I try hard not to be a nerd, but sometimes I just can’t help it. With the Nerd Herd being a large part of the IBD community I am proud to say that not only am I a co-founder, I’m also a client. The value of community was confirmed to me in two recent incidents.
Incident #1 – A phone conversation between me and my wife
Wife: (Laughing.) Hey, you won’t believe who I just got off the phone with. I have conclusive proof that you are the biggest geek in the world.
Shea: (Silence. Trying to think about who she could have talked to who would have sent some major geek news about me her way…oh, I got it…it had to be my first girlfriend from the 12th grade. That’s right I didn’t date much in high school).
Wife: It was Robert from the post office.
Shea: The Postmaster? (Thinking. Why is the postmaster calling me at home? I mean, we are close and see each other almost every day, but this is strange. Did I violate some postal code by shipping something that was fragile, flammable and perishable? Perhaps it was Paul’s Christmas present.)
Wife: Uh, yeah. He called to tell you that the Star Wars stamp collection is being discontinued but he had a few sheets left over to sell before they had to be destroyed.
Wife: Yeah, he has 100 sheets of the stamps left and since you were the only one who ever asked for and purchased them, he thought that he would offer them to you before they are returned and destroyed.
Shea: Destroyed? (Perplexed and still distraught by the thought of those beautifully designed stamps being shredded or possibly even incinerated. Could you imagine being a beautiful Star Wars stamp and going through your entire life without the opportunity to even stick to an envelope? I can’t.)
Wife: Yeah, destroyed. I hope you realize that if the Postmaster calls you at home to offer you a lifetime supply of Star Wars stamps because you are the only person he has ever known who has ever purchased them, then you are the biggest geek in the world.
Shea: Destroyed? (Focusing.) Okay, I’ll call him and buy a few sheets (Thinking…100 sheets of Star Wars stamps, with 15 stamps on each sheet, times $.41 per stamp, equals…I’m not very good with math…but like $32…right). You may call it being the biggest geek in the world, but I call it flattery. We need more federal employees thinking this way and going the extra mile to make their customers happy. (Nice cover, right?)
Wife: (Still laughing.) Well Robert said he was under a deadline to return these stamps, so if you want them he wants you to call him as soon as possible. Do you need his number?
Shea: No I’ve got it.
Wife: You’ve got it?
Shea: Don’t ask.
Wife: I don’t want to know.
Needless to say I immediately called Robert and purchased a lifetime supply of Star Wars stamps, even though to this day the wife thinks I only bought 50 sheets of stamps. For the record, 100 sheets of Star Wars stamps, times 15 stamps per sheet, times $.41 per stamp equals $615 (also known as an unexplainable charge on the debit card).
In this story Sebrena (wife) saw this as a direct representation of the geek in me, but I saw it as a representation of the service the community offered me, the geek. But when it comes down to it, somewhere through the years Robert and I had a “shared emotional connection”—a key element in the Sense of Community Theory proposed in 1986 according to McMillan & Chavis (wikipedia.org). A “shared history” is a large portion of this element and is key to a person finding or developing a sense of community. The history that Robert and I had together led to this connection that went beyond the normal postmaster/park ranger relationship. This relationship led to influence where Robert had some influence in my life as well as mine in his. I see this happening on IBD as well. I see the foundations of a community being formed with shared histories and influences shaping group dynamics.
We can apply this to the interpretive process as well. A shared history with visitors can lead to program or product success. In many parks and museums today you see opportunities for visitors to share their history or experiences. It can be as simple as a visitor registry where visitors can leave comments or a dry erase board where visitors can list the bird species that they saw that day. If we want to influence our visitors to action, we need to build relationships with them and allow them to build relationships with each other. As interpretive designers, we can provide that opportunity.
Incident #2 – Meeting a lurker (A person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chatroom, or file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively-Wikipedia.org) at the Southeastern State Parks Programs Seminar (SSPPS)
Lurker: So you are Shea Lewis? (Placing her hand out to be shaken by me.)
Shea: That’s right; did I do or say something to offend you? (I make a lot of apologies.)
Lurker: No, I read your blog and just wanted to meet you. You are insightful and really funny. (Okay, I made that part up; it’s my post.)
Shea: Wow, that’s great, now there are three of us.
Lurker: Seriously, a few of us quote you and Paul around the office.
Shea: Paul who?
Lurker: We loved your posts from Chicago and love the way that you guys look at the world.
Shea: Yeah, our wives now only allow us (Paul and me) to have limited, supervised contact now and we have been officially removed from any future family vacation planning. Have you ever posted a comment?
Lurker: No, but it is great to find like-minded people who share similar interests.
Shea: Like baseball and sausage?
Lurker: No, like design and qwerks. Seriously, it’s like a community.
Shea: I agree, it is kind of like a community and kind of like therapy too.
As the Lurker walked away and I realized that I probably owe her an apology. Despite my problems with not being able to take a compliment very well, the Lurker provided us with some heartfelt comments.
There is value in community relationships. Even though the relationships founded under the banner of IBD are yet to be determined. Being connected to a community is a large part of success in any profession. Interpretive design is no different. If our goal as interpreters is to help our visitors reach the self-actualization stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we should strive to reach that goal ourselves.
“Integration and fulfillment of needs” is another element of the McMillan & Chavis theory mentioned above. Our Lurker could achieve a higher sense of community through IBD by contributing or participating in discussions online but has gone on to reach her own level of community by communicating with co-workers about topics presented.
If there is a community revolving around IBD, it is our goal that it will help you develop your own attitudes, perceptions, and feelings that revolve around the profession. Hopefully you will find a sense of belonging as well as a shared attitude towards the use of Comic Sans and Papyrus.
If you are still reading this then you belong and membership is a key to the sense of community theory. The good news is we are looking for those who want to belong and membership is free. There is no way we could charge for this, so welcome.
Incident #3 – A conversation between me and my wife
Wife: Are you putting Star Wars Stamps on our Christmas cards?
Shea: You betcha, what else are we going to do with all of these stamps and nothing says Merry Christmas like…Yoda.