Illustration: Jean Jullien

Digital

Danny Birchall, Issue 114/11, p14, 01.11.2014
Technology must enhance the experience
Museums have recently been exploring the possibilities of a new generation of wearable technology such as Google Glass.

Researchers at Manchester Museum are working on a pilot project to investigate its potential to replace the traditional audioguide and its smartphone-enhanced successors.

Glass, and other wearable tech such as the Pebble watch, could yet join the legion of also-rans that include the LaserDisc and Apple Newton. But whether in the form of wearables or phones, many people are using devices to assist them in their everyday lives. This raises three key questions for museums.

First, how do we make galleries and museums amenable to these mediating technologies? Is free Wi-Fi enough or should we also offer charging stations and mobile signal boosters for seamless connectivity?

Second, what experiences should we develop for visitors that use these technologies? Should we concentrate less on websites and online catalogues, and more on enhancing visits with additional interpretation and further resources?

Finally, and perhaps most difficult, is the question of what new norms of social behaviour we should encourage. Most museums recognise that photography and even selfies are part of a fulfilling visit.

But is Glass, with its creepy covert recording facility, a step too far? When we go beyond the “shush and awe” of the traditional gallery experience, we should try to ensure that what replaces it is enriching and rewarding, rather than sating a simple lust for technological enhancement.

Danny Birchall is the Wellcome Collection’s digital manager

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