This post is the second in a series. Be sure to check out Part I for more explanation.
After September 11, there was much ado in the media about people not wanting to be out and about in public places and the resulting trend of “nesting” in one’s home by outfitting it with greater personal comforts. For many of us, one of these comforts was high-speed internet access, and with our faster browsing speeds, we discovered ever-greater numbers of virtual communities to which we might belong. One danger of this retreat to the Internet is the further withdrawal of individuals from their geographic, place-based communities. Through the establishment of her Centers for Community Digital Exploration (CCDE), Barbara Ganley seeks to use online social media to reinvigorate connections among people in their local communities.
One liability of this project is that it might be tempting to take the simpler route of establishing centers in communities according to a general blueprint, almost on a franchise model, where any outsider trained in the protocols of the CCDE’s operations and mission could go into a community, set up camp, and get the ball rolling. In reality, however, every community is different–in terms of cultural diversity, socioeconomic class, and even Internet access–so there is a danger similar to that faced by Glenn Wharton in his restoration of the statue of Kamehameha in the king’s hometown and by countless ethnographers: outsiders come in, stir up resentment because they don’t understand the community, and then the social experiment fails.
Barbara’s approach is different. Already she is negotiating a contract with a foundation interested in community planning. Barbara wants to persuade community members in four geographically diverse, small rural towns to tell stories both face to face and using various digital media. Through talking with them about the stories and through the sharing of these stories throughout the community–and perhaps through the establishment of CCDEs in each community–Barbara will help communities identify their core values and their specific desires for features of their communities. She will, in short, be turning story into action, which is, after all, the goal of so many contemporary museum exhibitions (and particularly science exhibitions that promote better living through, say, the embrace of local foodways, a reduced carbon footprint, or conscientious attention to and eradication of invasive plant species).
There’s a lot museums can learn, I think, from Barbara’s own conscientiousness about community, from her contemplative slow blogging, and from her fierce independence from models of educational practice that are less than democratic, that constrain individuals and communities, and that always privilege critical over creative thinking.