This video illustrates that if you hold constant the institutional context (in this case a contemporary museum), and the information presented (in this case the curatorial information); and you only vary the technological interface, you can reveal the Structures of Participation around the differing interfaces—same info, same context, but very different experience. Because of the tight coupling, it can be very difficult to make sense of what is actually changing as we change our socio-technical system.
In the first case (a) the traditional public display of text on museum wall, which, because of the social convention of quiet-while-some-one-is-reading, you can be standing next to someone, but not talk to them and never hear anything of what they are thinking. Secondly, the technological shift we have all witnessed in contemporary museums as the curatorial information is presented as an audio tour, as a privatized audio environment via headset (or similar). This has the effect of synchronizing people temporally, but precludes local discussion--you can't hear what anyone nearby is saying. In the third case the curatorial information is presented via a deliberately triggered (pull) small located speaker (the Located Sound Speaker or LSSn). This creates a shared audio context for a small group, momentarily synchronizing people spatially and temporally, and providing an opportunity for local comments and discussion.
In the Video Interaction study* from which this animation is drawn, the amount of convivial interaction surrounding the LSSn speakers was remarkable. If there were other people at an exhibition you were vey unlikely not to talk to them (3 in 400 cases); you stayed longer at a works with LSSn than the same work without, but the length of time you allocated varied with the number of people who were also there. That is, you stayed longer if there were 4 people other people than if there were 1, as if they were valuable sources of information.
Describing and revealing the Structures of Participation in socio-technical systems design, allows us deliberately structure participation—if we want to. Do we want systems and interfaces that deliver authoritative information and promote atomized private experiences; or do we want interfaces that promote local and social interpretation of authoritative information? Do we want museums to continue in the tradition of hushed cathedrals of culture, and transcendental works, drawn from times when the patronage of the church promotes reverence to authoritative words? Or as contemporary work has become more political and diverse, do we want to hear more voices? What kind of public museums do we want? What kind of public spaces? What kinds of participation do we want in a participatory democracy?
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