Social Technolgies in Museums w/o the Technology

I think it is an important and inevitable fact that musuems will need to enter what our text calls the “Groundswell.” Post-modern, post-colonial, and revisionist (and post-revisionist) theories in academia that call for a re-evaluation of truth and scholarship are affecting and will continue to affect the way museums as educational institutions do things. I think new web-based technologies will facillitate this paradigm shift.

But I’ve been pondering today how museums can build off of these new technologies and ways of thinking and use them for improving visitor experience for those for whom the web does not exist within their realm of conciousness or interest. In my limited museum experience, I have found a population of older people who cannot or do not want to engage in newer technological forms. There were different levels within this population, from completely computer illiterate to those that could use it, but chose not to. How can museums use the principles espoused by 2.0 technologies to reach this population of non-web participants in the bastion of traditional museum practices: the physical exhibit?

I think our experiments started to address this type of 2.0-minded, phyiscal experience, but from our conversations they seemed to be very programmatic versus being spawned by the exhibit construction/design itself. This could totally be because of time/planning/facillities restraints, but I’m wondering if its something more than that, if its even possible to create that type of an experience without a monitor/moderator inside the exhibit.

I think the biggest problem I’m having is that I’m not sure what this would look like if it were intentionally built into an exhibit. Would it be a table, courtroom, tv studio, type place where the social cues in the environmental setting promoted discourse. Web-based experiences have the advantage of a pre-set environment, where people know they are going to a blog and that conversations are welcomed there. Physical exhibits have don’t have that same history. If I was in a history museum and created a courtroom area and had instructions telling visitors to debate a specific issue (women’s suffrage for example) how could I create this experience without what the type of “bs” question cues, or encourage people to even engage with the object without having a person standing there modelling the behaviour?

One of the great things about utilizing web-based social technologies is that they are inexpensive and often free. This seems to be a barrier to including these types of experiences in physical spaces, either imbedding expensive electronics to mimic a web-based experience or hiring staff to promote/facillitate/maintain(!) activities. Are there low cost ways of converting these theories into physical experiences?

I guess my real question is, has anyone seen a really good example of 2.0 principles put into action in a physical exhibit space? How can we make it happen in a usable, relevant and low-cost fashion?

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