Mobile devices are by far the most utilized and most convenient means of transferring ideas and gathering information. Most people today have one and most people who do are proficient in using the technology. Because of this, mobile technology can be a terrific partner to a historical organization or mission. It allows museum authorities to meet audiences where they’re comfortable and to convey information in ways which are easily searched and consumed. Our authors this week address the many ways in which historic organizations can use mobile technology to educate and engage their audiences.
Matthew Durington’s New App City discusses the Chongno Alleys app which offers an interpretive tour of Chongo, Seoul. This app is designed by the city government for a Korean audience, and is, in fact, only offered in Korean. Additionally, Chongno Alleys is an interesting digital tool because of the way it interacts with meat space. Chongno Alleys uses geolocation to bring a user around Chongno, offering destination suggestions and interpretation based on where a user is physically located. It allows a visitor or resident to move through the world and gain new understanding not based on where they could go but based on where they have gone and are now. As a traveler walks through the spaces, Chongno Alleys destinations are marked as “visited;” the completionists among us will be prompted to see more of Chongno.
Leon, Brennan, and Lester also write about the application of mobile apps in public history. Mobile for Museums reimagines mobile phones not as a tour guide itself but as a useful aid to using a historical location. Omeka apps, mobile sites, and use of native mobile apps are all user-friendly platforms with a lot of potential for interpreting sites, objects, and events at a site or museum. The authors in 2009 imagined that audiences could select items in the museum ahead of time about which they wanted more information, then sending the information to their phones, then going to the museum to see the object with more context. This view of mobile phones is about as adorable as the act of printing emails, which is to say it shows its age. An audience today is more likely to use their phone for research as they would have, until recently, used their audio guides; they will look things up when they have questions. I have never before reading this 9-year-old article heard of anyone with an Omeka app, but I’ve known and seen a lot of people who have been glad that a museum has information about their collections online and willing to use their phones as audio guides if such interpretation exists.
Medium, written by John Russick, makes many similar points about accessibility and space as do the other articles. What Russick adds is a refute of the fear that with phones and mobile media, nobody will visit museums and nobody will want to see real collections. He argues that mobile media in no way detracts from the experience of seeing original artefacts and can even work as a sort of interpretive hype man—once people know something about what they could see they’ll be more eager to go and see it. Mobile media makes it easier to tell stories and to reach a wider audience and ultimately easier to connect people to spaces.
Finally, Mark Tebeau’s Listening to the City; Oral History and Place in the Digital Era ties last week’s readings with the themes of this week. One place mobile history tends to lag is in its use in oral history. Tebeau writes that most of special interpretation of history takes place by sight, but that there’s a great deal of potential to interpret history by the sounds of the voices and stories of those who lived the history of the geolocative spaces. Use of oral histories to anchor a person to a greater understanding of a location is a beautiful idea with incredible immersive possibility. It’s the sort of project I would personally enjoy consuming.
Altogether, these articles link story to space in a way which would be impossible without the ability to carry knowledge. These projects are all intrinsically linked to a person’s ability and willingness to move through space, and far from making objects obsolete these platforms make historical interpretation more accessible to a wider audience. I leave you with a few final questions;
- To what extent do you think location aids in the telling of stories; what do mobile devices do that a home computer can not?
- Some of these articles are a little dated; in what ways would you give some of their ideas a little nudge into the modern day?
- Given the opportunity to make a project specifically for mobile, what would you interpret and how would you interpret?