There’s definitely a murmur (in some circles, a roar) of criticism about whether it’s a good thing to encourage mobile use and social media integration in our museums and culturals.
Personally, I don’t really get it… but that may be because I am a girl who uses twitter to take notes and genuinely believes Instagram is art. It’s fun to check in at a museum (or store, or airport, or bar). I like posting goofy pictures of me and my friends and tagging them. When I see something or read something cool or interesting, I want to share it.
That said, there have been a few times where I (gasp!) can see validity in the concern.
For example, mobile use can arguably distance a person from an object or experience. It can (on occasion, and despite many positive and engaging social benefits) create walls and boundaries instead of bridges. While tempting to post an example of today’s youth, I’ll instead make it more personal. While at a museum recently, I spent a good 3 minutes trying to get a WiFi signal so I could access a video through a QR code. In that 3 minutes, I completely disengaged from the group I was with and stood there, for all intents and purposes quite paralyzed, until I could connect. In that 3 minutes, my friends moved on, saw some really incredible art, and started some really interesting conversations.
So what’s the solution? (Better WiFi in museums?! Yes, although that’s not where I’m going with this…)
Is there a way for those of us, increasing in number by the day, who want to stay connected online to do so without disengaging offline?
Trendwatching.com, started following the “OFF=ON” trend as far back as 2008. We’ve seen in online symbols turned into real-life objects, traditional products that incorporate online components, and marketing campaigns infused with online jargon. More recently it’s been emerging in ways that could have really fantastic applications in museums and culturals… particularly with RFID.
RFID (radio frequency identification) isn’t a particularly new technology, but it *is* a particularly cool one when it comes to connecting our online and offline worlds. RFID means a visitor can simply swipe a card (or any RFID chipped object) at a favorite exhibit, painting, historic building (whatever!) and automatically show what they like in the real world as a “like” on their Facebook. It means visitors equipped with RFID wristbands could scan in at fun photo ops around your site and automatically upload their pictures to social media.
Not only do these online/offline crossovers allow online updates without much more than a pause, they potentially provide valuable analytics and instant brand (or, in our case, museum) ambassadors. Great examples are coming out of amusement parks, like Luna Park in Sydney, Australia. But museums haven’t been far behind. In fact, the Exploratorium was years ahead of the curve, using RFID in its eXspot card. The eXspot may have been a tad premature in the grand scheme of all things tech. They were onto something quite cool… but before the rise of social media and the online sharing we see today.
Can’t pony up the costs of RFID? What about turning it around and leveraging your online following to help decide offline exhibits, events, or programming? Bacardi did just that with their ‘Like It Live, Like It Together’ events. Flipping the process is a great way to acknowledge and reward your already-loyal friends and fans. (A great museumy example of this is the Month at the Museum project, about to enter its second year, at MSI.)
In our instant-access, social media fixated, ever-connected world, how do you bring YOUR offline online– and vice verse?
Are museums and culturals places to encourage or discourage the merging and blending of online and offline? Can you do both?
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