07 November 2009

I just returned from a ten day trip to New York and San Francisco. One of the highlights was being able to visit the Cooper Hewitt and see the Design USA: Contemporary Innovation and Design for a Living World exhibitions.

During this experience, while visiting Jonathan Ives' work for Apple, I overheard these two women bantering about the problems they were having with their interactive tool: the iTouch program designed by 2x4 that would help them to interact with the exhibit.

In her thick New York accent, Marge calls out,"Blanche! It's not working! It's broken."

Notably, their frustrations were not quiet musings in the corner. With headphones on, they were talking quite loudly in the midst of a large group of museum-goers. One women, who was just as unfamiliar with the iTouch, attempted to assist. I walked over, seeing the irritation on other people's faces, and attempted to offer my two bits. I tried to demonstrate how the interface worked (at one point, the screen was completely black) and eventually saw them move along with some measure of ease.

There are multiple layers to this experience: from human to environmental to technological. Did it matter that these women were seemingly disruptive? Should the museum be quiet? Or is interactivity meant to be a bit disruptive? How else could interactivity create conversations with people? Was this disruption actually a way to connect the human quality of the museum experience? Did the technology that was intended to assist create a profitable distraction? Could it be more communal and less individual?

As you can imagine, the list of questions could go on.

I don't know these women so I didn't want to intrude on their museum experience anymore than I already had. But I would be curious talk with the "Marge's and Blanche's" to uncover their ideas about an "interactive museum experience" to see what might have surfaced. Maybe they would have suggested improvements to the current and familiar system or maybe their ideas could push it in a new direction that wasn't expected?

Ironically, after this trip to New York, I headed over to California to participate in the ACM Creativity and Cognition conference. The Berkeley Art Museum hosted a diverse group of individuals who were focused on creativity research. The final keynote was Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, who is best known for his work on creativity and flow. During the 3 days of conferencing, I also heard from a group at Queen Mary University of London who are looking into democratizing technology for marginalized communities. Specifically, they have worked with elderly individuals who often find themselves outside of the "third wave." The presentation revealed their research and demonstrated the power in accessing the voices of those who are least connected with technology. It would seem someone is talking to the Marge's and Blanche's of this world - and inviting them to participate in the process.

No comments: