Is Accessibilty Everything?

Does technology designed to help people understand and enjoy museums actually ruin the experience? Photo Credit: "Museum of Science and Industry" © 2012 Michael Kappel, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

The debate: Does technology in museums that’s designed to engage actually ruin the experience? Photo Credit: “Museum of Science and Industry” © 2012 Michael Kappel, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

I’m old enough to sympathize with and enjoy the somewhat grumpy premise of this piece by Wendy Earle about how technology designed to help people understand and enjoy museums is actually ruining the experience.

But when it comes down to it, I can’t buy it. Museums full of “dingy display cabinets … displayed with very few labels” may appeal to a purist or an expert or a super enthusiast, but not to a broader group.

Some people would say that’s fine, and I don’t really have an argument with that. If you want to have a museum for the purist/expert/enthusiast crowd, go for it. Not being one of those, I probably won’t be there, but you won’t miss me much.

I was at the Met in New York a few weeks ago, and my friend and TEDxBroadway 2014 speaker Sree Srinivasan strongly suggested that I check out a Korean artifacts exhibit, so I did. In one part, there were some stones and other items from a buried temple. Cool, for sure, but the short video about the construction and purpose of the temple, including an absolutely killer animation that showed how this massive thing was put together with beautiful parts and then buried in the hillside, just blew me away. Everything I saw after that had much more meaning.

So I suppose it’s less about which-side-are-you-on than how-is-it-done. Sometimes the purists are right (and I don’t mean “purists” pejoratively), and sometimes they need to lighten up.

In fact, I’d say this is a perfect example of the kind of issue where it makes the most sense NOT to have a theoretical opinion, only practical ones. In the age-old struggle between access and excellence, there’s no need to pick a side.

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