When Andrea Tomkins placed Walden – a garden gnome complete with shades, jeans, and arms crossed in clear attitude – in a local flowerbed, she wasn’t expecting a gnome-napping. The well-known Westboro blogger had intended to hide Walden in various locations around the neighbourhood throughout the summer, and had invited her followers to join in, tracking Walden and discovering his hiding places.
Andrea Tomkins described the game as a mix of geocaching and a continuation of her previous Trust Experiment. In March of 2007, Tomkins left a wallet with a ten dollar bill in a local coffee shop and waited to see whether someone would take it or not. The wallet lasted eleven days. Walden lasted one.
“It is disappointing,” Tomkins says. She had been hopeful that Walden would become an incentive for people to get outside and explore their neighbourhood. Walden’s first – and last – location had been outside the local Highland Lawn Bowling Club, and Tomkins had intended to place him in other Westboro landmarks and places tied to local history or modern trivia.
“I was going to have him up at Dovercourt, under a stand of Saskatoon berries,” Tomkins says, mentioning that most people aren’t aware that the berries are edible. Walden’s premise was an example of synthesizing the virtual world with the local community. An experience that had the quality of an inside joke for local followers of her blog, and one that would have had to be experienced both online and off.
“I live a lot of my work life within social media, and I think there’s a huge value to getting off the computer and doing something ‘in real life’.”
Tomkins’ blog, “A Peek Inside the Fishbowl,” has become a popular source of family projects and local life. “Fishbowl” is another example of that intersection point between virtual spaces and reality. “I think blogs and twitter are really important in a neighbourhood setting. Quite often, big media aren’t covering the neighbourhoods in the same way, so the smaller media becomes even more important.”
In her eyes, social media has become a way to spread local news and more grassroots initiatives. “That kind of stuff is really important to a lot of people.” The trick is not just spreading the news, but encouraging neighbours to come out and also be a part of it. In an age where social media is so instantaneous and easily accessible, one can quickly become a spectator instead of a participant.
Little projects, like what Walden could have been, are surely a part of continuing to connect and encourage neighbourhoods to strengthen their ties across modern mediums. Though Tomkins happily insists she starts these activities simply to satisfy her own curiosity, it’s always “more fun” once people get involved or follow along.
Now, with Walden travelling on his own, Tomkins doesn’t know where she’ll apply herself next.
“I don’t have anything in mind, but my brain is a wonderful place! So there might be something around the corner. I don’t know yet!”