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interactivity

“There are large areas of technology that can be redeemed by the democratic process, once we have overcome the infantile compulsions and automatisms that now threaten to cancel out our real gains. The very leisure that the machine now gives in advanced countries can be profitably used, not for further commitment to still other kinds of machine, furnishing
automatic recreation, but by doing significant forms of work, unprofitable or technically impossible under mass production: work dependent upon special skill, knowledge, aesthetic sense. The do-it-yourself movement prematurely got bogged down in an attempt to sell still more machines; but its slogan pointed in the right direction, provided we still have a self to do it with. The glut of motor cars that is now destroying our cities can be coped with only if we redesign our cities to make fuller use of a more efficient human agent: the walker. Even in childbirth, the emphasis is already happily shifting from an officious, often lethal, authoritarian procedure, centered in hospital routine, to a more human mode, which restores initiative to the mother and to the body’s natural rhythm”.

from Lewis Mumford 1964. Authoritarian and Democratic Technics. In Technology and Culture Vol 5(1): 1-8

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first published in “Museum & Heritage Magazine” (Winter Issue, 2013)

Dirk vom Lehn (King’s College London)

Hannah Lewi & Wally Smith (University of Melbourne)

Museums and Heritage Sites increasingly offer mobile guides and Apps to encourage people to use their smartphones and tablet computers for the exploration of exhibitions, outdoor spaces and buildings. These Mobile Apps provide information in multimedia formats, text, pictures and video-clips. They sometimes also allow people to play games and send emails. In this short article we discuss two examples to highlight some of the opportunities and challenges offered by Mobile Apps.

The information delivered by these apps can draw people’s attention to particular exhibit features, make visible aspects of objects and artifacts that are invisible, hidden or have disappeared over time. Pictures and text shown by mobile guides, such as the ‘Formative Histories Walking App‘, designed by academics at the University of Melbourne, allow people to compare the architectural reality in front of them with information on the device. This juxtaposition of material reality and virtual reality aims to stimulate interest in the architecture and urban history of Melbourne, and provides the basis for people’s sustained engagement with buildings that they might walk past without noticing or appreciating.

The ‘Formative Histories Walking App’ has been designed as part of a project at the University of Melbourne, carried out by the authors, to explore novel ways to engage students with architectural history. In this case, the Mobile App was used as a teaching and learning tool that presented rich visual and oral information on an iPod Touch. Like a human guide, the App takes students on a two-hour walk along Collins Street, a prominent central city axis in Melbourne; the walk involves twenty stops at significant buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Using a map and menu on the iPod Touch users explore the street and find and examine architectural features in light of the information displayed by the Mobile App. This information is comprised of short text and audio summaries at each stop and a limited number of images that elaborate on aspects such as key buildings set in their historical context, comparative architectural examples from international architects or details of buildings that are not readily visible for the students. In this sense, the information delivered by the app replicates a slideshow similar to those architecture students experience in the classroom; pictures of objects nearby are juxtaposed with objects from different periods or by other architects and designers.

A second exploration of the potentials of the mobile digital guide for heritage, museum and architecture sites has been the design of a prototype iPod guide that provides visitors with information about the Shrine of Remembrance, a significant site and war memorial in Melbourne built in 1934. With this prototype the team aimed to allow people to see the Shrine in relationship to a wealth of currently unseen archival material. The mobile guide encourages visitors to juxtapose images, films and audio-recordings with the reality in front of them. By drawing less on conventional text, and more on visual information presented in innovative formats such as timelines, collages and close-up details the designers were interested in testing how user’s might share the screen with others and discuss the content and their experience of the site. encourage people to share the screen with others and discuss the content. Mobile guides and Apps like the examples briefly described here have great potential to create innovative media in the interpretation of museums and heritage sites that engage people in new ways with exhibits and exhibitions, architecture, gardens etc. They principally replicate two models of guiding visitors through a site that the researchers have found in many new Apps in the cultural and tourism genre :

  • the human guide model: these guide direct people’s exploration of a site with an identifiable guiding voice or presence on a predefined route. A number of stops are planned into the route where visitors are given information about an exhibit, building, plant, etc.
  • the interactive exhibition model: these guides offer a wealth of content in various forms that visitors can use to interpret and features of a site. The route does not have to be preplanned and can be changed, shortened or extended at any point in time.

These models of guiding visitors – which are sometimes mixed together – are often used with a variety of formats of content: chronologies and timelines, spatially-organised information; slideshows offering both highly curated narratives and freedom of choice; archival film; and oral histories.

Our own research in Melbourne and elsewhere suggests that apps designed with the human guide model in mind can be successful in situations with a well-defined visitor route. Elsewhere an interactive exhibition model that offers people the opportunity to self-select what objects and artifacts to examine can be more engaging. In either model, reception is influenced by the way information is structured and presented in the guide, and how this mirrors the physical reality. Text is not very popular with visitors while images, film and oral histories are. Chronologically listed information, for example, does not hold people’s attention when confronted with a rich spatial panorama. A powerful approach is to juxtapose archival images and films with views of the present-day reality; a technique used successfully by the ‘Streetmuseum’ app created by the Museum of London.

For a long time, research in the social sciences has argued that people’s experience and learning in museums and heritage sites can be enhanced when they talk, discuss and interact with each other. Therefore an unresolved problem for designers is to develop mobile guides that facilitate and encourage social interaction and discussion between visitors. Our experiments with different kinds of app show that people tend to treat the use of the device as a private activity and experience talk with others as disruptive. Future experiments, maybe using larger displays, will show how devices such as tablet computers might be more conducive to social interaction and conversation.

Authors

Dirk vom Lehn teaches Marketing, Interaction & Technology and is member of the Work, Interaction & Technology Research Centre (King’s College London). His research focuses on the interweaving of technology with social interaction in museums and galleries, optometric consultation and street-markets. Email: dirk.vom_lehn@kcl.ac.uk (http://www.vom-lehn.net)

Hannah Lewi teaches architecture history, theory and design. Her research areas include modern Australian architecture, new media for history and heritage applications, and theoretical inquiry into heritage and conservation. She is the current Chair of Docomomo Australia, and recent publications include Hannah Lewi and David Nichols (eds) Community: Building Modern Australia (Sydney: UNSW Press), 2010. Email: hlewi@unimelb.edu.au (http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person25951#tab-publications)

Wally Smith teaches and researches in the fields of human-computer interaction and knowledge management. Recent publications explore the role of commercial demonstrations of information technology, and the connections between stage magic and the history of informational artefacts. Email: wsmith@unimelb.edu.au (http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person18782#tab-publications)

I have just come back from a workshop at a museum where we discussed the use of labels and mobile systems, PDAs, Audioguides, or mobile phones to support or even enhance people’s experience of exhibits and exhibitions. As in other museums, the managers and curators still largely think of abele and electronic systems as information sources for individual visitors. Hence, information is written or recorded for an individual visitor to retrieve. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons, including the observation of the same managers and curators that devices and systems like movie phones, touch-screen systems, PDAs and Audioguides encourage people to spend more time with the systems than with with exhibits. When managers and curators report their observations in exhibitions they talk about visitors reading labels and looking at the screens of digital systems for considerable time whilst spending considerably less, sometimes no, time with the works of art hung along the gallery wall.

Research conducted over the past 20 or 30 years confirms the observations by these managers and curators about the distracting impact of information sources in museums. Together with recent research in the learning and cognitive science also suggests that if one wishes to enhance people’s experience of and learning in exhibition that there is not a need for more or more complex information sources and system but for information delivered in a way that encourages social interaction and discussion between people. Quasi-experimental studies and naturalistic, video-based studies of visitors’ interaction in museums suggests that it is not only the design of systems, i.e. the small screens and interfaces that undermine social interaction but also the content and the structure of the content delivered by labels and electronic systems. What would be required are naturalistic experiments with label content and the content of audio-guides that through questions, references to exhibit features and maybe game-like activities that involve more than one visitor in concerted and collaborative forms of looking, examination and experience.

If anybody has seen examples like this, please let me know.

Relevant Literature

Heath, vom Lehn. (2004) Configuring Reception. Theory, Culture and Society Vol21(6): 43-65

Heath, Luff, vom Lehn, Hindmarsh, Cleverly. (2002) Crafting Participation. Visual Communication. Vol1(1): 1-33

Hindmarsh, Heath, vom Lehn, Cleverly. (2002) Creating Assemblies in Public Environment. CSCW Journal Vol.14(1): 1-41

Leinhardt, Crowley, Knutson 2002. Learning Conversations in Museums. Routledge

vom Lehn, Heath 2005. Accounting for Technology in Museums. International Journal of Arts Management Vol7(3): 11-21

This week Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum in London, made a strong case for the use of technology to enhance visitors’ experience of museums. In his article published in London’s Evening Standard Highfield writes

“When used wisely, computers and interactives have a role in showing our visitors that science is more than just a collection of cold, hard facts, arcane theorems and grey metal boxes. With a little digital magic, all these facets can now all sparkle. This is important for all museums, for London and for the nation’s high-tech industry. We never seem to have enough scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The same goes for designers and the creative industry and, yes, classicists too. Museums need to use all the tools at their disposal to inspire the next generation.”

I could not agree more. Luckily, these days there are plenty of excellent examples of technology in museums that intrigues visitors, allows them to see science, art and design in novel ways, and maybe not at last, attracts people to look at museum objects who without technology would find them boring, uninteresting and maybe also inaccessible. In these cases, technology is an invaluable tool that facilitates and enhances access. Moreover, as Highfield points out in his article technology can make visible aspects of science, art and design that otherwise could not be shown. Examples for such phenomena are miniscule molecular processes processes or the ways in which old objects like the famous washstand by William Burges in the Victoria & Albert Museum would have been used by its owners.

The effectiveness of these technologies in museums has variously been shown. A Special Issue of  Curator: the Museum Journal (2004) elaborated some of the opportunities offered by technology and interactivity in museums, highlighting that technology can facilitate new forms of engagement and learning occurring in museums. Robert West however also pointed at the potential costs of interactivity in museums. Aside from momentary costs West also points to the danger that technology when broken or difficult to use can spoil the museum experience for visitors and that some people for various reasons are intimidated by technology in exhibitions.

This latter point is echoed in a recent research paper by Susie Scott and colleagues that has recently been published in the journal Symbolic Interaction. In their paper “Goffman in the Gallery” the authors elaborate on the emergence of situational shyness at interactive exhibits and explicate ways in which visitors cope with their uncertainty of using an exhibit or hesitation to approach it because they fear they might find themselves in an embarrassing situation unable to use the technology. Amongst other points that Scott and colleagues’ paper makes it suggests that one solution that people find to overcome “situational shyness” is to learn from others. People observe others and use their actions as “replacement scripts”.

The importance of mutual observability in museums for people’s exploration and sense making in museums has been a topic since the inception of the modern museum. Tony Bennett in his well-known “The Birth of the Museum” as well as Norman Trondsen in a paper from the 1970s “Social Control in the Art Museum” have highlighted how the design and layout of museums facilitates mutual observation that allows people to learn @proper conduct@ from observing others, and in turn people behave ‘properly’ because they are aware that they might be observed in their actions in museums.

Robin Meisner has taken this argument one step further by explicating how visitors embellish their actions at exhibits. Their interaction with exhibits becomes a performance that invites others to become an audience. The result are shared experiences at exhibits, that on occasion surprise even those who have designed the exhibits. Meisner’s research has a range of other papers that have been published over the past decade or so highlight the importance of social interaction in museums. People enjoy museums as places for sociality and sociability. They visit them with friends and family and meet other people who are there at the same time.

When social interaction is so important for museum visiting it is rather surprising that we still find so much technology in museums that encourages individuals’ engagement whilst not supporting and sometimes undermining social interaction. Examples for studies highlighting the difficulties that visitors find in interweaving the interaction with technology and the interaction with other people. The trouble is as we have shown in our research that design of misconceives interactivity as facilitating interaction. Examples for technologies that often create interactional difficulties between visitors of museums are conventional touch-screen exhibits and interactive guides like PDAs and mobile phones that prioritise the interaction of an individual with the technology over the collaboration between visitors.

Highfield suggests in his article to use technology “wisely” when deploying systems and devices in museums. So far we know relatively little about what “wise” technology design for museums looks like. However, it is clear that it needs to take into account that museum visiting is a social occasion. Designers of systems and novel exhibitions therefore might need to rethink interactivity and develop assemblies and configurations of objects and artefacts that allow people to embed (some of their) their features within their social interaction. Collaborations between museum experts and technology companies, like the one that led to the recent exhibition of Chromeweblab at the Science Museum, have proven quite successful.

It however might be worthwhile thinking about the inclusion of social scientists in such developments who might help to focus on social and interactional configurations emerging at and around technology on the exhibition floor. Moreover, natural laboratories on the exhibition floor, similar to those the Exploratorium in San Francisco uses, might be a worthwhile investment for museums to enable experiments with new configurations of technology and people in exhibitions.

A couple of years ago I visited Laurel Riek at the computer-lab in Cambridge. Laurel introduced me to some of the stunning humanoid robots she was experimenting with. One application for those robots, she said, could be homes for the elderly or homes where people live on their own; those robots could keep these ‘singles’ company.

At a recent meeting of the Digital Sociology Study Group (British Sociological Association) I met Ciara Garattini (@LifeDeathTech) who runs a blog called Life, Death and Technology. On the blog you’ll find a curious collection of items from a link to a photography collection by David Lynch to a notes on a Seminar on Death at Columbia University.

chen

The item that drew my interest was an art installation by Dan Chen, “A Robot that Comforts you at Death’. Like the robots I encountered at the lab in Cambridge this robot is designed to replace human intimacy with technology. Although Chen said he had no plan to commercialise the robot the deployment of these kinds of technologies seems attractive.

Related work has been undertaken in robotics, where for example, Kobayashi and colleagues (2011) developed robots “that provide assisted care, such as serving tea to the elderly in care facilities. They (2011) also experimented with a robotic wheelchair that automatically moves alongside the caregiver. The motivation for the development of such a device is to facilitate easy communication between the person sitting in the wheelchair and the caregiver. At the same time, the caregiver who now can walk alongside the moving wheelchair is not so much seen as the person caring for the wheelchair user but as someone who is with the wheelchair user.

The development of technologies like the robotic wheelchair demonstrates a growing concern in robotics and human-computer interaction to develop technologies that facilitate and support social interaction between people. Another example for technologies designed to enhance cooperation and interaction can be found in museums. For long, technology designers have focused on enhancing the experience of exhibits for the individual viewer or spectator; examples for such ‘individualising’ technologies are audio-guides and PDAs as well as many touch-screen systems. Fairly recently however, technologies have been deployed and experimented with in museums that facilitate cooperation, interaction and discussion. At the Tate Britain the exhibition of Constables landscape paintings was augmented by a large-scale projection that allowed multiple visitors to real the X-Ray image underneath one of the paintings and discover features that Constable had hidden by painting them over with bushes and treas.

In a very way, and this brings us back to the use of robots in museums, Yamazaki and colleagues (2009) deployed a robot in a major art museum in Japan. The robot was designed to draw visitors attention to particular features of a painting and encourage them to examine those features. The robot thereby monitored visitors’ responses to the information it was giving and produce subsequent actions in alignment with the actions of the visitors.

We therefore see two parallel development that might be worthwhile observing over the coming years as they might dovetail as robotics and human-computer interaction take further notice of sociological research of the organisation of interaction: first, there is the development of robots, robotic devices and other interfaces that facilitate interaction of individuals with technology. And second, there are developments that attempt to situate technologies like robots, gesture interface, and the like within social situations. These novel systems and devices are designed with particular care to fit in emerging social interaction, rather than interrupting it.

Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies

 

Special Issue: ‘Researching audiences in digital mediated and interactive experiences’

Part of the AHRC Funded Project http://affectiveexperiences.com/

Co-editors:

Irida Ntalla (Schools of Arts, Cultural Policy and Management, City University)

& Dirk vom Lehn (Department of Management, King’s College London)

Participations is the online Journal devoted to the broad field of audience and reception studies, and has been running for ten years now, to be found at www.participations.org.  It aims to bring into dialogue work and debate across all fields involved in examining all areas of media and culture.  Participations has pioneered a system of open refereeing for all contributions, designed to encourage open, critical debate among researchers.  This has been widely welcomed by contributors to the Journal.

Call for Papers

New media technologies and digital mediated environments bring histories and events close to audiences by offering a wide range of resources that provide them with opportunities for social, cognitive and emotional participation and engagement. At the heart of the development of new media technologies is “interactivity”, a characteristic ascribed to objects and systems that engage people in ways that go beyond traditional feedback procedures. These technologies facilitate sustained engagement and participation, allow for the communication of information and multimedia content, and often encourage people to produce and curate digital content.

Such interactive technologies and environments have become a familiar feature of many cultural institutions, such as in museums, galleries and science centers. Interactive exhibits, immersive installations, digital interactives, virtual games and online platforms engage cultural audiences in new ways and at the same time challenge the concept of the audience per se and their experiences; for example, they invite visitors not only to view and examine curated content but increasingly involve visitors in the production and curation of it to create personal museum collections, user generated content, etc.

These technological developments therefore challenge the relationship of audiences with artists, curators, museums and heritage sites’ professionals, educationalists as well as exhibition and interactive designers. Their effectiveness as tool for interpreting and representing exhibits and as educational technology is often argued for but also ever so often challenged and criticized. Evaluations of new media technologies in cultural institutions arrive at contradictory findings, some arguing for their ability to increase people’s engagement and participation with content and exhibits whilst others warn that they distract from the original objects and disturb the sacred relationship between visitor and object, user and content. Indeed, research suggests that at times these technologies become the reason for people’s frustration and disorientation in online and physical environments.

This Special Issue will contribute to these discussions about the increasingly complex technological mediation of the relationship between social practices, cultural institutions, their cultural offerings and their audiences. The issue aims to add to debates in a range of disciplines such as audience and visitor studies, marketing, digital humanities, interactive design as well as museum studies and practices. The co-editors invite submissions of papers that investigate the relationships between audience, cultural institutions and content and the ways in which these relationships are being influenced by the increasing pervasiveness of new media technologies. We particularly welcome critical considerations of the concept of the audience and the user as well as of interactivity in cultural institutions and encourage the submission of short articles and reports that reflect professional and practical experience of technology deployed and used in exhibitions.

Amongst others, we hope the contributions will address questions like:

  • what are the issues of interactivity in relation to participation and engagement for online and offline audiences?
  • how does interactivity and interactive technologies in these settings influence the experience of visitors, audiences or users?
  • which are the elements that constitute and influence these experiences?
  • how are interactive technologies used to represent and interpret information, histories and narratives in cultural institutions?
  • what is the relationship of academic research on audiences, interactive media and professional practices?
  • how does a researcher capture interactive audience experiences? Which are the research methods used in the various disciplines?
  • what does “effectiveness” mean for different stakeholders in cultural institutions, and what are suitable research methods to evaluate, assess or measure the “effectiveness” of technology deployed to interpret cultural objects and enhance people’s experience and learning from these objects?
  • how different users such as specialised audience utilise online material, information and personalised collections?

The Special Issue will be constituted of research papers, theoretical and methodological investigations as well as of relevant reviews, short articles and reports by cultural institutions’ professionals, designers and consultants.

 

Deadlines

Paper Submission: 1st November 2013

Acceptance Notice: 19th December 2013

Final Submission: 21st March 2014

Final Publication: End of May 2014

Submission Guidelines

http://www.participations.org/submission_guidelines.htm

Please submit your papers to:

Dirk.vom_lehn@kcl.ac.uk

Irida.Ntalla.1@city.ac.uk

Over the past few weeks an article by Nick Bilton in the New York Times has raised not only eyebrows but also concerns that the journalist may have gone a little far with his argument to abandon commonly accepted and taken for granted ‘rules of conduct’ and courtesy rituals when using technology. Bilton’s article has received more than 500 comments to some of which he has curteously responded and various journalists, writers and academics, including Nick Carr and Evan Selinger, have written pieces addressing some of the issues raised in his piece. Many of the comments and associated pieces call into question Bilton’s main argument that common forms of etiquette are inefficient and a waste of our time.

The debate reflects a growing uneasiness and uncertainty on the “proper” or “acceptable” use of technology in social occasions. In her film Connected Tiffany Shlain recalls a situation with a friend she had not seen for a long time when the urge to check her phone for new messages was so overwhelming that she apologized herself to the toilet just to update herself on the going-ons elsewhere in the world.

The situation Shlain describes is symptomatic for the uneasiness in the use of technology when in social situations. Whilst in some situations it is acceptable to occasionally glance at the phone in others it is not or it is not clear whether or not it is acceptable. A solution to deal with the situation then is to use techniques or methods like ‘an apology from the table’ and temporarily leave the situation. Thus, the sociability and intimacy of the situation is left intact whilst it becomes possible to use the phone away from the table. The deployment of these techniques also reveals that the leave taking from the table is an accountable action and that not all accounts will do as a satisfying explanation for leaving the table. For example, going to the toilet is acceptable whilst saying you want to check your Facebook Wall for updates in press less so.

In other situations, people unproblematically use their phones while with another person. For example, it is quite common for people sitting at a coffee table to pick up the phone and receive or make calls. Over time methods have been developed that allow people to use a cell phone in these situations. For example, when a cell phone rings at a coffee table where two friends converse the call-taker apologies her/himself while picking up the phone and taking the call. The friend then becomes a third-party to the phone conversation and often provides the call-taker privacy by excusing her/himself (e.g. to the toilet) or by engaging in other activities, such as checking her/his own phone, picking up a newspaper or book, or by looking in the distance  (Humphreys 2005). This does not mean, of course that the friend might not feel undermined or undervalued in the situation, in particular when the phone keeps on ringing and interrupting the face-to-face interaction. Hence, in such situations we sometimes decide to switch the phone off and eliminate this influence from the face encounter.

By and large, people nowadays are familiar with the ubiquitiousness of technology. They employ methods that allow them to use technology and at the same time to limit or sanction its use, depending on situational circumstances. They also create situations that are marked by new rules, such as the  “no phones at the dinner table” rule or the “techno shabbath” that ban technology from situations for longer periods. Arguments about the use of  technologies in situations arise relatively rarely and mostly with those who are not familiar with or not adhering to these rules and social conventions.1 For example, children like Evan Selinger’s daughter are being socialized into the use of technology and its fitting within different social contexts.

With regard to email that has been around for considerable time now and that features particularly prominently in Bilton’s NYT piece social conventions have been developed and are deployed on a day-to-day basis. As with the use of other technologies, such as cell phones, mobile game consoles etc., these conventions and rules are not fixed and followed but contingently drawn on and referred to when the acceptability of their use is questioned or challenged. I would presume that Bilton’s efficiency rule with regard to courtesy conduct in email has long been deployed, in certain situations when time was tight. Such conduct that uses efficiency as an account for the withholding of an act of courtesy however also can be detrimental to the very purpose of its accomplishment, e.g. the withholding of a “thank you” in receipt of an email. Most of us probably have encountered situations when the withholding of a simple “thank you” note in response to an email has occasioned an exchange by email or over the phone to confirm the receipt of an email; a “thank you” note in response to the original email would have been much more efficient than its withholding.

How we conduct ourselves and how we refer to and draw on social conventions or etiquettes comes down to the specifics of the situation in which we find ourselves when using technology and to our competencies to conduct ourselves in specific circumstances. The artificial general abandoning of courtesy action by virtue of some kind of rule set by the Biltons of this world would be non-sensical; and Nick Bilton would probably agree with this. Instead, we all gradually adapt our acquired social competencies to the pervasiveness of technology in situations, thereby embedding technology within our lives and those we live with. And as parents we are responsible for providing our children with the knowledge and skills that allow them to act and be seen as acting, competently in technology-rich situations.

——-

Footnotes

1 With regard to social conventions in “Technolosocial Situations” see also Mizuko Ito‘s research and Tricia Wang‘s work.