Aesthetics and Community

So to continue this train of thought, I was watching this digital rough cut of an interview with Howard Rheingold. In it Howard makes a few statements about digital communities, groups and nation-states that appeal to me. Particularly this statement:

In fact when I first started travelling about this was erm during a brief period when I worked for Wired Magazine, I had a little wired hat on.  It didn’t matter whether they spoke English or not, there were people who identified more with me than with they’re neighbours, with they’re parents, with they’re peers, erm even though we may not have even spoken the same language, they knew UNIX, they knew Photo Shop, they knew communicating on line.

That resonated with me for a bit. Earlier Howard mentioned his sense of dress as well, and how it can be offputting for some people. Now I don’t want this to come off as a love letter for Howard, I would think that his dress is what made me interested in him. He was confident in himself enough to put himself out there, and that confidence and uniqueness speaks to me as a person. In the same way that Howard’s way of dressing (through his Wired hat or colorful jackets) made an impression on people and acted as an attractor or repellent, the aesthetics of online spaces will do the same thing. So is it important that online spaces be as aesthetically neutral as possible?

No. There is no neutral. Think about color for a moment. White background color has a different context depending on culture – your actions will be unable to alter those cultural reaction. So you have to rely on your own aesthetic choices and make sure they reflect you as much as possible. I think the individual need to express this is what will begin to differentiate institutions from one another. We’re already seeing this in higher education where certain lecturers are the “top free agents”. I’m sure sometime in the future, as online learning becomes more prevalent, we will begin to see the better learning designers, and by that I mean aesthetically and pedagogically, become more important.

Howard makes some mention of what makes a community later on, and in my interpretation it comes down to a like-minded group – some sort of connection occurs between all the parties. It could be worldview, it could be musical tastes. In web design, we recognized that a certain consumer expects a certain level of design. For instance, an opera house website would be rejected if it wasn’t sufficiently “high class”. You wouldn’t see a graffiti font on the opera house website. These groups have an aesthetic identifier as well, it’s an external clue, part of that first impression decision making process.

So thank you Howard for helping me make the connections from this video!

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