Weaving location and narrative for mobile guides

Sharples, Mike; FitzGerald, Elizabeth; Mulholland, Paul and Jones, Robert (2013). Weaving location and narrative for mobile guides. In: Schrøder, Kim and Drotner, Kirsten eds. Museum Communication and Social Media: The Connected Museum. Routledge Research in Museum Studies. New York: Routledge.

URL: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/97804158331...


Museums are designed as social spaces. They are places where people can talk, share experiences, and create collective memories. The spatial layout of exhibits allows groups of visitors to view and converse. Talk is encouraged and staff are employed to support families, school groups and tours. Yet much of the computer technology that has been introduced into museums is for individual rather than collaborative use. Handheld guides have been designed to be held up to the ear and multimedia museum displays usually have a single small screen. Recent developments such as museum guide applications for mobile phones continue the theme of supporting the solitary museum visitor. It is not surprising that some curators regard computer technologies as barriers to social engagement with the museum (Tallon & Walker, 2008).

Since the 1960s attempts have been made to design more social museum technology, including dual earpieces for audio guides (Tallon, 2008), quiz questions for pairs of museum users equipped with communicating handheld devices (Yatani, Onuma, Sugimoto & Kusunoki, 2004), multimedia displays that allow visitors to leave opinions and arguments relating to museum exhibits for others to view and respond (Hsi, 1997), and the use of social media to provoke conversations around museum collections (Johnson, et al., 2010). While these have had varying success in connecting and engaging visitors, they can create a fragmented experience where the visitor’s attention is divided between the museum environment, the technology and the social interaction. In this chapter we explore how narrative structures can create threads of experience that connect visitors with museum exhibits and with the narratives woven by other groups of visitors through their conversations and interactions. Computer technology can be designed to anchor these narratives to locations and enhance them through social interactions to create memorable experiences that can be replayed and shared.

The chapter draws on the model of ‘explicit interactivity’ proposed by the US game designer Eric Zimmerman (Zimmerman, 2004), where interactive objects in the environment combine to tell a story, presenting individuals or groups (who may variously be termed audience, players, readers or users) with opportunities to affect the content of the story as it is being delivered. The human participants, computer applications, and locations intermingle to form narratives that unfold through a combination of human-computer interactions and physical movements around the space.

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