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Creative Collaboration: Technology and Human Connection

The Premise

This piece first took form when we reached out to Smita Sen from our Coffee Shop Conversations in May. We were interested in working with her again, in the capacity of a creative collaboration.

We set out to explore the role of technology in personal experiences of visiting or joining new communities. We posed four open ended conversation starters to potential contributors for them to use as writing prompts, leaving it up to them to choose how many to answer and how much to write.

  1. Tell us about a time when technology made the world feel smaller.
  2. Tell us about an experience when technology allowed you to connect in person with a global community.
  3. Tell us about a time when technology enhanced a travel experience and allowed you to connect with a new community.
  4. Tell us about an experience moving to or joining a new community and the role technology played in getting settled.

We present to you here the first person experiences of Kate McBride and Smita Sen.

Selfies with Warhol

By Kate McBride

While I have always been an early adopter of the newest form of digital communications, I never imagined it would play such a large role in my career. Digital marketing and social media, and thereby technology, have become intrinsic to my life both personally and professionally, and I am thrilled!

At first, I thought that creating digital content for a job would make me feel more cynical about the burgeoning technological developments we've experienced over recent years - but instead it has done the opposite. I believe that technology, such as the Internet, social media, and various applications, has allowed people to create intimate connections and make themselves vulnerable in a way that fosters growth, new experiences, and community (even when in vastly different geographical locations).

One way that I have seen this is through my work in communications at contemporary art museums. While social media plays a huge role in marketing, it is also a way to connect with audiences that I find majorly impactful. Conversations can be had, questions can be asked, images can be shared.

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Photo by Kate McBride

The fine art world, and especially the contemporary art world, can feel inaccessible. And I think that social media and technology such as apps, mobile guides, and even easily accessible search engines can take out some of the anxiety of walking into a space that you might be unfamiliar with and therefore find intimidating.

Technology is a way to manage expectations that I think creates a more enjoyable (and more likely) visit. It allows people to step outside of their comfort zone. It also allows people to enter a new city or country or state and figure out where to go which I find incredible, and make use of myself constantly.

Instagram is my BFF when traveling and figuring out what art to see and when (and also where to eat)! It helps with the barriers to entry that a lot of contemporary art museums experience.

It is said that children who are brought to museums when they are young feel more comfortable in cultural institutions in their adulthood, even if they didn't necessarily enjoy it at the time. To me, technology can provide a similar service to people who maybe haven't had those experiences yet.

I am a huge advocate for people using digital intervention to interact with art - especially if it enhances the experience. Take that selfie with that Warhol. Read the didactics so you have a good caption. This is all part and parcel of a full and memorable visit - and to me is no different than the tools of yesteryear such as writing artists’ names in your notebook, or sketching a piece because you adore it.

How is a selfie different from a self-portrait? The difference is it's immediate and shareable and those both feel positive to me, even though this is what leads to them being denounced. If someone can make the important work museum workers are doing feel more enjoyable or useful for themselves and their communities - this is something I support through and through.

It also allows the very big world to feel smaller by providing access to exhibitions and programming that might otherwise not be available. For instance, work of all kinds in spaces of all kinds that otherwise might be cost prohibitive, exclusive, or unreachable due to location.

The fact that museums can go live when they have amazing speakers, can give access to previously exclusive events (hello Met Gala), can share videos of prestigious curators or experts, can provide context for work, can share tours of collections and archives, and so much more, allows viewers to be part of the goings on.

Yes, these things benefit the institution. But it is a service that is mutually beneficial to both the audience and the content creator, which is exciting! This level of access is unprecedented and hugely important. I for one love being able to be part of the art that’s on view in cities worldwide and being part of that conversation.

Serious question, can Instagram be an art? I’m starting to think so. Social media has become a place where I get to unabashedly talk art, feminism, and community from a place of incredible resource and access. I also use it as a way to get to know many amazing local artists and projects.

In more local scenes, technology can be used to do the important service of amplifying the work of emerging artists for no cost. Sometimes the most important thing is for people to just show up - and the Internet supports this through and through.

Another project that is near and dear to my heart is a Boston based community building collective called The Cauldron that I founded this year with artist and educator Carlie Bristow. The Cauldron is a monthly communal meal bonding over good food, good energy, standing in our power, self care, supporting each other, and feminist magic.

Our main goal is creating community over competition, creating space, and creating a way for people to expand their internal and external worlds. As feminists and Boston locals, we began envisioning a space we wanted to exist in, but wasn’t there yet.

We decided when there isn’t a space for you, you make it yourselves. Plus, did you know a group of bats is a cauldron? Too perfect, I know.

As part of our mission is to bring new folks together and create community, it truly would not have been possible for us without the Internet. At the second dinner we hosted, people came who had only found out about us via Instagram and this was the most exciting thing for us.

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Photo by Carlie Bristow

Social media allows us to reach audiences near and far and invite them to be part of this sticky sweet jammy feelings get together. It is powerful to have a bunch of people in a room ready to be real and vulnerable, and it would only be possible if we had a safe and non-intrusive way for people to opt in, know what they were signing up for, and set boundaries.

It also has been a major tool for disseminating both our message and also amplifying the voices of the amazing artists, journalists, educators, activists, organizers, the list goes on, that we meet. Another huge part of our mission. The Cauldron exists to create space, and technology allows us to do this.

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Photo by Carlie Bristow

As our audience grows, our work becomes exponentially more successful and more rewarding. We had over sixty people sign up for our fourth communal meal (with only 10 spots were available) and couldn't believe it! Our goal is to host every single person that signs up at some point.

That is the potential that exists when combining your passions with technology. We don't need money, we don't need backing, we don't need print materials, we don't need a brick and mortar location. We just need a good idea, good content, good support, and some excitement, love and care.

It's all in our hands! As female founders, this is not something you feel every day and it feels amazing and powerful and magic.

Grieving on Facebook

By Smita Sen

When my best friend Allie passed away, I found out through Facebook. Our families were continents away from each other at the time. The weeks that followed her passing were a whirlwind of skype calls, Facebook messages, shared documents, images, and endless posts written on Allie’s Facebook page.

We were grasping at each other through the Internet. We were trying to survive the reality of her death together, even though we were miles apart.

As the online memorials grew longer and the Facebook groups got larger, the reality of her death seemed more and more confusing. What was this online community we had created? Who were all of these Facebook ‘friends’ mourning the loss of my closest companion? What does it mean to have someone ‘like’ my post about her death?

If the passing of a loved one wasn't disorienting enough for my eighteen year-old self, experiencing the entire mourning process online certainly threw my sense of center. I missed her parents. I missed her brother. I missed our friends and our community. My family and I needed others to lock eyes with, we needed people who could share our overwhelming sense of loss.

We got the next best thing instead: the web.

The year my best friend passed away, 2013, was two years before Facebook introduced the post-mortem status of a Facebook profile. Two years prior, in 2011, Facebook had replaced The Wall with The Timeline. It was from 2011 to 2015, during the first years of the Facebook Timeline that one’s profile began to take on greater meaning.

The Timeline became your digital biography, a space where you and your ‘Friends’ could collect and share your life’s greatest events, your ordinary observations, the things you ‘like,’ and your occasional embarrassing selfie. The Timeline also became the timeline of your life, demarcating your beginning and your end.

At once comforting and unnerving, the Internet became the place where our communities came together to remember the life of our loved ones. It was the place where my community came together to remember Allie and her life.