Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Phones in Museums

Oh, Bette Midler, I know your heart was in a good place with that tweet. For those who have other things to do besides read through hundreds of internet comments, then the scoop is this: Actress and singer Bette Midler, our beloved Hocus Pocus star, tweeted a picture of three tweens on their phones at an art museum. The caption read, “What’s wrong with this picture?” 

The point she is trying to make is many-fold, and there’s no denying that it is a generational judgement call. Younger generations are widely considered obsessive when it comes to technology, particularly when it comes to being on our phones. Honestly, for a lot of us Millennials and Gen Z’s, this tweet is reminiscent of a high school teacher yelling at the class to put their phones away. I think that trauma is why so many people got up in arms about it last week.

Several comments noted that museums have interactive apps that educate visitors about art pieces. Or those young people could be googling their own searches about the artists. Or, like we all do, they are just simply taking a mental break and checking their messages. Nothing is inherently wrong with the picture. People learn in a myriad of ways, and phones are engaging tools that everyone has, so it comes at no extra cost to the museum. Phones should be out to enjoy as we please—though keep the flash off when taking a picture (which I still forget to check, and sometimes accidently do, and it’s far more embarrassing than it needs to be). 

The Louvre has an app that gives close up looks details and information about some of their art. The British Museum has a similar app that also provides audio commentary and tours. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence has an app with virtual tours. The MoMA’s app provides visual descriptions for visitors with sight impairments. The Smithsonian has a myriad of apps to engage with in museums and in the natural world to learn more about our surroundings.

Please leave a comment about what your opinion is about phones in museums. Also, if you know of an app that I did not mention, please note it.

Games, games, games…

by editor Phillippa Pitts

Games have been on my mind a lot this week. I know a lot of people who spend their incredible brainpower building games for museums, like Kellian Adams Pletcher with Murder at the Met, or Susan Edward with the Getty’s Switch (which I admire for its incredible simplicity!). I’ve even built a few games myself with SCVNGR. Nevertheless, I tend to approach gamification from a skeptical starting point.

This week, two new games crossed my desk that couldn’t be more different from each other: History Hero and Papers, Please.

History Heros, Courtesy of HistoryHeros.com

History Heros, Courtesy of HistoryHeros.com

“Papers Please,” courtesy of Slate

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Food for Thought: Should Museums Accession lolcats?

Go and read Suse Cairns‘s fascinating exploration of native digital objects and art, and how museums can think about them and deal with them. Bonus interview with Tom Woolley, New Media Curator at the UK National Media Museum. (He’s responsible for a Life Online gallery that has a constant video of memes on it. If that’s not a cool job, I don’t know what is.)

Drinking About Museums @ the Museum of Science

Do you like learning about museums? Do you like talking about tech prototypes and new ways to interpret exhibits? Do you like the Boston Museum of Science? Do you like hanging out with clever museum people?

Then come to the monthly Drinking About Museums event tomorrow, May 10, at the Museum of Science.

More details here.

PS – If you don’t like the Museum of Science, then we’re no longer friends.

Designing an Exhibit: The First Ladies

The Smithsonian has more resources than most of us can dream of, but what really impresses me is the way in which they put their resources to work. Their blogs are fantastic. They mix in stories from interns, volunteers, donors, curators, registrars, and many other staff members to present the whole story of an institution devoted to making the world a better, more-educated place.

Case in point: this post about the evolution of design in the First Ladies exhibit, one of the most popular at the National Museum of American History. Look at those old-style cases!

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