Natural history and news

Last weekend I had the chance to visit a museum that I had never visited and another that I hadn’t visited in a few years. As I was walking through each exhibition in these museums, I paid attention to the ways in which digital technology was being used. For this post, I’m going to discuss my experience with the in-gallery technology in the Newseum and the National Museum of Natural History. The aspects of technology from these museums that I enjoyed the most were those that allowed visitors to add their voices to an exhibition and those that provided an interactive experience relating to the narrative of the exhibition.

I hadn’t been to the Museum of Natural History in almost two years and my last visit was on a day that I had happened to visit a few other museums as well, so my recollection of this museum was limited to the exhibitions on mammals and ocean life. This time when I visited, I explored the exhibition on human origins. I enjoyed the way that visitors were able to add their voice to this exhibition. It was unfortunately a small kiosk almost hidden away in a corner, but visitors were able to answer the question of what it means to be human. I found it interesting looking through other visitors’ answers and how different they could be depending on what aspect of life they chose to emphasize. Some thought that the ability to make music defined being human, while others answered with the ability to feel a large range of emotion.

My favorite use of digital technology in this exhibition was the photo booth in which your face can be morphed to look like one of an early human. It was definitely the most popular use of digital technology in the exhibition, with a constant line to do the activity. You get to choose the early human that you want to look like and then when you see the end result, there is also information about that early human next to your picture.

When I got home from the museum, I looked at the Museum of Natural History’s website to see if there was a page about the exhibit and there is. I was pleased to find that there is an interactive timeline, digital collection, and you can even answer the question of what it means to be human, just like you could at the kiosk in the exhibition. I love that the website not only reinforces the information provided in the exhibition, but allows users to see even more content about the subject.

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Now moving on to the Newseum, a museum that I had heard a lot about, but never had the chance to see until last weekend. The museum is huge and I didn’t have much time, but I absolutely fell in love with it and I can’t wait to visit again to see all of the things I missed. There is digital technology everywhere in the museum between videos and interactives that completely enhance the experience. I loved that most of the videos of significant length had places to sit and enjoy them. Usually when I visit museums with my family or friends, they who don’t necessarily want to stand around and wait while I watch a documentary style video that I find interesting, so it was nice that I could enjoy the videos and the people I was with could sit down a relax instead of pressuring me into moving along.

Like the kiosk in the exhibition in the Museum of Natural History, the Newseum also had digital technologies that allowed visitors to include their voice in an exhibition. The 9/11 exhibition was extremely moving in itself with the wall of newspaper headlines, the huge piece of the North Tower, and the objects and video about a man’s final photographs that caught the horrific event. The exhibit also had a place for visitors to write their experience regarding 9/11, which then gets projected behind the piece of the North Tower. I think allowing visitors to share their stories about a recent tragedy is a great touch to the exhibit, especially since most visitors remember the day vividly.

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The wall of headlines and the piece of the North Tower with a visitor’s experience projected behind it.

Of course one of the most popular and exiting digital technologies that the museum uses is in the Interactive Newsroom. The room allows visitors to take a picture in front of a background that makes them look like a news reporter or even step in front of the camera and feel the experience of reading from a teleprompter. After recording a story, the clip can then be played on a screen for everyone in the room to see. I did not test out my reporting skills, but I stayed in the room awhile watching people of all ages enjoy the experience. If visitors start their visit on the top floor and work their way down like I did, the Interactive Newsroom comes toward the end, letting you learn about the history of journalism and then getting to try your hand at it.

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I might not have tried being a reporter, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture in front of the newsroom background!

I love going to a museum and discovering how they incorporate digital technology into different exhibitions because it’s different at every one. Two museums might have technologies that allow visitors to voice their opinions, but they could be handled in completely different ways like reading the results on a kiosk in the Museum of Natural History or seeing them projected on the wall like at the Newseum. I loved how neither of these museums overused technology or made the entire experience reliant on technology, but used it to enhance the experience.

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