Here I list some writings of interest as well as a summary of my thoughts about them. The range of these pieces covers critical design, social theory, experimental psychology, research on museum exhibit efficacy, and other subjects as well.

I have an always-expanding list of articles and books I haven’t gotten to yet, which appear on this page without notes. (In some cases I’ve done readings and not transcribed notes here.) As I continue my background research, the page gets longer and becomes more filled out with notes as well.



Abrams, Samuel J., and Morris P. Fiorina. “‘The Big Sort’ That Wasn’t: A Skeptical Reexamination.” PS: Political Science & Politics 45, no. 02 (2012): 203-210.


Aron, Arthur, Edward Melinat, Elaine N. Aron, Robert Darrin Vallone, and Renee J. Bator. “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. April 1997. Vol. 23, no. 4. p. 363–377. doi: 10.1177/0146167297234003

  • A study was undertaken to better understand the circumstances under which two previously unacquainted people can be brought to having “interpersonal closeness” in a relatively short period of time.
  • The experiments described in this paper had undergraduate students in psychology classes as their subjects. Already, of course, one must worry about the extensibility of the authors’ findings to more diverse population groups (such as adult strangers in public spaces).
  • “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure. […] The core of the method we developed was to structure such self-disclosure between strangers.” (p. 364) Again, though this work applies particularly to relationship development between “peers,” the method of increasing closeness through this particular procedure points in a useful direction for my application.
  • The authors of this paper refer to a definition of “closeness” from a prior paper by a subset of this paper’s authors. The definition is really lovely: closeness means “including the other in the self,” creating “an interconnectedness of self and other.” (p. 364)
  • There were three experiments reported in the paper:
    • Study 1: examining the difference between small talk and structured questions for establishing closeness. Participants were paired with people with whom they were likely to get along because they shared some interests as measured by questionnaire answers. The study found increased closeness among people who had “structured conversations,” meaning they were guided into asking questions of each other like “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” and “What is your most terrible memory?” This is not especially surprising—getting people to bare their souls to each other is likely to create greater emotional connection in the crucible of deep feelings such a conversation engenders.
    • Study 2: similarly to the first study, some pairs were matched on likely disagreement but here others were matched on likely agreement; also some groups were told the purpose of the study was to expect mutual liking and some were not told this. The study found that none of the variables tested had statistical significance in the “closeness” outcome measurement: that is to say that though it may have been counterintuitive, it didn’t matter if people were likely to have meaningful disagreement on substantive issues or not.
    • Study 3: similar to studies 1 and 2, except the participants were told about achieving closeness as a goal. There was not a statistically significant difference between the two experimental groups.
  • Perhaps none of these findings are especially thrilling. Seeing this in print is a good sign, though—there’s a known bias towards printing only positive results and two thirds of this paper’s studies find no significant correlations in the experimental outcomes. I’m interested to see that pairings across agreement and disagreement didn’t change the extent to which the pair achieved a final “closeness”—this is perhaps an artifact of a flaw in how closeness was measured, or a surprising and counterintuitive finding about people’s ability to get along with each other given a structured circumstance.


Balestrini, Mara, Paul Marshall, Raymundo Cornejo, Monica Tentori, Jon Bird, and Yvonne Rogers. “Jokebox: Coordinating Shared Encounters in Public Spaces”. Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Coopertive Work & Social Computing (2016). p. 38–49. doi: 10.1145/2818048.2835203

  • “Eye contact is crucial to shared encounters in public spaces. However, most urban technologies that aim to foster social interaction tend to rely on screens, directing a significant proportion of the users’ attention towards the device rather than to those with whom the encounter is shared.” (p. 38)
  • “Novel interactive devices are increasingly populating the urban landscape, typically with the aim of increasing efficiency and productivity through processes automation, but often reducing opportunities to interact with others.” There’s lots of “interactivity” happening, mediated technologically, but it is interactivity that pertains only to screens and technology and not to humans who may actually be seated to your immediate side. (p. 38)
  • Milgram et al in 1992 define the “familiar stranger” as the stranger one encounters repeatedly in a public space (on the shared bus ride, etc.) but doesn’t interact with explicitly. (p. 38)
  • “By encouraging people to make eye contact and by using audio rather than having the content appear on a screen the system engaged them in a process of face-to-face interaction that often led to further conversation and laughter.” (p. 39)
  • “…strangers championed interactions by guiding and encouraging others to engage with the Jokebox, and…returning users and local characters appropriated it for their own purposes.” (p. 39)
  • “‘chains of interaction’” are described by Yvonne Rogers in an Interactions paper. This is the label for people influencing each other serially to try something out. (Someone sees someone else doing the cool thing and wants to jump on board, etc.) (p. 39)
  • “…the device was designed to make it clear what users should do with it, but why they should use it, who had created it, and why it was installed in a particular context was ambiguous and left to their own interpretation.” Ambiguity around purpose but clarity around use–this is a very rich combination in that it affords a lot of creative decisionmaking on the part of the participants. (p. 40)
  • “A form of opportunistic championing was also carried out by three local characters at the park (cf. [26]): a clown, a man selling ice cream and a man who was giving away puppies (not unusual in Latin America). These characters approached the area where the Jokebox was deployed and found a strategic space to display what they were offering, making them visible to those gathering around it.” The grouping of “opportunistic champions” is a nice effect, a sort of version of the “chains of interaction” that form around certain objects in public spaces. (p. 45)
  • best practices for interaction design as found by the researchers: “To support micro-coordination, the technology should allow for interaction in tandem and include features that indicate that coordinated action is required, for example by providing instructions (e.g. increasing the frequency that the lights blink), and using simple, tactile controls that allow people to make eye contact rather than focus on the interface.” (p. 46)


Bishop, Bill. “Caught in a Landslide”. article in “The Daily Yonder”. accessed 12/1/16. available at http://www.dailyyonder.com/caught-in-a-landslide-county-level-voting-shows-increased-sorting/2016/11/21/16361

  • “The election was close, but not at the local level. More voters than ever live in a county where the victorious candidate won by a landslide. It’s more evidence that we are sorting ourselves into communities of like-minded Americans.”


Bishop, Bill. The big sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.


Bruman, Raymond. Exploratorium Cookbook I; a Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits. revised edition. The Exploratorium: San Francisco. 1991.

  • “The exhibits look unfinished because they are unfinished, Exploratorium exhibit builders will tell you. Frank Oppenheimer believed that no exhibit could ever be considered complete: if a change would improve an exhibit, the change should be made. This attitude has shaped the process of exhibit development at the Exploratorium. The development of an Exploraotirum exhibit is an evolutionary process, involving prolonged experimentation and tinkering. In a sense, all the exhibits and the Exploratorium—even the ones that have been on display for years—are prototypes, still subject to change.” (p. vi)
  • “At the Exploratorium, we place new exhibits just outside the machine shop so that exhibit builders can observe visitors at the exhibit for the first month or so. During this testing period, exhibit builders often modify the exhibit to make it easier to use.” (p. vii)
  • from a brief summary of the book Working Prototypes: Exhibit Design at the Exploratorium: “Most of our exhibits are set up on table tops, so that visitors can gather and use the exhibit together. This arrangement encourages visitors to watch other people use exhibits and promotes social interaction between visitors.” (p. x)
  • page xi is an exhibit design checklist which is moderately useful but doesn’t express the sorts of hardness of shielding necessary for an exhibit to be left unattended in a public space.


Cwir, David, Priyanka B. Carr, Gregory M. Walton, and Steven J. Spencer. “Your heart makes my heart move: Cues of social connectedness cause shared emotions and physiological states among strangers”. J Experimental Social Psychology. vol 47. 2011. pp. 661–4. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.01.009

  • “The results suggest that the sharing of psychological and physiological states does not occur only between long-standing relationship partners, but can also result from even subtle experiences of social connectedness.” (p. 661)
  • the experiment involved generating a (somewhat weak, but obviously significant) emotional attachment between the subject and a confederate, which was achieved in part by “leading participants to believe that they…shared task-irrelevant preferences with the stranger.” (p. 661)
  • “…similarity is an important basis of feelings of social connectedness (Byrne, 1997).” (p. 662)
  • “Two experiments showed that a sense of social connectedness to a stranger caused people to experience the stranger’s emotional states (Experiment 1) and physiological arousal (Experiment 2). The relatively minimal basis of the social connection in these studies, and the fact that the connection was experimentally manipulated rather than observed, suggests that a sense of social connectedness itself apart from other factors that arise in ongoing social relationships can cause shared emotions and physiology.” (p. 663)


Diamond, Jared. The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?. Viking, 2012.

#### Diamond, Judy. 1996. Playing and learning. ASTC Newsletter 24(4): 2–6.

Epley, Nicholas and Juliana Schroeder. “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2014). vol. 143, no. 5. pp. 1980–1999.

  • “…people systematically misunderstand the consequences of social connection, mistakenly thinking that isolation is more pleasant than connecting with a stranger, when the benefits of social connection actually extend to distant strangers as well.” (p. 1980)
  • “Talking to a stranger on the train was not systematically unpleasant. In fact, participants in the connection condition reported having the most positive experience out of all three of our experimental conditions (see Figure 1). Most important, participants in the connection condition reported having a significantly more positive experience than participants in the solitude condition…” (p. 1983)
  • “People liked their conversation partners, had pleasant conversations, and had more positive commutes the longer their conversations lasted.” (p. 1984)
  • “Commuters on a train into downtown Chicago reported a significantly more positive commute when they connected with a stranger than when they sat in solitude, and yet they predicted precisely the opposite pattern of experiences. This pattern of results demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of the psychological consequences of social engagement. This mistake is particularly unfortunate for a person’s well-being given that commuting is consistently reported to be one of the least pleasant experiences in the average person’s day” (p. 1984)
  • “People may feel like they are being polite by not intruding on another person, fear being rejected when attempting to start a conversation, or feel that they have little or nothing in common with a stranger. This could create the perfect context for pluralistic ignorance (e.g., Prentice & Miller, 1993), whereby people believe that others are less interested in connecting than they are themselves. If other people’s silence around strangers is interpreted as disinterest rather than as politeness, then attempting conversation would seem more unpleasant than it would actually be (Miller & McFarland, 1991; Vorauer & Ratner, 1996). Highly social animals could sit in the company of strangers, all be interested in connecting with each other, and yet misread others’ silence as disinterest and therefore prefer solitude.” (p. 1986)


Falk, John H. and Lynn D. Dierking. Learning from Museums; Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning. AltaMira: Walnut Creek. 2000.


Friedman, Alan J. “They’re having fun…but are they learning anything?”. Forum on Education, Spring 2001. accessed 9-15-16 at https://www.aps.org/units/fed/newsletters/spring2001/friedman.html. Original appeared in Parents League of New York “Review”, 1998.

  • Alan Friedman was the Director of the New York Hall of Science for many years and his guidance and persistence led the institution to grow into a great and broadly respected hands-on science learning center.
  • He asks whether children who visit science centers are really doing any demonstrable learning. It frequently looks, after all, like they’re running around having fun.
  • “A study at the Natural History Museum in London demonstrated that even children who were not observed to read any labels on the exhibits nevertheless learned information that was only available on those labels. Apparently the information was transferred from those children and adults who did read to the ones who did not read, during casual conversations while walking through the museum, on the school bus or in the car, and over dinner or breakfast the next morning.”
  • Early elementary children visiting museums often start by running around and engaging only briefly with exhibits. This is frequently a map-making exercise, and once they know what the “best” things in the space are, they may come back later and spend longer engaging for a second time with those exhibits.
  • “My favorite early indicator of the success of an exhibit is observing a child suddenly step back from the exhibit, look around, and call out “Hey – come look what I found!” Whether or not that child understood the full science content of the exhibit, whether or not he/she learned the correct scientific terms to use in describing it, it is clear that the child has just claimed ownership over something scientific. If that ownership can be nurtured, reinforced, and connected to later experiences, the basis for a lifelong hunger to learn may soon be in place.”


Goffman, Erving. Behavior in Public Places. The Free Press of Glencoe: New York, New York. 1963.

  • Really rich early exploration of some of the implicit rules of social comportment in public spaces (as the title suggests).
  • Of particular interest is chapter eight, “Engagements among the Unacquainted.” The vintage of the book really comes out pretty immediately; Goffman cites Millicent Fenwick’s 1948 Vogue’s Book of Etiquette as an example of the prevailing social rules (at least as they’re formalized). The chapter discusses the various circumstances under which strangers may be allowed to engage with each other and I think some of these persist significantly. Here are some observations about when strangers may engage:
    • Certain people like police officers and priests in their vestments are allowed to be engaged by strangers with no pretense, for things as simple as offering a greeting, or for deeper questions, etc.
    • Very old and young people also can be engaged with, though of course caution must be had if a stranger is talking with children since they stranger’s motives are suspect. It’s ok to talk with a child who has an attached adult, and usually not to speak with one without. (Nowadays in cities it’s not very common to encounter unaccompanied children in any event.)
    • Here’s where it starts to get interesting: people who are “out of role” are allowed to be engaged with by strangers. Examples include drunk people, people in clown costumes, or “engaged in an unserious sport” (p. 126). Why? “Presumably on the the assumption that the self projected through these activities is one from which the individual can easily dissociate himself, and hence need not be jealous of or careful with” (p. 126). Goffman’s read is that alternative selves can be commented on socially, engaged with safely, etc., because any commentary on this alternative does no injury to the “real” person in question. The emotional protection of the ego, of the inner self, emerges as the primary rule in all social interaction.
    • Finally, Goffman coins a lovely term to describe the difference between small-town and big-city expectations of comportment: “In Anglo-American society there exists a kind of ‘nod line’ that can be drawn at a particular point through a rank order of communities according to size. Any community below the line, and hence below a certain size, will subject its adults, whether acquainted or not, to mutual greetings; any community above the line will free all pairs of unacquainted persons from this obligation” (p. 132–3).
  • Chapter nine, “Communication Boundaries,” is also relevant, discussing the rules that define the interactions of people known to each other as well as unknown to each other.


Granovetter, Mark. “The Strength of Weak Ties”. American Journal of Sociology. vol. 78, no. 6. May, 1973. pp. 1360–80.

  • landmark paper on the value of a multiplicity of weak social ties.


Hespanhol, Luke and Martin Tomitsch. “Understanding the effects of contextual constraints on performative behaviour in interactive media installations”. Personal Ubiquitous Computing (2014) 18:1651–1665.


Hipschman, Ron. Exploratorium Cookbook II; a Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits. revised edition. The Exploratorium: San Francisco. 1986.

  • Resonant Pendulum is recipe 85. Description: “The visitors swings a small magnet onto a steel collar attached to a heavy pendulum hung from the ceiling. Becuase of the weak magnet, the visitor learns that only bu pulling in time with the swing of the pendulum (in resonance), can the pendulum be moved. Two magnets are tied to the fence at 90 degrees to each other so the users, if they cooperate, can alter the pattern in which the pendulum swings (circle, ellipse, line, etc.).” (p. 85)
  • Holes in a Wall is recipe 108. It’s a metal sheet with a bunch of holes in it, which increase in frequency in a gradient across the sheet. The piece is outside and a frosted plastic circle allows a user to make a camera obscura out of any hole or group of holes they choose. I like the idea and simplicity and the possibility of multiple users interacting with the images in a shared way, though the drawing they provide only shows one paddle (and one user). (Almost none of the drawings in the book show multiple people, though, so it’s possible that this is just the style of their drawings rather than the exhibit creators’ intent.)
  • part of the Holes in a Wall piece includes a piece of black construction paper which has some holes punched in it. The recipe includes this telling bit of information: “The contact paper sometimes gets more holes poked in it. If the user learns something from doing this it is probably worth the effort of replacing the contact paper once in a while.” I love the sensibility of giving liberty to users to destroy things if it will help them learn! (p. 108-3)


Hipschman, Ron. Exploratorium Cookbook III; a Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits. The Exploratorium: San Francisco. 1987.


Humphrey, Thomas and Joshua P. Gutwill. Fostering Active Prolonged Engagement; the Art of Creating APE Exhibits. Exploratorium: San Francisco. 2005.

  • “Planned discovery” versus “active prolonged engagement” (APE) exhibits: PD experiences are more prescriptive, where the exhibit has instructions that the user follows to “correctly” engage with it. An APE exhibit, propely designed, is more fundamentally open-ended. (p. 1)
  • quote from Charles Sowers, an APE exhibit developer, regarding the different modes of exhibit interaction: “There seem to be at least two approaches the visitor might take. One is analytical, where one follows a particular, reasonably well-formed line of thought in the attempt to arrive at a conclusion. This might be called investigative. The other is visceral or aesthetic, where one follows a chain of actions in the attempt to arrive at interesting or beautiful results or to test the limits of the phenomena. This might be called exploratory. The particular approach visitors will take and feel most comfortable with will depened largely on their own personal styles.” (p. 6)
  • “holding time” is the term of art for how long someone stays at an exhibit. (p. 9)
  • lowest-level (simplest) analysis of visitor video indicated things like how long people lingered at the exhibit. But further analysis was much more subjectively interpreted: “At the highest level of analysis, evaluators coded for specific visitor behaviors deemed important to the successful development of particular exhibits.…at Spinning Patterns, we coded for both the number of patterns that visitors made in the sand and the nature of those patterns. We wanted to know whether visitors were intentionally making patterns or simply “doodling.” To do this, we created a set of categories for the kinds of patterns visitors might make—pre-pattern, simple pattern, or complex pattern—and then coded each visitor group for the most complicated pattern the group made.” (p. 9)
  • average exhibit holding times from this study: APE exhibits: 3.3 minutes; PD exhibits: 1.1 minutes. (p. 13)
  • standard flow at PD exhibits is “do, notice, read,” whereas in APE exhibits “physical engagement was more prolonged and varied from one exhibit to the next.” (p. 16)
  • in “What’s Hot, What’s Not?” exhibit (an IR camera with little living-room like area set up in front of it): “People get so involved with the monitor that they appear to lose social inhibitions, dancing at the exhibit and touching one another (even among strangers) to compare body temperatures.” (p. 35)
  • in “Shaking Shapes” exhibit, the exhibit developer prefers less rather than more instruction: “We also interviewed five groups of visitors who had seen the graphic and five groups who had not. Three of the five groups who had not seen a graphic wanted more instructions or context for the exhibit, but we also noticed that the visitors’ interactions seemed more varied when the graphic was not present. This experience points to an ongoing issue with the development of text and graphics for APE exhibits: How much direction is helpful? How much is too much? Though there may be no universal answer to this question, I tend to lean toward promoting the most open-ended activity possible rather than nudging up holding times—so at the moment, I prefer the exhibit without a graphic.” (p. 125)
  • “What we discovered is that the tension between initial and prolonged engagement arose from our own misunderstanding of the two processes. Initial engagement does not require a single starting place; rather, it requires that any starting place proide a reliable entry to the exhibit experience. By this we mean that visitors can figure out what to do—and when they do it, something happens to capture their interest. APE exhibits benefit from having as many reliable entry points as possible.” (p. 130)
  • “why?” versus “what-if?” questions: “why?” questions will generally revert to the authority of the institution, which will explain the underlying process or science. They will frequently be a dead-end for a visitor. A “what-if?” question is something they can try themselves and is therefore fundamentally more empowering. “We hoped that visitor-driven exhibit experiences, and the shift to What if—? questions, would blossom in situations where the museum’s authority felt immaterial to visitors, where visitors felt in control of their experiences, and where visitors felt as if the interaction was about doing rather than knowing.” (p. 131)
  • generically useful categories of exhibit that promote visitor-empowering experiences: a) revealing beautiful aesthetics, b) providing the pleasure of creation, c) presenting remarkable mechanisms, and d) posing challenges that are solved by the activity. (p. 132)
  • “Unexpectedly, attempts to confound visitors proved a less reliable strategy for motivating APE behavior than did attempts to delight them with beauty, the pleasure of creation, amazing meahisms, or puzzles solved by interacting with the exhibit.” (p. 135)


Ishii, Hiroshi. and Brygg Ullmer. “Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms”. Proceedings of CHI ’97, March 22–27, 1997. pp. 1–8

  • Hiroshii Ishii is the PI of the Tangible Media Group at the Media Lab and this twenty year old paper looks to establish a while ago the same sorts of projects they’re working on today. That is impressive! Way to stick with it, Tangible Media people! In the further evolution of the idea presented, they nowadays talk about “radical atoms” as the successor of TUI (tangible user interface) which this paper treats. They use a clever graphic involving an unsubmerged iceberg to express materially the idea, which I think gets the point across well.
  • I love their explanation of the importance of tangibility: “Our intention was to rejoin the richness of the physical world in HCI” (p. 1). I’m definitely animated by this same purpose; I think the infinite degrees of freedom and expresiveness offered by the real world is significantly superior to that offered by any computer simulation, obviously. But of course the real world is very difficult to rein in. Things wear out and break; matter disintegrates. Bits for the most part don’t. So long as you can store them reliably, their life expectancy is infinite.
  • Really impressive that they predict the advent of “wearable computers” in 1997—this is a wave that has only become feasibly popular in the last couple years. I suppose the microcontroller technology existed back in the nineties to do some primitive wearable functions, but it’s really the advent of very small and lower power networked devices that allow for more interesting and advanced devices currently finding their way onto people’s bodies.
  • The authors refer to “bricks,” which are physical devices that allow the user to manipulate a software item. But I’m curious how the authors would feel about the ubiquity of accurate touchscreens in computing nowadays; is it better to have a brick hovering above a screen instead of a finger touching the screen? On the same note, there’s a real variety of multitouch gestures (such as the phone recognizing the difference between a fingernail, pad, knuckle tap, etc.) as well as some very cool near-field precision sensing (LEAPmotion, Google’s Project Soli) that allow for physical interactions directly with users’ hands (no artefact/“brick” needed). If the hands can be used as the interface medium, is it still necessary to hearken back to a prior model of using physical intermediates?


Kelliher, Aisling. “Critical Multimedia”. IEEE MultiMedia. Oct–Dec 2014, vol. 21, no. 4. pp. 4–7.

  • The article concerns the interesting question of addressing forms of “criticality” as distributed across different realms. The way the author defines criticality: “A critical viewpoint here entails deeply reflecting on and examining the norms, values, and structures of all or some subsection of society with a view to affecting change.” In other words, any sort of work that aims not merely to be for its own sake but to question, subvert, suggest change, or be otherwise socially provocative is “critical.”
  • I’m not sure, however, how useful this definition is going to be; I think that it means that almost any art that extends beyond purely aesthetic (i.e. dentist’s office walls) in its aim will fall under this category, no?
  • Defining the term in the sense does, however, distinguish a lot of design and engineering work since it would frequently be uncritical. So in these realms, where criticality is outside of the norm, the term would denote special and different work.
  • The article quotes Paola Antonelli who says that critical designers should be “thorns in the side of politicians and industrialists, as well as partners for scientists or consumer advocates, while stimulating discussion and debate about the social, cultural and ethical future implications of decisions about technology made today.”
  • Kelliher does not mention it, but I suppose that there is a great deal of critical literature—I’m thinking particularly here of science fiction—which has played a really interesting social/cultural role in the past century or so. At least in the case of fiction relating to robots and space travel, my sense is that actually the groundwork for a good deal of the cultural zeitgeist necessary to support large-scale exploratory work in these realms (i.e. the moon shot of the sixties) was laid in speculative sci-fi writing.
  • The examples provided of critical engineering are really fascinating. The Transparency Grenade, for instance, is a fantastic idea and would be so even if it didn’t work! But the fact that it does (or at least, that it could) is pretty great. I love the physicality of pulling the pin on that thing; it seems like such a satisfying mechanical embodiment of a moment that would be quite consequential for the user. (Consider the gravity, for instance, of hitting “send” on an important work or personal email that one has spent time composing—wouldn’t that feel so much more real if the send button were a big toggle switch under a locked safety door?)
  • Newstweek is, of course, a bit more subtle but still a very clever piece of design. There are a few similar self-installed Chrome extensions offered as comedic commentary on the state of information in the world that do automatic word substitutions. For instance, XKCD’s substitution replaces every instance of “witnesses” with “these dudes I know,” and every instance of “election” with “eating contest.”


Learning Science in Informal Environments; People, Places, and Pursuits. Phillip Bell et al., eds. National Academies Press: Washington, D.C. 2009.


Levine, Robert V., Stephen Reysen, and Ellen Ganz. “The kindness of strangers revisited: a comparison of 24 US cities”. Social Indicators Research. vol. 85. 2008. pp. 461–481.

  • In the early nineties (1991–2) a social survey of “kindness” in American cities was conducted, and this is a sort of follow up study. The study in particular examines “helping” between strangers in a city over three measures, and also pace of life, and tries to relate these to various potential input functions including city population, average walking speed, and others. (This study conducted in 2005.)
  • “As the number of bystanders to an emergency increases, each bystander is less likely to notice the incident, to interpret the incident as an emergency and to assume responsibility for helping.” (p. 462-3)
  • the three “helping measures” were “dropped pen,” “hurt leg,” and “change for a quarter.” Dropped pen is simple and low-stakes; a person drops a pen out of their pocket in plain view of a stranger who’s walking in the opposite direction. Hurt leg is a bit more intense: “walking with a heavy limp and wearing a large and clearly visible leg brace,” the researcher drops a big pile of magazines on the ground and reaches for them but can’t pick them up. Change for a quarter is less intense: a researcher holding a quarter in their hand asks if an oncoming walking person can give them change for it. These are described in detail on p. 467 and 468.
  • big cities are less helpful cities. Of the 24 cities studied, 8 of them were large, and in the ranked list of helpingness, large cities scored 5th (yay Dallas), 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. New York was dead last and there 13% of people helped a visibly disabled person who had dropped some magazines. Unreal. (table 2, p. 471)
  • “The highest correlations with the helping measures emerged for population size, population density and average purchasing power. Population size and density showed significant negative correlations all of the measures of helping.” (p. 474)
  • “The strongest predictors of helping behavior in the current cross-city analyses were population size, population density, economic well-being (as measured by purchas- ing power) and, to a somewhat lesser extent, walking speed. The findings support those from a number of previous studies. To begin, the greater the population size and density of a city the less help that city tended to offer.” (p. 476)


Lichter, Daniel T. and David L. Brown. “Rural America in an Urban Society: Changing Spatial and Social Boundaries”. Annual Review of Sociology. 37: 565–92. April 2011. doi: 10.1146/annurev-soc-081309-150208


Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino. “The Geography of Exclusion; Race, Segregation, and Concentrated Poverty”. Social Problems. vol. 59, no. 3. pp. 364–388. 2012. doi: 10.1525/sp.2012.59.3.364


Lucas, A. M., Paulette McManus, and Gillian Thomas. 1986. Investigating learning from informal sources: Listening to conversations and observing play in science museums. European Journal of Science Education 8(4):342–52.


Ma, Joyce. “Daisy—Eliciting Richer Conversations at a Chatbot”. formative evaluation for Mind exhibition at the Exploratorium. October 2007. accessed 12/7/16 at https://www.exploratorium.edu/vre/pdf/daisy2_rp_02.pdf


Making a Museum in the 21st Century. ed. Melissa Chiu. Asia Society: New York, NY. 2014.

  • Adam Lerner’s chapter is “Used Tires and the Art Museum.”
  • it’s about how the injection of fun and jokes into the staid museum world is really well received.
  • “That contradiction between the insurrectionary quality of art and the elevated position of the institution is part of the essence of a museum.” (p. 100)


Mirenowicz, Jaques and W. Schultz. “Preferential activation of midbrain dopamine neurons by appetitive rather than aversive stimuli”. Nature vol. 379, pp. 449–451. February 1996.


Müller, Jörg, Robert Walter, Gilles Bailly, Michael Nischt, and Florian Alt. “Looking Glass: A Field Study on Noticing Interactivity of a Shop Window”. CHI 2012, May 5–10, 2012, Austin, Texas.


Powell, Russel A., P. Lynne Honey, and Diane G. Symbaluk. Introduction to Learning and Behavior, 4th ed. Wadsworth: Belmont, CA. 2013.


Practical Evaluation Guide; Tools for Museums and Other Informal Educational Settings, 3rd ed. Judy Diamond, Michael Horn, and David Uttal, eds. Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham. 2016.

  • Three evaluation phases are front-end, formative, and summative. Front-end is done before the thing starts, and is used to inform the design. Formative is done while the project is underway to inform the design based on findings from prototypes and experiments. Summative evaluation is implemented after a project is finished, to inform future work and make a final claim about the current one. (p. 3–4)


Putnam, Robert D. “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”. Journal of Democracy. vol. 6., no. 1. January 1995. pp. 65-78. doi: 10.1353/jod.1995.0002

  • landmark piece of writing that led to a couple subsequent books.


Reed, Sarah. 2014. Shaping Watersheds Exhibit: An Interactive, Augmented Reality Sandbox for Advancing Earth Science Education. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1651736945?accountid=9902.


Ridge, Katherine E., Deena Skolnick Weisberg, Hande Ilgaz, Kathryn A. Hirsh-Pasek, and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. “Supermarket Speak: Increasing Talk Among Low-Socioeconomic Status Families”. Mind, Brain, and Education 9(3):127–135. 2015.

  • posting signs encouraging people to have simple conversations with their children in a supermarket achieved the intended goal.


Sandstrom, Gillian and Elizabeth Dunn. “Is Efficiency Overrated?: Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect”. Social Psychology and Personality Science. vol. 5, no. 4. 2014. pp. 437–442. doi: 10.1177/1948550613502990

  • “…although people are often reluctant to have a genuine social interaction with a stranger, they are happier when they treat a stranger like a weak tie.” (p. 437)
  • “In one study, people were assigned to interact with either their own romantic partner or an opposite sex stranger. Surprisingly, although they expected to feel better after interacting with their romantic partner versus a stranger, people felt just as good after interacting with the stranger (Dunn, Biesanz, Human, & Finn, 2007).” (p. 437)
  • “Minimal social interactions, in addition to providing a hidden source of enjoyment, might provide cues of belonging. Humans have a need to belong, and experience lower physical and emo- tional well-being when they struggle to fill this need (Baumeis- ter & Leary, 1995).” (p. 438)
  • findings were that people reported greater “positive affect” and lesser “negative affect” when they had a small engagement with their Starbucks barista versus when they were more “efficient” in that they just grabbed their coffee and ran. (p. 439)
  • generally the authors suggest/advocate for turning any stranger into a “weak tie” in the social science sense. They close with, “The current results highlight the benefits of transforming instrumental conversations that we are already hav- ing—such as placing a coffee order—into more sociable encoun- ters. The next time you need a little pick-me-up, you might consider interacting with the Starbucks barista as if they were a weak tie, instead of a stranger, thereby mining this readily available source of happiness.” (p. 440)


Sandstrom, Gillian and Elizabeth Dunn. “Social Interactions and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties”. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin. published online before print April 25, 2014. doi: 10.1177/0146167214529799

  • from the abstract, a good summary: “The current results highlight the power of weak ties, suggesting that even social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being.” (p. 1)
  • “Are interactions with the coffee barista, work colleague, yoga classmate, and dog owner part of the “little advantages that occur every day,” which Benjamin Franklin saw as central to human felicity? More precisely, can these interactions contribute meaningfully to our happiness, or are they inconsequential compared to interactions with our close friends and family?” (p. 1)
  • They did two experiments: studying interactions between college students to understand the relationship between amount of communication and happiness; and studying mood in college students as well as non-students.
  • A study 1 finding: Among college students, extroverted people tend to be happier than others, even controlling for the “Big Five” personality traits. On days when individual people have communications with more people, they report greater happiness. (p. 3) No surprises here.
  • Study 2A aimed to understand the relationship between “weak tie” and “strong tie” interactions and a student’s mood. Students used mechanical clickers to count the number of times they interacted with people throughout the day, classifying every person they spoke with as a weak or strong tie.
  • Study 2A found that “With the Big-Five personality traits included in the model, more daily weak tie interactions still predicted greater average subjective well-being,” and “More daily strong tie interactinos still predicted greater belonging.” (p. 7) So if you want greater “subjective well-being,” then, you should increase the number of weak tie interactions you have on a daily basis and this will be more efficacious than increasing the number of strong-ties interactions you have.
  • Study 2B repeated the basic method of 2A but among adults who were not college students. The study found even stronger results favoring the value of weak ties in people’s daily lives:
    • “People who, on average, interacted with more weak ties than other people reported significantly greater average feelings of belonging…”
    • But “The average number of strong tie interactions was not related to average feelings of belonging…” which shows that at least in the case of this population in this study, weak ties mattered more than strong ties.


Simon, Nina. The Participatory Museum. Museum 2.0: Santa Cruz. 2010.

  • This is a very well-received book in the museum world, where Nina Simon goes through a long list of ways to improve engagement between museums and their visitors. (It’s not just a list, of course—there’s theory, case studies, etc.)
  • Chapter 4, “Social Objects”
  • Simon uses the term social objects to refer to things in the museum which people will rally around, be interested in, engage with, etc. It does not imply that the objects are in any way interactive. I think of the Chicago Bean, actually called “Cloud Gate,” as a wonderful example of a completely static object that is deeply social—people are drawn to it like moths to a silver bean, and and it’s because it’s compelling, bizarre, beautiful, and also reflective. Other than being a giant mirror, though, it doesn’t actually do anything.
  • On that point, “Some of the objects described in this chapter are designed experiences, but mostly, I’m talking about artifacts that cultural institutions collect, preserve, and present.” (p. 127, n. 1)
  • “People can connect with strangers when they have a shared interest in specific objects. Some social networks are about celebrity gossip. Others center around custom car building. Others focus on religion. We connect with people through our interests and shared experiences of the objects around us.” (p. 128)
  • Having shared objects of interest helps people connect with each other; using her dog as an example, Simon explains that “The dog allows for transference of attention from person-to-person to person-to-object-to-person. It’s much less threatening to engage someone by approaching and interacting with her dog, which will inevitably lead to interaction with its owner.” (p. 129)
  • Simple little typology, but useful: “…social objects have a few common qualities. Most social objects are: 1. Personal, 2. Active, 3. Provocative, 4. Relational.”
    • Personal Objects are things that one can relate to from one’s own life, like a loved one’s totemic object of some sort (dad’s tennis racket)
    • Active Objects actually reach out into the space. They’re loud in that they interject into the environment in some way and are simply harder to ignore for that reason.
    • Provocative Objects are things that are inherently interesting to some (or all) people. The example Simon gives is of an exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota where an exhibit used piles of money to demonstrate the difference in earning power between members of different races.
    • Relational Objects are things that actually require more than one person to use. I’ve examined this category a lot and some of my work Start the Stop adheres to the principle of necessary cooperation for operation. (For more on that particular topic, see the “Jokebox” project described by Balestrini et al.)
    • (foregoing on pp. 129–32)
  • When encouraging visitors to leave feedback, it’s wise to match the aesthetic of your written request to the sort of written feedback you expect from the visitors; then, the visitor feels that their contribution, which may be scrawled in their so-so handwriting across some sort of thing, is at home in the museum setting rather than being an ugly disgrace.
  • Juxtaposition as a useful provocation for the museum setting; Simon cites Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society, where the artist’s careful juxtaposition of objects of slavery (shackles) against objects of gentility (filigreed teacups) spoke volumes. (p. 159)
  • Really nice case study: “The Art of Participation” exhibition at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2008. Some of the pieces on display had specially-colored tags indicating they were designed for interactive engagements. One piece was “One Minute Sculptures” by Edwin Wurm, which invited people to balance some array of weird objects (fake fruit, brooms, etc.) on their body, take a picture, and upload it to the museum’s blog. The institutional endorsement of the instructions meant that when visitors spoke with each other, they were not being weirdos to be avoided, but rather meaningful instructions coming straight from the big building they were inside of and worth respecting. The endorsement gives the end users a remarkable permission, then, to behave far outside of the norm. Great example of inviting unusual behavior through clever design/prompting. (p. 165–66)


Stark, Kio. When Strangers Meet. Simon & Schuster, Inc.: New York. 2016.

  • quick greeting phrases are “phatic” communication (p. 18)
  • “Strangers Without Bodies” section. Stark believes that social media apps designed to encourage meetings usually don’t work well. A Student of hers made “Branch Out,” which allowed people at opposite ends of a park to talk with each other via speakerphone-like interface. (p. 30)
  • “Somebody” app as a good example of a stranger-meeter (p. 32)
  • “The act of merely talking to a stranger pushes us to see them as an individual person. Not a body or category. And that’s an incredibly powerful thing. When you experience someone as an individual, it opens up your idea of who counts as a human. … In the face of our global struggles over refugees and immigration, racism and hatred and harrassment, simply seeing someone as an individual is a political act.” (p. 40–41)
  • the Portals Project by Shared_Studios is some neat thing where a group of people in a room with a full-room camera facing them have a videoconferece with another group of people in a similarly set up space in another country. (p. 48)
  • “Portals are also unintended machines for social change. Positive individual experiences with people from other groups significantly reduce prejudice in opinions and behavior.” No great shocker but useful to see this in print. The phenomenon is called “contact hypothesis” in social psychology. (p. 48)
  • “civil inattention” as a courtesy to those nearby to pretend they’re not there. The term was introduced by Goffman, according to Wikipedia. (p. 58)


Stevens, Quentin. The Ludic City; Exploring the Potential of Public Spaces. Routledge: London and New York. 2007.

  • “Play is an important but largely neglected aspect of people’s experience of urban society and urban space. It involves controversial expenditures of time and energy, ‘unfunctional,’ economically inefficient, impractical and socially unredemptive activities which are often unanticipated by designers, managers and other users. Play reveals the potentials that public spaces offer.” (p. 1)
  • “The definition of play that follows thus does not seek to be exhaustive, but rather to focus on four interrelated ways in which playful behavior can be experience as an escape from other aspects of everyday life in the contemporary city:
    • play involves actions which are non-instrumental;
    • there are boundary conditions and rules which separate play from the everyday;
    • play involves specific types of activities through which people test and expand limits (competition, chance, simulation and vertigo);
    • play in the city very often involves encounters with strangers.” (p. 27)
  • two types of play are “paidia” and “ludus,” as defined by Caillois in 1961. “Play as paidia is characterized by diversion, destruction, spontaneity, caprice, turbulence and exhuberance. Paidia is human will acting without ethical deliberation.” (p. 33)


Whyte, William H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The Conservation Foundation: Washington, D.C. 1980.

  • Chapter 6 is called “The Undesirables.” It’s about how the attitude towards “undesirables” leads planners and such to build things to keep people out. But keeping people out en masse is exactly the wrong approach because it means that “undesirables,” who prefer seclusion if they can get it, are likelier to congregate somewhere.
  • “The best way to handle the problem of undesirables is to make a place attractive to everyone else. The record is overwhelmingly positive on this score. With few exceptions, plazas and smaller parks in most central business districts are probably as safe a place as you can find during the times that people use them.” (p. 63)


Woods, Terri L., Sarah Reed, Sherry Hsi, John A. Woods, and Michael R. Woods. “Pilot Study Using the Augmented Reality Sandbox to Teach Topographic Maps and Surficial Processes in Introductory Geology Labs”. Journal of Geoscience Education 64.3 (Aug 2016): 199–214. doi: 10.5408/15-135.1.


Zebrowitz, Leslie, Benjamin White, and Kristin Weineke. “Mere Exposure and Racial Prejudice: Exposure to Other-Race Faces Increases Liking for Strangers of that Race”. Social Cognition. vol. 26, no. 3. 2008. pp. 259–275. doi: 10.1521/soco.2008.26.3.259

  • the “familiar face overgeneralization hypothesis” says that people dislike faces different than those they’re used to seeing because evolutionarily and socially there’s an important distinction between an in-group and and an out-group (p. 260)
  • if FFO is true, then it’s easy to build a method of reducing racial prejudice—just expose people to different faces and they’ll have greater comfort/familiarity/etc. than they otherwise would’ve! “…since the unfamiliarity of other-races faces contriubes to outgroup prejudice, increasing the familiarity of other-race faces should decrease prejudiced reponses to strangers of that race.” (p. 260)
  • “Although the generalized mere exposure effect was mediated by increases in the explicit familiarity of other-race faces when exposure was supraliminal, a subliminal exposure manipulation was equally effective.” General results of the study showed that exposing people to faces of people of races other than their own led them to subsequently more favorably rate previously unseen faces from those same racial groups. (p. 272)
  • furthermore, prior research shows that these sorts of exposure effects are powerful beyond mere “liking” ratings that people use in relation to each others’ faces! More meaningful extensions abound and are impressive: “For example, mere exposure has been shown to increase incipient smiles toward previously exposed faces (Harmon-Jones & Allen, 2001), more willingness to help an individual to whom one was exposed (Burger, Soroka, Conzago, Murphy, & Somervell, 2001), and more agreement with the judgments of an individual whose face had been subliminally exposed (Bornstein, Leone, & Galley, 1987). Generalized mere exposure effects are likely to have similar consequences. If so, then simple interventions, such as showing more racial minority faces on television and public billboards, could enhance White people’s initial evaluative reactions toward unknown members of racial outgroups as well as positive behavioral responses toward newly encountered individuals of that race.…Such effects are not trivial, including both longer prison sentences and more frequent death sentences for convicted criminals who have a more prototypical Black appearance (Blair et al., 2004; Eberhardt et al., 2006).” (p. 273)