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You can find the standalone WordPress site for my final project The Handheld Museum: Mobile Devices and the Visitor Experience here:


Museums, Mobile Devices and the Visitor Experience

The presentation for my final project.

I survived! Three presentations to small groups of my classmates. Though I am relieved to have it over with, I have to agree with many of my classmates that it wasn’t too bad. I had a lot of fun putting together slides in the “Presentation Zen” style — it really helped push me to think about the most important points I wanted to make, rather than cramming my notes onto a slide and just reading from that. I’m looking forward to the next time I present something at work and can wow my colleagues with my new skills (and hopefully inspire them to create similar presentations).

Coincidentally, the past few days I’ve been the observer of many presentations — none of which were “zen” style. Having seen my classmates great presentations over the past few weeks, it’s hard to go back. Today I attended a webinar on storytelling through video, and the presentation was full of text-heavy slides. Despite the message they were sharing about using quality content, powerful images, knowing your audience, etc. the presentation didn’t match up. I’m sure that I’ve been to blame for something like this before as well, but it’s just interesting that when one is asked to create a presentation, we seem to revert to this very unoriginal, and unappealing way of doing things.

Content + Flow

This week I am a “discussion leader” for class, which means that I chose an article from a selection provided by the professor, and I’ll be presenting that article to a couple small groups tonight, ala “Presentation Zen”.

The article, “Consumer Adoption of Mobile TV: Examining Psychological Flow and Media Content”, documents a research study from 2009 exploring the application of the technology acceptance model (TAM) to mobile TV adoption in South Korea, as well as the influence played by “cognitive concentration” and “media content”.

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Research Project, in Theory

As a refresher, my guiding question for this quarter’s research project is:

How have mobile devices (and applications created for them) shaped the visitor experience for museum goers?

My intent is to look at the continuum from traditional portable audio devices (often referred to as audio wands or audio guides) to modern-day multimedia applications via smart phones.

Past: handheld audio devices provided by the museum with pre-loaded audio content.

Present: mobile phone tours, which allow visitors to use their own mobile device to listen to audio content provided by the museum.

Future: access to diverse multimedia content via mobile phone applications or tools like QR codes.

The “where we’re going” part of my research has found several interesting sources, however the “where we’ve been” and “how we got here” areas have been a little trickier, which makes it difficult to get an accurate sense of the evolution of these devices. What I have been able to find out is this: the first handheld technology (in fact the first visitor technology at all) for museums was invented in 1952 — the Stedelikj Museum’s Short-Wave Ambulatory Lectures — and operated much like a portable radio (with headphones, of course), allowing visitors to “tune in” to a closed-circuit broadcast (Tallon & Walker, 2008, xiii). This meant that the visit through the museum was guided by the audio content, rather than the visitors own interests. Later iterations of the technology allowed visitors to chart their own course through exhibits, and individually select which objects they’d like to hear more about from the device — “random access tours”.

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This week our reading assignment an article from a 1968 issue of Science Magazine, titled The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin. The article focuses in particular on the issues of overpopulation, but the concept of the of the “tragedy of the commons” has been applied in many other areas. As contemporary author Clay Shirky says in his book Here Comes Everybody “the Tragedy of the Commons is a simple pattern to explain, and once you understand it, you come to see it everywhere” (2008, p. 51). The concept is this: individuals sharing a given resource have an incentive to sustain that resource, but they also have an incentive to maximize their own gain from said resource. The “tragedy” ensues when the individuals focus on the good of themselves, rather than the good of the group — when everyone this it eventually depletes or eliminates the shared resource. Everyone wins for a while, then everyone loses big time.

Here’s a great video explaining to concept using the classic examples of herds and pastures:

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This week’s reading was a chapter from Roger Fidler’s Mediamorphosis: Understanding New Media (Chapter Four: Technologies of the Third Mediamorphosis) and a chapter from Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks (Chapter 6: Political Freedom Part 1: The Trouble with Mass Media).

One interesting theme touched on by both of these chapters was: control. Which is something I think a lot about in my personal life (I may have some controlling tendencies) and my professional life (handling social media for Seattle Children’s). Most of what I think about relating to work is the lack of control I feel — over the information itself, the constantly changing tools, etc. — so it was interesting to read sociologist James Beninger’s hypothesis, “the information society developed as a result of a crisis of control created by the railroads and other steam-powered transportation in the 1840s” (Fidler, 1997, p. 81). That is, as business and industry expanded over great distances, the folks in charge of said industries needed to figure out ways to maintain control over them from far away. Which kinds of makes it seem like the telephone should have got more buy in from the get go, but then I have to remind myself that originally it was only good for local calls, and therefore wouldn’t have changed much in regards to industry.

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As a student in the MCDM program and someone who’s work life centers around Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, I’m a little embarrassed to admit how often I suffer from “information overload”, though I guess it makes sense that those of us knee-deep in information day in and day out might feel this way from time to time. If this sounds familiar, or if you’ve ever wondered whether information is the solution, or the problem, get yourself a copy of The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. It’s an easy, informative read that I’d recommend to anyone who works with information technology in any capacity. These days I think that’s just about everyone.

First published in 2000, the book takes a much appreciated step back from the hype about the wonders of the Information Age and reminds us that “attending too closely to information overlooks the social context that helps people understand what that information might mean and why it matters” (Brown & Duguid, 2000, p. 5). The authors remind us that the  “fuzzy stuff” (background, context, history, etc.) surrounding information is not to be discounted, in fact, “For all information’s independence and extent, it is people, in their communities, organizations, and institutions, who ultimately decide what it all means and why it matters” (Brown & Duguid, 2000, p. 18). Information for information’s sake alone often means nothing.

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Once upon a time mobile phones were all but banned from museum galleries, but now many museums have adopted them — first as a new way to deliver standard audio tours, and now as (as the technologies have evolved) multimedia devices with access to rich and varied data. How have in-gallery mobile devices (and applications created for these devices) shaped the visitor experience of museum-goers? That’s what I’ll explore in my term paper for this course.

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Reflections, Perspectives

I’ll be honest. I did my fair share of griping about this week’s reading. But, once I got started I actually found it pretty interesting. My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and I kind of stumbled into communications so I don’t have much of a historical perspective when it comes to communications theories or technologies. And though I can remember a time before email, the internet and my iPhone, I haven’t really thought much about how we got from then to now.

So, I appreciate the perspective offered by this week’s reading – and class in general so far.

Though I’m still trying to keep Christensen’s theories straight, I did think it was interesting to reflect on why Western Union passed on the telephone, and what this could mean for companies today and in the future. I’m not sure I’ve fully appreciated the complexities of running an organization before – finding that balance between establishing efficient processes that work, while still making room for innovation and new ideas.

From the Winston chapter, I was particularly struck by his speculation that “virtual social communities” would have little purpose and that the net might not become a hub of buying and selling (335). It’s interesting to see how much has changed in such a seemingly short period of time – since the book was first published in 1998. Though, to be fair, I suppose I don’t really think of Facebook and Twitter (the online communities where I spend most of my time) as “virtual” but rather an extension of my “real” life. Though some of the connections are with people I have never met (and may never meet), a good number of them are with people I do know in the real world.

And as far as shopping and commerce go, this morning the “last word on business” on NPR was news that some retailers in Australia are now charging fitting room fees in response to customers who come try on clothes in the store but then purchase them online elsewhere once they’ve determined the right fit. As it turns out, the web did grow to be “a crucial method for buying and selling goods and services” (Winston, 355).

Winston ends the chapter with this:

Beyond the hype, the internet was just another network. This is to say its social effects could (and would) be as profound as, for example, those of that far more ubiquitous network, the telephone. As profound…and as unrevolutionary (336).

I guess agree with Winston to a certain point. For all the changes that have come with the “digital age” it doesn’t really feel like we’ve radically changed our ways of life or society – rather that we’ve evolved as tools have evolved to help us do the same things in faster or slightly different ways. But while the tools themselves may not be revolutionary, I do think people have the power to, perhaps, use them in revolutionary ways.



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