Mobile Media and Interpretation

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?

4 Replies to “Mobile Media and Interpretation”

  1. To what extent do you think location aids in the telling of stories; what do mobile devices do that a home computer can not?

    Location is a key factor in storytelling, even beyond serving as the “where” of the story being told. Being present in the location of the story being told as it is being told presents the listener/visitor with a much deeper connection. The connection a person can make by being present creates an emotional attachment that cannot be measured in any conceivable way, but it remains an important pull. In this way a home computer fails: it can present this information and show you something, but the sensory experience is missing. A picture is vastly different than a true emersion experience.

    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?

    You’re right in that many of these sources are dated, yet it is difficult to find any major changes that could be made to their findings. However, it is not too hard to find slight improvements that could assist in their transfer to the modern day. Durington’s discussion of the Chongno Alleys app is poignant, yet to merely have a “visited” section is outdated in today’s age of interactive geolocation apps. Creating interactive spaces within the city may prove to make the app even more useful and popular. Mobile for Museums outlines ways in which museums have since updated their interactive experiences, with many creating apps that provide further information and even having specific self-directed tours you can take from your phone. I’d be interested to see the data on the number of users who would agree with Russick’s refuting the claim that mobile media will lower the number of visitors to museums- if such a study existed. This information in an era where this is in fact the situation could prove very useful to future museum professionals.

  2. I think you used an apt description by describing mobile platforms as a hype-man for museums. The experience museums offer, have always offered, and probably will continue to offer in the future, is the materiality of history. There are “the real thing” that people can see and sometimes touch. We reference Presence of the Past so much in other classes, but people in that study ranked museums among the most trustworthy sites for gaining historical knowledge, because they find objects to hold an intrinsic truth. Museums could put their entire collections online in as an accessible manner as possible, but that would not take away from what is perceived as a museum’s greatest asset – really getting to see stuff. Or things.

  3. To what extent do you think location aids in the telling of stories; what do mobile devices do that a home computer can not?

    I think locations greatly aid in the telling of stories. Looking at the Chicago app and the Chongno Alleys app as examples, both of these apps require the location of the user to recieve the full benefits of the apps, whether it is connecting the collections of the Chicago Museum to the user’s specific location or learning about places within the speicfic neighborhood in South Korea. I think mobile devices greatly aid in the ability of users to move around and actually use these apps, especially since home computers are tied to the home. These new apps and the ability for these app users to actually explore and utilize these apps to learn are due to the ability to use mobile devices.

  4. You’ve synthesized the readings this week accurately, and draw some interesting questions for discussion. As far as the extent that location aids in the telling of stories, I think it isn’t a necessary component, but it helps to contextualize the story being told. When the reader/historian is able to physically place themselves in the space where stories or histories occurred, a level of understanding and immersion is created that is missing from reading manuscripts or researching on a home computer.

    I agree with your analysis that mobile devices make historical interpretations more accessible, and even more enjoyable for a general audience. Now that everyone has a mobile device capable of these programs, it is easier for an educator to involve their students in learning and makes history much more accessible and easy to follow for someone who would not go out of their way themselves to learn the histories. And as you mentioned, some of these pieces are dated, but I think that the idea of using mobile media will only grow with the constant evolution of technology and ease in which the public use these platforms.

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