sake argument has taken on a greater prominence and has lead to a great defeat of its place in modern culture. What to do?
Creating Social Objects Around New Trends and Technologies
In an article from the New York Times last year, Jennifer Preston explores the work of several art museums attempting to leverage social networks to revive their product, their Social Objects, to a place of importance that can be appreciated by more than just a few in-the-know types. The efforts come in a few different ways:
1. By following each other on Twitter or subscribing to feeds on Facebook, people with affections for certain Social Objects (in this case, art and art information) can be aware of the happenings in their lives. If Susan is seeing a lecture on architecture, she can let people know what she’s up to in 140 characters and her network of friends and followers will be aware of this and other events. If you multiply that by even 5 people going to different events, due to their different spheres of information and influence, you create a stream of things to do on your calendar, created by like-minded people. This is the new word of mouth advertising.
2. By embracing location aware “check-in” services such as FourSquare or on Facebook, through either direct asks or incentives, organizations can combine the aforementioned worth of mouth advertising with data collection that places unconnected parties enjoying the Social Object into groups. Direct advertising possibilities for the organization and creation of a peer group for the people means an organic and expanded audience base who tie their friendship, social experiences, interests, and resource expenditures to your brand.
3. Using sites like Meetup.com to create normalized and ritual based excursions that are open to any and everyone can engage curiosity, social grouping, and give a reliable source of audiences for an institution.
By taking these and other ideas to the next level, we can imagine a set of instances where the blurring of cultural event, technological communication and everyday life could be the norm. But what about getting people more involved in the creation of art?
The Magic Tate Ball
“Magic Tate Ball is a new location-based mobile app from Tate, inspired by the iconic Magic 8 Ball, where players shake the ball in search of an answer to one of life’s mysteries. The difference is, when you shake your phone, this clever app presents you with an artwork that is linked to your surroundings. Using date, time-of-day, geographical location, live weather data and ambient noise levels the app will trawl through a selection of artworks from Tate’s collection for the best match.”