menu

Grant McCracken: Making Culture, Provoking Culture

Grant McCracken: Making Culture, Provoking Culture
Advertising

Social worlds tend to settle. And once they settle, a fine coating of inevitability forms around them.

Grant McCracken, Cultureby
  • 14 january 2011

Social worlds tend to settle. And once they settle, a fine coating of inevitability forms around them.

Who is what to whom under what circumstances as constrained by what rules, eventually this is completely “done.” We’re weighted down by stasis.

Case in point? A couple I saw years and years ago in a restaurant. They were in their 70s. I guessed they had been married a long time. Occasionally, he would raise his eyebrows and she would smile. They had shared this meal so many times it was terra completely cognito. Jokes didn’t need telling. They just need referencing. This tiny, social world had settled. They were now riding the inevitability through to dessert, and, no, there weren’t going to be any surprises there either.

What happens to couples happens to corporations, universities, cities, countries. Countries? Sure, Canada. Once dynamic, these social worlds have settled into stasis. They are now going through the motions, even when those represent a bad, lifeless idea.

What these static worlds need are provocations, events that “short out” the stasis, so to say. People are suddenly released from the confinement of their settled social world. They are not freed for long, and revolutionaries are inclined to believe that this moment of liberation will last for longer than it does. But there has been an “interrupt” as the psychologists call it. For a moment, the inevitability cracks, the rules become clear, the stasis is suspended.

There are a million possible provocations. Some years ago, Abby Hoffman showered the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills. [Please share other examples in Comments.] There are species of art and/or politics that live for the provocation that will accomplish through imagination what cannot be accomplishment through more structural economic, political and social change. Some of these groups believe in an “open sesame” event, the one perfect provocation that will set all the dominos tumbling till real and lasting change is accomplished. This provocation may exist, but it will take a lot of very careful thinking and experiment to discover what it is.

This is where pie comes in. A couple of years ago, a group of people stood on a street corner in Belfast, Maine, and handed hand slices of pie, pecan, pumpkin and apple, to passers-by. “The idea was to spur community and conversation, one slice at a time.” (in Edge, below.)

Pie is an interrupt. It forces people out of that habitual frame of mind, the little script that reads, “Ok, that’s the shopping done, now I have to get to the library and pick up Betty at 4:00.” Oh, what’s this? Pie? And before you know it, you are sharing pie and a joke with the guy who coaches Becky, your daughter’s best friend.. You are broken out of your routines, out of stasis.

What happens next depends upon the skill of the pieman. In this case the pieman is Project M, something established as part of the “design for good” movement by John Bielenberg in 2003. Project M is works as what Edge calls an “idea incubator.” Younger designers meet to “generate social problems and enhance public life.” Pie provocations had taken place in Greensboro, North Carolina. Working with the design firm Winterhouse in Connecticut, Project M has also staged a Pizza Farm.

Designers are very good at thinking about provocations. After all, they are in the imagination business. They are trained to look at existing systems, spot where stasis lives, and think of ways to make things new. What designers are not so good at, in my humble opinion, is figuring out what happens next, what comes after the provocation. Handing out pie and pizza does have the potential for provocation. But something substantial happens if and only if new arrangements are made visible, thinkable and doable. Pie qua pie will not get this job done. Pie has to be the start of something more than a jolly conversation with a soccer coach. It must do something more than “spur conversation.”

Continue reading…

Grant-PSFKBanner1

Advertising
Trending

Turn Any Wearable Into A Mental Health Tracker

Fitness / Sport
Work Yesterday

Amazon Is Experimenting With A 30-Hour Work Week

The online retailer is launching a pilot program that will allow a technical team to work with a considerably shortened schedule

Fitness / Sport Yesterday

How The Rio Olympics Stood For More Than Just Games

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the finest moments beyond sports

Trending

Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Retail: Technology Primer

See All
Retail Yesterday

Mobile Travel App Embraces Cognitive Computing

The Orlando Tourism Board is looking to IBM Watson to provide personalized local recommendations for visitors

PURPLELIST EXPERTS

Mario Schlosser

Health Insurance, Data, Technology

Automotive Yesterday

Bike-Friendly Apartment Building For Swedish Cyclists

A residential space is being designed for commuters to easily transport goods

Advertising Yesterday

Nike Takes Over An Entire City Block With A Giant Running Track

The Unlimited Stadium is shaped like a 100-meter sole print of the brand's LunarEpic sneaker

Gaming Yesterday

Fortune Cookie Service Brings Bad News To Your Doorstep

To promote their new delivery service Blackbox, the creators of Cards Against Humanity are delivering unfortunate messages in an edible form

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed august 23, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs Yesterday

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Arts & Culture Yesterday

This Picture Frame Could Be The Lava Lamp For A New Generation

Slow Dance makes real objects appear to move in slow motion

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Airport Mural Puts Passengers In The Clouds

The installation in an Amsterdam terminal lets travelers float through a series of billowing 3D digital shapes

Automotive Yesterday

DevBot Is An Intelligent, Driverless, Electric Car

The unmanned test vehicle from RoboRace is a preview of upcoming AI race models

Augmented / Virtual Reality Yesterday

AR Ski Goggles Make Racing Down The Slopes Even More Immersive

Israeli startup RideOn weaves digital overlays into the thrill of skiing with an unconventional pair of protective eyewear

INSIGHTS COVERAGE

Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games
READ NOW

Advertising Yesterday

Japan Wants To Make 2020 Olympic Medals From Recycled Electronic Waste

The Tokyo Games could showcase the first-ever gold, silver and bronze awards made from discarded phones and computers

Culture Yesterday

This Small Town Has Become A Hide-and-Seek World Championship Destination

An old abandoned village in Northern Italy has become a massive playground for over one hundred competitive players

Design Yesterday

Garmin’s New Smartwatch Is Challenging The Luxury Market

The brand adds a premium version of its popular multi-sport trainer to its accessories collection

No search results found.