The digital age, a time where complex math can be solved through your phone’s assistant, chess can be played with opponents in different time zones and a plethora of information is quite literally at our fingertips. With unlimited possibilities, our attention is spread as thin as the mobile devices we’re glued to. The sheer amount of media we surf can struggle to encapsulate us and hold our attention, forming a crisis of engagement. Museums in the modern day are subject to this same fate.
When considering ‘engagement in museums’ I think of experiences I had as a child, going back (a few years) to school field trips, the National History Museum in London or the Millennium Dome when it first opened – both hugely immersive experiences which captured imagination alongside creativity, inspired learning and most importantly, seized the attention of its participants. Rich with interactive experiences, the accumulation of knowledge was almost osmosis-like through a combination of discovery and reflection.
According to Black (2012, p.1-8), present-day museums are faced with a variety of obstacles, each testing their survival, transformations and rebirth within the digital age. Including, the impact of new technologies (specifically the World Wide Web), demographic and generational changes, financial uncertainties, widespread misunderstanding surrounding the reason behind museums, as well as an overall decline in both traditional and new audiences. Understanding these prove critical to the life of any museum, established or otherwise.
Leadbeater (cited in Black 2012, p. 6) discusses the importance of an overlapping ‘mix of three different experiences’ to engage users within cultural experiences such as museums, including to enjoy, talk and do. Relating a recent experience to Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre, curated by Dr Adam Brown (who may be privy to such information), we were engaged through an enjoyable guided tour of the museum, which although a linear experience, was interactive, engaging and driven with multimedia StoryPods and various visual immersive digital media screens and activities. We were immersed with a talk from a Holocaust survivor, an incredible first-hand insight into Mr German’s experiences, furthermore, we talked to peers in various group activities and discussions, finally finishing our day doing a challenge based activity in groups. Overall an incredibly engaging cultural experience and despite being a University field trip, judging by a Twitter poll almost half of those in attendance would never have set foot inside.
Museums focussing on adopting digital media within their exhibitions are looking to engage their audiences in new and dynamic ways. The Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Museum adopted the StoryPod, explained below:
After first-hand experience with StoryPods, the quality of the content is certainly engaging and quite astounding, although definitely a solo learning venture within the shared museum experience. The immersive content browsed at the leisure of the participant is almost as real as holding and examining actual photographs and articles.
As with any technology, the digital media used in museums ages quickly and can be expensive, furthermore, entire exhibitions can be disrupted by maintenance or technical issues. As discussed in Brown (Brown 2014, p. 28) unsettling tensions arise when considering the portrayal, testimony and experiences of matters such as the Holocaust presented within the realm of digital media, although sadly soon first-hand experiences won’t be available.
Black, G 2012, Transforming Museums in the Twenty-First Century, Milton Park, Abington and New York, pp. 1-12.
BROWN, A, & WATERHOUSE-WATSON, D 2014, ‘The Future of the Past: Digital Media in Holocaust Museums’, Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture & History, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 1.