I attened this session and took some notes and added some commentary. Robin was the chair of the discussion, but let the authors/presenters do nearly all the talking.
The first presentation was by Kate Haley, an associate at the Institute for Learning Innovation. Her paper is Cell phones and Exhibitions 2.0: Moving beyond the Pilot State which goes over some findings from a study of Art on Call. In her talk, Haley outlined some of the reasons for choosing phones in museums:
- Removes the cost of infrastructure
And some of the things we use phones for:
- Information seeking
- social utility
- fashion and status
- mobility and accessibility
Haley talked a lot about the barriers to cell phone use in museums. Some of those barriers include:
- Unaware the service was offered
- aware of the service, but unaware of how to use it
- Thought it was pre-paid or cost money
- Assumed cell phone use was prohibited
- Wondered if there was a fee
- not interested in learning more at the moment
- Didn’t find it appealing in a museum context
She also discussed the stages of adoption and how they relate to cell phone use in museums: innovators, early adopters, late adopters, laggards, etc. Haley discussed how this relates to the stages of technological adoption that typically apply to consumer based products, also apply to cell phone use in museums.
The more interesting barrier, Haley says, is the dichotomy of public and private space and cell phone use. People feel like a conversation on a phone is a private thing, yet mobile phones are often used in public spaces. To rectify this, people often change their body language and behavior to stake out public space. They’ll do the following things:
- Close their body position
- Turn their back on others
- Lean forward
- Duck their head
- Staking out space
We’ve seen a similar disconnect in the Walker with Art on Call. While participation by listening to artist and curator commentary is good, visitor participation by leaving comments is low. A gallery is a very public space: it’s open, usually with minimal sound deadening, normally quiet, and lots of other people and security around. Certainly not the intimate space that people typically look for when having a private conversation.
In order to increase usage of cell phone audio tours Haley suggests:
- We need better signage
- We need to acknowledge how people traditionally use their phones and what stage of adoption they’re in. Not everyone is an early adopter
- Acknowledge cultural and contextual differences
- Understand cultural norms on phones and public spaces
The next speaker was Nancy Proctor, from Antenna Audio, presented When In Roam: Visitor Response To Phone Tour Pilots In The US And Europe.
Phone tours are more common in the US than Europe for some of the following reasons:
- Poor reception in many older historic buildings in Europe
- Higher percentages of foreign visitors in Europe
- Higher cost for cell phone usage in museums, many Europeans have pay as you go plans and many Americans have unlimited minutes
- Concern about camera phones in museums
- Concern about social use of phones in museum
Antenna Audio did a comparison of cell phone tours vs. podcasts vs. “traditional audio” tours during the Drawing Restraint show at SFMOMA last fall. For comparison, Proctor showed the podcast version of the tour, which featured background music, high quality audio and an image stream that went along with the presentation. It was presented on her computer through iTunes and sounded and looked pretty good. Then she presented the same tour using the cell phone tour, which didn’t feature the background music or the image stream. Of course, it wasn’t as immersive, but the main kernel of content was still there.
Some conclusions Proctor drew was that the more media the visitor consumes, the more they enjoy the exhibition. The immersive “traditional audio tour” provides this. Cell phone users on the other hand, use a more à la carte approach, consequentially not consuming as much media. The implication is that due to the less immersive experience, visitors do not learn as much. Proctor called the a la carte approach “the google” way of finding out more. The insight seems valuable, but I think we must also consider that not every visitor wants to have everything dictated to them. Art should still leave room for interpretation, after all. Some traditional audio tours can contribute to the herd mentality, where you’re lead on a strict path through an exhibition and can be far from enjoyable.
To Consider: One must be aware of possible bias in Proctor’s study. Proctor works for Antenna Audio, who happens to be a purveyor of “traditional audio tours”. Cell phone audio tours, to a certain extent, threaten Antenna’s business model. Antenna has an interest in limiting the growth of cell phone audio tours. Nancy’s findings seem to have a slant towards showing traditional audio tours as more beneficial to visitor learning. Then again, we at the Walker are prime purveyors of cell phone audio tours and have an interest in encouraging other museums to use cell phone tours.
- One commenter noted that the phone is not an interface device, people plan on using a phone for having a conversation, not using it as an interface device. People aren’t prepared to use their phone as an interface device. Haley responded that this is changing. We need to prepare people to use their phone as an interface device, and the social context for this may change over time. Haley also noted that Americans perceive a phone as a tool to make a call whereas much of the rest of the world uses phones primarily as a txt-ing device.
- One commenter suggested that cell phones can’t reach children, as they do not have cell phones. Traditional audio tour devices can be used by the family at the same time. So it can foster family learning.
- Another person questioned the relationship of google-style a la carte learning to the story-telling traditional audio tour approach. Proctor suggests that the more media that we consume, the more we will learn. The comprehensive approach from the traditional tour is more immersive. Haley and Proctor both agreed that there isn’t much data here, though, so it’s hard to know, and learning is hard very hard to measure.
- Another commenter suggested the while cell phone tours aren’t high on audio quality, they can be much more responsive to visitor needs. Cell phone content can be updated very easily. Proctor suggested that audio tours can be updated just as easily (but every device has to be reloaded!).
- Another question was about the subject matter of the exhibition and how it related to take-up of audio tours and cell phone tours. Proctor responded that audio tours tend to be used by frequent visitors, and people who know enough to know they want to learn more.
- The next commenter suggested an that comparing cell phone audio tours to traditional audio tours is an unfair comparison. Cell phone tour content needs to be edited differently, developed differently for each platform model.
I posed the final comment, regarding Near Field Communication, which is the phone technology that may some day allow us to buy a coke from a vending machine with a mobile phone. Yesterday Arstechnica commented on a report by ABI Research about this technology:
NFC technology is what is used to make “contactless payment” for a variety of different services. “Making payments, unlocking doors, downloading content, even setting up wireless networks and many other applications, can all be enabled from an NFC handset,” said ABI analyst Jonathan Collins. “NFC in mobile phones promises a quicker and easier way to execute a host of key tasks by just waving the phone.”
Clearly, there are some possibilities for cell phone tours in museums as well. The ability to simply wave a phone in front of a piece of work and get audio, possibly other types of media, about the work would be extremely valuable as a learning tool. Could museums develop this technology as it emerges, it has the possibility to further evolve the usefulness and accessibility of cell phone audio tours.