The ubiquity of social media in most people’s lives is evident. No matter what your level of engagement with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other myriad platforms for you to connect with others in the digital realm, you can see the impact this type of communication has had on our everyday lives. People are checking their phones, using their tablets, and silently communicating with one another constantly. It may seem passive, a way to pass the time or casually glimpse into the lives of others, but the truth is that social media is a huge part of most people’s day-to-day life. While it may seem like a novel space for everyone and their mother to share the events in their life (interesting and banal), it can be used to engage with people and share what is going on inside and behind-the-scenes at the museum. It may even attract new visitors! Museums have always been—or at least thought of themselves as such—places for contemplative thought and meaningful learning, but they can also engage visitors this new way. The reach of social media extends far beyond the museum’s walls, so it must be worthwhile, right?
Instead of meeting in the classroom this week, we visited the American Museum of Natural History. Before arriving, I downloaded two apps: Explorer and MicroRangers. These are only two of nine apps produced by the museum and intended to be used onsite during one’s visit. Upon entering the museum, we were all given a Communicator Coin that would allow us to use the MicroRangers app in the within certain areas in the museum. This coin acts as a platform for different characters to appear in Augmented Reality (AR) when looking at your smartphone’s screen. There are different narratives, games, and missions within this app that require to the visitor to move around in the galleries and visit different parts of the museum. The Explorer app is designed to act as a personal tour guide or allow visitors to discover the museum in a new way.
The museum has become the default home for art and objects of cultural significance in the modern world. While the convenience of being able to see the greatest treasures from around the globe and artistic endeavors in one building are wonderful, we sometimes forget that they are often token examples of their culture and place. André Malraux (1901-1976) first described the musée imaginaire – ‘the imaginary museum’ or ‘the museum without walls’ – as the ideal place to learn about culture and history. The physical museum is a great place to start building the imaginary museum, but we need to fill out the collections to further develop our understanding of the world. Creating opportunities for and promoting digital experiences outside of the museum is one way to embrace Malraux idea.