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Will Pervasive Social Networking Turn Museums Into Pickup Hot-Spots?

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Will Pervasive Social Networking Turn Museums Into Pickup Hot-Spots?"

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Guggenheim Museum (cc photo by Ernst Moeksis)

Guggenheim Museum (cc photo by Ernst Moeksis)

Michael O’Hare thinks there should be more of a singles scene at museums:

In fact, I wonder that museums haven’t become a favored place for educated young people to meet strangers : you’re assured that anyone there is enough like you to be worth at least some schmoose, it’s safe, and all the stuff in the previous paragraph. As a former museologist, I always watch the visitors as much as the displays and I see surprisingly little of this. I bet the typical single museum visitor in his or her twenties would be more amenable to chatting with a stranger than the strangers seem to fear: try it! If you go alone to a bar and come up empty, you’ve wasted the evening and hurt your liver. If you go alone to a museum and don’t meet anyone, you still meet Vermeer or a real gigantotherium. The principle is analogous to Edith Stokey’s recipe for how to never ever wait in line: carry a book!

I think there are two practical hurdles here. One is that a relatively large proportion of people in your average museum are visiting from out of town. The other is that it’s simply a coordination issue—because this sort of thing isn’t normally done, people looking to meet people aren’t necessarily out at the museum, and advances would be “weird” relative to them being made in another context.

But consider this issue raised by Julian Sanchez:

We’re at most a few years off from broad adoption of augmented reality applications in widely-used smartphones, which will have all of us radiating reams of data to anyone in our physical proximity who actually cares. Your Facebook profile will dog you like one of those floating Sims icons. You won’t just know what the girl sitting across the coffee shop is blasting on her iPod, you’ll be able to listen in. All the tech is actually here already, if not in quite the fancy form it’s implemented at the link above. All it would take is for someone to integrate the location-sensitive functions of an app like Loopt into the apps for Facebook or Last.fm, and you’ve got a point-and-profile system. The real question is whether people actually want to signal that much in the physical context. Some of us are chary of giving every stranger in ping-shot a pretext for striking up a conversation.

Of course the answer to Julian’s worry here would presumably be that you could use some kind of setting to signal implicitly or explicitly that you’re not interested in strangers talking to you. And the same feature could transform the dating scene; people not interested in amorous advances could broadcast this fact to the audiences, while those who are interested could also broadcast that. This, in turn, could change the dynamics at places like museums that aren’t customary places to meet people.

And of course it could have a really transformative impact on infidelity and ways to snoop around and see if your partner is cheating on you.

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