Standing before Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine (1922) at the Museum of Modern Art, I recall Marshall McLuhan’s words and consider how we shape our tools and in turn how our tools shape us. In Klee’s day, the painting could have served as a social commentary on the forces of nature and industry colliding. Today, perhaps we should look again. The bird’s are shackled to the wire. The crank turns, we stand in our chains to sing songs of relentless cacophony.
This article presents findings from the university-based research center, Beautiful Social, where students perform the public work of digital composition and literacy instruction to help nonprofits and social entrepreneurs with modest resources develop cutting-edge social media strategies. In its first two years, students have run more than 40 projects in new media and web 2.0 consultancy, training, and community management free of charge to Philadelphia-area organizations. Importantly, this hands-on learning experience dramatically changes the ways students think about the technology they (already) use (Jenkins, Shirky, Turkle) and facilitates webs of connection: connections that link what students learn in class to their lived experience; connections that transform what they know and are able to do; connections that link self to others; connections where students have a felt experience of being engaged community citizens.
In December 2010, I founded Beautiful Social, a research center at Saint Joseph’s University. I view this enterprise as a simple and effective model for 21st-century digital media education. It enacts a powerful global ethic, where students learn how the Web enables us to embrace our interconnectedness and take ethical action. Through this enterprise we have a sustainable, economical, and effective model for teaching and learning where non-profits receive free assistance and students gain much needed work experience. This model helps both students and organizations grow, while having safer failures and bigger successes. Not only does this model build skills, it creates leaders with a social conscience. Many student’s attitudes about what they want to do after college change dramatically after working with Beautiful Social. They realize that they want to be part of something that makes positive change.
We receive requests for help both locally and globally. Students attend meetings at organizations or via Skype, create social media strategies, research best practices, consult for the organizations, crowd-source their work, and generate reports. They assign each other homework and actually do it. They also gain professional experience with social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and blogs. We also place interns inside organizations and have a lasting impact on how area organizations operate. Students are gaining real experience to add to their resumes and are landing jobs after college based on that experience. Most importantly, virtually every student is demonstrating leadership potential.
In short, this way of learning changes the ways students think about the technology they (already) use. As creators and designers, they see how what we create fosters specific cultural values. They see that what we make is a reflection of our own ethics. Importantly, this model of education facilitates webs of connection: connections that link what students learn in class to their lived experience; connections that transform what they know and are able to do; connections that link self to others; connections where students have a felt experience of being a global citizen. I’m excited to keep working with this innovative model of teaching and learning and to learn from others who express interest in educational models that empower students to foster civic action and social change.
Music creates the mood in restaurants.
Of course the right atmosphere depends on many things including food presentation, color scheme, décor, lighting, even typeface. But aside from the actual taste of the food, music is the most persuasive force on the mood of customers and a powerful indicator of their overall aesthetic experience.
Studies such as “The effect of background music on the behavior of restaurant customers” and “The influence of music tempo and musical preference on restaurant patron’s behavior” contribute to the study of atmospherics – the controllable aspects of a retail space designed to influence the customer’s mood.
In a nutshell, research indicates that customer’s music preference is a strong indicator of time spent in a restaurant. And time spent in a restaurant is the most powerful predictor of money spent in a restaurant. Seems to me that restaurants should listen up when it comes to their customer’s preferences.
Hands down, the best music is live music. Nothing is more integrative. Appropriate. Transportive, even. Take for example, the charming piano player at Bemelman’s Bar at The Carlyle. Alas, like suspenders, live dinner music is becoming a thing of the past.
Most often we dine to a soundtrack. At best, this is something well crafted, designed to elevate the meal. At it’s worst it’s something discordant – something that detracts from our dining experience.
Lately, I’ve been wishing for a little more thoughtfulness, a little more nuance in the music-to-dine-for department. That’s what I’m calling it. I’m searching for the places that are getting it right. Below are a few of my recent encounters with music and atmosphere in restaurants in New York. Then I’ll discuss how social media platforms can help create a more harmonious experience for restaurant and customer.
The Mermaid Inn – a fun spot for oysters, lobster rolls, and chocolate pudding in the East Village. With the first oyster I was planning a summertime trip to Maine. But over time, the loud music started to grate on me. Then I started to notice the songs. There was Dire Straits. Then A-Ha. Then Stevie Nicks. The 80’s era music went from distracting to downright annoying. So much so that the music became a topic of conversation. I asked our server what the philosophy behind the music was. He said that is was supposed to appeal to the 30-something- “I want my MTV” – crowd.
Lunching at Prune, I had a similar experience. As I am currently reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s acclaimed food memoir Blood, Bones, & Butter, why not visit her rave review restaurant in the East Village? I found the place pretty, easy-going, and all together enjoyable. Food, décor, lighting, ambiance, all absolutely charming. It is a clean, well-lighted place in the very best sense. The downside? It’s cramped. And the music only contributed to this feeling of claustrophobia. They were playing an entire Fleetwood Mac album. Song after song there was no escape. Why were they doing this? What were they trying to evoke? Perhaps influenced from Glee?
Stopped in for a slice at Two Boots To Go West, a tiny pizza place in the West Village before catching a set at the Village Vanguard across the street. They played Miles Davis. And it elevated that pizza slice ten-fold.
Another favorite, Five Points (NoHo), hits on every little thing but the music. Again, it’s the 80’s – early 90’s thing. Of course I will keep coming back for their amazing food and the fact that they serve my favorite oysters (Beau Soleil) but their music is just off. And quite loud. A reviewer has commented on this on Yelp.
Frankly, I’m surprised more people haven’t spoken up about the music on Yelp. Yelp is an incredibly useful user review/local search platform. As the reviews are user-generated, it is a means to democratic dialogue, where users influence others based on their write-ups. And in the best-case scenarios, users might even have a voice in shaping the way a company operates.
Other platforms for customers to voice their opinions to restaurants and to each other include Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook (Pages and Places) as well as the company blog. Commenting directly to the company on Twitter has the best chance of being heard and the best chance of getting a response. (That is, if they have a Twitter).
Customers began asking what had changed. The décor? The lighting? Something was different. More contemporary. But it was just the music.
Radius switched from the owner’s iPod playlist to a hand-crafted station on Pandora centered around the band The xx – an indie pop band from England. What other places have music-to-dine-for? What have you noticed about how music creates atmosphere in a restaurant? Who is doing it right?