Last Wednesday I visited the MFA’s Hippie Chic exhibit with my fiance. The exhibit features a collection of “hippie” fashion from the 1960s and 70s. One piece of technology, a jukebox, caught my attention. It was the sole interactive, placed at the exhibit entrance. A confused crowd congregated around it. No music came from the ancient machine. While this was certainly not “new” technology, it was a memorable media moment worth mentioning. I would argue that this media is so old, it was new again for many of the visitors.
To see a jukebox in a museum was a fresh and original experience. It has been years since I’ve seen one anywhere, but I’ve never found one operating in a museum before. I suspect the goal of adding this technology was to create an ambiance For visitors old enough to remember, it incited a sense of nostalgia. For younger visitors, it immersed them in the past through touch and sound. Many teens who had never used a jukebox before lined up and experimented with pressing buttons to try to make the machine work. The music of Jimi Hendrix filled the gallery, creating an atmosphere that complimented the collection. However, this experience was still unsuccessful and inaccessible for several reasons.
One reason is that it competed with the objects on display. A common pitfall of exhibit design is adding technology for technology’s sake. Paul Orselli put it eloquently when he said “too often the siren song of technology becomes louder than the voice of the exhibit content itself”. If I had not been waiting in anticipation of my song coming on, I would not have spent as much time in the exhibit. The text panels were not engaging and there were no other interactives in the entire exhibit.
Another reason this media moment was unsuccessful was that few visitors could operate the machine. For younger generations instructions would have been helpful. The area around the jukbox became very congested because it took a long time for some visitors to figure out how to make a song selection. When they finally did make a selection, they were upset that their song didn’t come on immediately and complained to staff that it was broken. Generations accustomed to the instant gratification of an ipod playlist did not expect that they would have to wait through everyone else’s previous selections to hear their song. Finally, the machine was actually broken when we arrived, and it took a while before staff members noticed and fixed it.
This media moment could have been executed more successfully if instructions were provided, and it wasn’t the sole interactive in the gallery. Improvement could be made by including ways for visitors to interact with the collection more. For example, text labels could have been written in a more conversational tone to encourage the reader to look more closely at the object. Other types of media could have been used to create interactives focused on hippie fashion. For example, an app where visitors get to design their own hippie fashion. This would have been a more successful use of technology because it would have helped visitors connect with the object. If other opportunisties for interaction had been provided then the jukebox wouldn’t steal the spotlight. However, the technology they chose competed with the rest of the exhibit, and seemed like a last minute attempt to make the exhibit interactive.
Orselli, Paul. “Good Things Come in Small Packages” Paul Orselli Workshops (POW!). http://www.orselli.net/small_article.pdf