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Economics

Making friends

People don’t attract enemies. Nor do they collect them. They make enemies. Enemies aren’t out there, pre-existing, like wasps or storm clouds. Enemies are manufactured by our actions and circumstances. It takes a concerted effort to surround yourself with enemies.

Helicopter on deckEnemies are like friends in this respect. We make friends. We would probably not ask, “Did you attract (or collect) any friends at school today?” But we might inquire if Jonny made some friends.

Enmity and friendship are not entirely symmetrical. Sometimes we talk of natural enemies (cats and pigeons, paparazzi and celebrities, cold-war antagonists), but rarely natural friends. Perhaps friendship requires even more work than making enemies.

Friends are also cultivated. Friendships grow, like plants. Contrary to the concept of making friends, social media tend to treat friendship as a collection. Friends are out there. You just have to get them to sign up.

Hopefully, anyone with even a modest sense of sociability recognises that the idea of a “friend” in FaceBook is a metaphor. To be named on someone’s list no more qualifies you as a friend than an entry in an address book, even if it does give you access to some of their photos, comments, and … lists of friends.

It’s ok now to criticise social media. Digital commentator and psychologist Sherry Turkle laments that social media and other surrogates for sociability diminish our capacity for meaningful relationships. She refers to “the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”

Making audiences

Lifesize manequins in glass boxes labelled chiropodist and doctor. People looking and taking photographs.Many businesses are following the trend set by social media, and talk of engaging customers and audiences in this friendly kind of way. (See Audience disengagement.) Audience engagement also implies that audiences are out there. They pre-exist, ready to be meshed, interlocked, engaged.

What if audiences are more like friends? What about making audiences, cultivating audiences, growing them, and not just in numbers.

The cultivation of audiences is also a bit like education. An audience is the result of an educative process. To educate is to edify. To educate is to bring up or rear; to edify is to build up. You have to educate an audience, which is to bring it into existence through education.

Perhaps this is what successful entertainers, teachers, politicians and authors do. They don’t just put their produce on show and lure customers and audiences, like wasps to a pile of toffee. They make their audiences. There has to be something about creativity and design here — the art of making (poiesis), about which more could be said. It’s also about building community, which is never just gathering around a charismatic individual.

So in engaging audiences we should not presume they are out there, to be attracted. Perhaps we have to create them, bring them into being, set the atmosphere and prepare the ground for their cultivation.

Notes

  • Education: In our book Interpretation in Architecture, my co-author Adrian Snodgrass wrote: “The development of hermeneutic skills involves the development of latent abilities in interpreting, understanding and applying what the other has to say. This is not the learning of a method, but education in the sense of ‘bringing out’ or ‘leading forth’ of latent abilities of judgement and evaluation by way of dialogue, in which the learner and the teacher and the learner and the text interact in a dialectic of question and answer that draws out meanings from the text and from within themselves.” (p.163) A footnote elaborates further: “The term ‘education’ is from Lat. e-ducere, ‘to lead out’. ‘Training’ may have similar implications, as it is inferred to derive from Lat. trahere, ‘to draw, draw forth, extract’ (OED). Education is also ‘edification’, the building (from Lat. ficium, from facere, ‘to make’) of a temple (Lat. aedis). Education builds up the student, so that instruction equates to construction. ‘Instruction’ is from the Lat. struere, ‘to pile up, to build’, that is, to edify.” (note 44, p.285)
  • In the film Bladerunner, scriptwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples introduce a clever challenge about friendship. Pris says, “Must get lonely here J. F.” Sebastian says, “Mmm… Not really. I make friends. They’re toys. My friends are toys. I make them. It’s a hobby. I’m a genetic designer. Do you know what that is?”
  • Also see posts: What are audiences forWe are all entertainers.
  • Mariza Dima, Mark Wright and I are running a workshop on audience engagement at NordiCHI 2012, 14 October in Copenhagen: http://ace.caad.ed.ac.uk/nordichiworkshop/. More about that later.

References

  • Blum, Lawrence A. 1980. Friendship, Altruism and Morality. London: Routledge
  • Derrida, Jacques and Geoffrey Bennington, Politics and Friendship, A Discussion with Jacques Derrida, Centre for Modern French Thought, University of Sussex, 1 December 1997 http://hydra.humanities.uci.edu/derrida/pol+fr.html
  • Snodgrass, Adrian, and Richard Coyne. 2006. Interpretation in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking. London: Routledge
  • Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York, NY: Basic Books
  • Turkle, Sherry, 2012. TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Making friends

  1. hi Richard.

    I was really taken by your article.

    The other day I had a weird experience: for a few years now I befriended a page of a well known and at times slighly controversial and charismatic musician who used to be in a couple of well-known 80s bands. I have been following this artist on Facebook and whenever I felt like, posted comments and liked posts. Indeed as a result of tour anouncements posted on Facebook, I went to a few gigs, watched him perform with is new band. So you could tag me a ‘true fan’…

    However, last week, I posted a comment that seemed to be out of the ordinary to the administrator of the page (I have no illusions here, the page is not maintained by the artist) and because of this my post was removed. When I questioned why my post was removed as I really did not see any reasons for it, I was promptly barred from making future comments.
    I was quite shocked and in a way intruiged by this experience. Rather than being befriended, I felt stigmatised, alienated, ostracised from a culturally like-minded group, it had a sort of medieval effect on me: as if I had been affected by the pest. The idea of previously ‘engaging’ with the artist completely evaporated. And what’s more, by being excluded from the group in an editorial sense (the way you outlined in your post) for me this reduces, contracts (as opposed to ‘expand’) the meaning-making of this particular social media group.

    The outcome is clear to me: this activity is marketing-driven, a Facebook made group of friendly customers who contribute to the overall sales pitch of the artist. Friendship has very little to do with it.

    Posted by Giraf87 (@GinaFierlafijn) | September 23, 2012, 8:21 am
  2. Thanks Gina for the vivid example. It’s interesting too that you begin “I befriended a page.” Presumably there’s an issue also of getting too close to a “celebrity” you admire, even independently of the Internet. I once bowled up to a famous comedian who I saw in a public space, and instinctively addressed her as if she was a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. She was gracious, but wouldn’t let go of the hand of her little daughter to shake mine. There’s always embarrassment, and I still blush to recall the encounter.

    Posted by Richard Coyne | September 23, 2012, 12:16 pm
  3. This is a very interesting post Richard. Reading it, I thought of friendship as a two way dynamic process. Both parties influence and change each other. From a design perspective, it will be exciting to see the opportunities for creating engagement if the businesses and their respective audiences come into such a dialectic relationship.

    Posted by Mariza Dima | September 25, 2012, 9:32 pm
  4. Excellent point Mariza. We make and are made. I remember Tony Fry saying that we are designed by our artefacts (I think). There’s also something here about interpretation. In interpreting a text, design or place, the interpreter is transformed.

    Posted by Richard Coyne | September 26, 2012, 6:41 pm
  5. Rather than friends, the enemies might be the people who know me best. For my own experiences, sometimes, I hate my enemies because some characteristics or defects. Latterly, those feature will also be found on myself. Sometimes, I make adversarial relationship with people who make me feel jealous and unfair. It might also cause by the similarity between my enemies and myself.

    For making audiences, in my opinion the social network of famous people and brand is just another channel of marketing. With the interactive communication method, digital marketing has unbelievable effect. As a production provider, social network is a cost less way to get omnidirectional information of the target audiences. However, as an audience, I won’t spend time on “making friends” with those Page Service.

    Posted by Wang Jingyi | December 16, 2012, 9:30 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Design for audience engagement Nordichi2012 – workshop | Moving Targets Scotland - October 18, 2012

  2. Pingback: Making friends | Moving Targets Scotland - October 28, 2012

  3. Pingback: Your inner child | Reflections on Digital Media & Culture - March 23, 2013

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