I heard a piece on WYPR the other day on consequential strangers and how important they are in our daily lives. I then found this article in Time Magazine:
If you look at the relationship continuum from stranger to soul mate, consequential strangers fall in that vast territory just beyond strangers and just short of friends. When people say they have 765 friends on Facebook, most of them are consequential strangers.
It made me wonder: what can designers and urban planners do to facilitate the cultivation of consequential strangers? How can social media, design, and interactive technologies meld with architecture and the urban space to makes cities more habitable and enjoyable?
I was coming out of a restaurant in DC the other day and stopped for a moment to check-in via the Gowalla app on my iPhone. I asked the person next to me if she was on Gowalla and wanted to check in, too. Gowalla, by the way, is a social media platform that basically turns whole cities into a game board. Not a virtual one, either. Participation is based on your physical GPS location at any given moment. You have to be there to play. Out in the real world.
She said no, she didn't really engage with Twitter and other social media technologies because she was "out in the real world, actually doing stuff with real people." I didn't respond, but I've thought about it a lot since. Thought a lot about how some people don't get social media. How it's not something that takes the place of your physical interactions with other people, but rather, enhances and enriches those interactions. I've known this for a long time, based on my own personal experiences, but research is now starting to bear this out.
What does the future hold for us as more of the physical environments we inhabit become interactive? What will it mean, for real, when buildings and streets and lights and cars evolve in their ability to communicate and interact with us, when physical objects and buildings and environments actually become actors with us on the stage, rather than just the stage itself?
My circle of consequential strangers is much richer and more engaging due to my participation in social media, my most socially lucrative thus far being Flickr, where I met Michael Surtees, based on our shared interests of design and Weimaraners, and one of my colleagues at NPR, another Flickr contact who has a Weimaraner and read via a link back to my blog while I was still in Seattle that I was moving to DC. And, before either of us were employed at NPR. Our employment within months of each other was totally unrelated and quite the surprise. Ask me more sometime. It's a very interesting story.
Oh, not to mention the fact that Will and I met in June 2001 on the now defunct kiss.com.
Anyway, these and other interactive technologies keep me in the loop with people thousands of miles away. So that every time I do go back to Seattle, I'm up-to-date not just on my friends lives, but also on what's new in the city. When I get off the plane, it's as if I never left. That's a nice feeling.