Social Forms in the Digital Age
If we wish to expand the possibilities of our experience of the internet, we should pay close attention to different types of social arrangements that have emerged over the centuries.
The ‘Salon’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: Salons were popular in the 18th century. They were places for polite, pleasurable and educational conversations. In the internet age — where trolling, incivility and a lack of manners are omnipresent — the idea of the salon is particularly appealing.
QUESTION: The tone of a salon is deep, meaningful and calm. It is a peaceful environment for planning new projects and collaborations. Essential is good hosting. How might we recreate this atmosphere in a social event?
EXPLORE: Read more about the history of the Salon here on Wikipedia
The ‘Anti-university’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: An educational experiment set up in Shoreditch in the 60’s, the anti-university included progressive and iconic figures such as Stuart Hall, R.D Laing and CLR James. It represents non-hierarchical learning, radical thinking, and self-organisation.
QUESTION: The anti-university is showing signs of re-emergence. How might we collaborate, partner and ally with this nascent community; and co-create and cross-promote radical pedagogical experiences?
EXPLORE: Read more here http://www.antiuniversity.org/About
The ‘Research Debrief’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: In the commercial world, a research project (e.g. one looking at consumer/tech/cultural trends) typically concludes with a debrief session. These are opportunities to talk through the report and findings. These would involve a presentation and a question and answer session, and would run for 1–2 hours.
QUESTION: How might we redesign the insight debrief to be more innovative, experiential and interactive, and help them become more civic and socially minded?
EXPLORE: The Future Lab, or the yearly report from Wunderman Thompson are good places to go for initial inspiration.
The ‘Festival’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: The music festival has dominated the 21st century. The model has grown from a handful of annual events to over 500 in the UK alone. More recently, the emphasis has shifted from music and towards design and ideas. This satisfies the demands of an audience that crave transformative experiences as well as hedonism.
QUESTION: A key design affordance is the idea of themed ‘zones’ with their own story and character, and a map helping you navigate. How might we integrate this into a social event?
EXPLORE: Check out the districts of Boomtown Festival:
The ‘Video Game Arcade’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: From Pacman to Pong: the image of the retro arcade is a staple of eighties nostalgia. It became redundant with the advent of Nintendo and Sega home consoles in the nineties. But now, with board game cafes, escape rooms and virtual reality experience — gaming is back.
QUESTION: how can we borrow elements of interactivity, fun and retro from the arcade to create feelings of play at a social event?
EXPLORE: Perhaps this YouTube film best captures the vibe and aesthetic of arcades.
The ‘Protest’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: The social, artistic and environmental critique of capitalism will transform as a result of COVID. Central to the idea of protest is ‘occupation’. For example, the occupation of Wall Street or the occupation of student buildings. Extinction Rebellion occupied key parts of London and turned them into educational, immersive experiences that shared insight into climate change and enabled people to connect in new ways.
QUESTION: how might the concept of an ‘occupation’ help shape a social event?
The ‘Tech/Business’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: The festivalisation of business conferences has been enabled by technology companies who use them to showcase their latest thinking and products to an evangelical audience. Many have different tiers of tickets, with special access to top guests provided to those that pay more.
QUESTION: how could corporate social events be made less corporate and more authentic?
EXPLORE: Web Summit has been called ‘Glastonbury for Geeks’. Check out the United Nations Experience
The ‘Poetry Slam’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: A poetry slam often features performers that provide highly visceral readings of their work. These have provided safe spaces that help progressive movements like Black Lives Matter cultivate forms of collective consciousness
QUESTION: How might we incorporate the authentic and visceral feeling of a poetry reading into a social event?
EXPLORE: Jay Bernard merges music and poetry to express the trauma of the New Cross fire in the eighties, an eerie portend of Grenfell. And Roger Robertson’s poem about Grace, a nurse at the NHS, is a beautiful and relevant lyric
The ‘Hackathon’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: Considered to be a “startup” way of generating innovative ideas in a short space of time, the hackathon is particularly loved by big corporations. However, the model has problems. There is usually little insight prepared in advance, and the objective is a business problem not a customer or social one.
QUESTION: How might the energy generated by a hackathon be better harnessed?
EXPLORE: You can explore the types of hackathons on sites like Eventbrite
The ‘Travelling Circus’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: Moving from town to town, the circus is a place to see curiosities, feats of daring, and that unique figure: the clown.
QUESTION: A circus knows when to pack up and leave. How might we use this understanding of closure in event design?
EXPLORE: The clown is a staple figure in horror, especially in Stephen Kings ‘It’
The ‘Carnival’ Experience
DESCRIPTION: From Rio de Janero to Notting Hill, these are events where figures of authority are lampooned; self-expression is heightened; sexuality is celebrated; common language is used; eccentric behaviour is displayed and people come together in free ways.
QUESTION: How might the carnival spirit of acceptance and hedonism be harnessed?
EXPLORE: The Russian philosopher Bakhtin articulated the importance of having a healthy carnivalesque in society subverting through sensuousness