12 Mar 2019

THE VIRTUAL MUSEUM: INTRODUCING ICT IN MUSEUMS AND COLLECTIONS THROUGH DIGITAL STORYTELLING

Telling stories is wedded to human nature, since the beginning of our civilization. The basic elements remain the same until today: the story, the plot, the oral communication, the triggering of the imagination; it requires and creates at the same time engaging with the audience. What changes is the way of telling a story

Digital storytelling allows many of the elements of traditional storytelling to be integrated and to address different learning styles. This is especially true in the case of Interactive Digital Storytelling, which combines participation, as occurs in computer games, with automatic story generation and narration, and has evolved in two main directions: plot based and character-based approaches. Plot-based approaches are primarily concerned with the narrative structure, much as it is in more traditional storytelling media. In character based approaches, the storyline usually results from the real-time interaction between virtual autonomous agents and the user.

Museums are in fact storytellers, as they have been the natural setting for experimenting with storytelling approaches. Until the first half of the 20th century, however, storytelling was implicit, mainly related to the objects’ historical context, and therefore only accessible to experts. The transformation of the museological practices during the second half of the 20th century (the so-called New Museology) has transformed exhibitions, which now present different points of view (mainly related to the social and cultural context); are based on other arrangements (e.g. thematic); and include different tools for different audience sectors to build their own interpretations or even share authorship with the museum

In recent years, museums have realized that the static traditional way of exhibits presentation needs to be significantly transformed by adding creativity elements and ideas, in order to encourage interactivity and improve visitors’ engagement. The use of digital storytelling can fulfil those requirements, especially when it is constructed in a similar way to a fully scripted, theatrical production. Authors are able to create a multi-dimensional narrative with the use of digital tools such as hyperlinks, text, images, videos, motions and sounds.

There is no well-defined conceptualization for the virtual museum: online museum, electronic museum, hyper museum, digital museum, cyber museum, web museum, among others, are the many possible names for the virtual museum. Regardless of the nomenclature, this is a database made digitally available over the internet and can be distinguished in three main variants, with focus on content, communication and collaboration, that can also be fully connected with the museum’s own museographic tools. The museum’s web site provides not only information support, but also contents generated by visitors through posted photos and videos, wikis and discussions, blogs, microblogs, collective subtitles, social bookmarking, tagging, integration and sharing of information via social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,  Pinterest, among others. Actually, there is a trend toward a preference, by users, of interactive, and not only passive, virtual relations. The user, therefore, actively influences the construction of museum knowledge, structuring a new paradigm for the museum-visitor relationship. The museum’s presence on the internet, in our days, may represent its very subsistence, since the lack of virtual communication may result in invisibility to many potential visitors. Over the last two decades, the boom of web sites and social media associated with museums raised the question of whether those virtual spaces will, one day, take the place of the physical museum. It has been debated, actually, since the early days of photography. It is believed that the virtual museum will never eliminate the longing for a physical matter that is present in all of us. On the contrary, from virtuality, it can foretaste the knowledge of reality, and thus have a greater longing for a broader knowledge of it.  Virtuality may, ultimately, work as a bridge toward reality or its amplification.

As an example of amplification of real-life experience, it can highlight the Google Art Project, which made available virtual tours to many artworks in museums around the world, with the possibility of unusual approaches. That tool allows the detailed observation, even more than in a real-life visit, of the painting’s surface, creating the possibility of technical and esthetical studies that would not be possible only with the direct observation of the work in the museum.

Interactive Technologies in Museums

After a huge renovation, at the end of 2014, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum reopened with new digital installations to enhance the public’s experience. Several multi-touch high definition tables were used as a medium to communicate, interactively, the Museum themes, in which visitors can explore pieces of the collection –

Collection Browser area, learn about the history and architectural details of the building – Mansion History and understand the relationship between donors and objects in the collection.  It is possible to note that allowing the socialization during the visit was a core aspect of the Museum intentions since the tables have various dimensions and the largest ones are described as to allow up to six visitors to interact with them, at the same time.

At the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, visitors can interact with The Memory Pool, a multi-touch interface where information emerge on the surface of a table, as objects floating in a pool full of water, showing photographs of people in their daily lives before the Holocaust, like socializing with friends, playing sports, going to school, celebrating weddings, etc. When an image is touched, the information regarding this moment is load and visitors could get to know more about that moment. On the other hand, if there is no interaction with some of the pictures, the images fade away, representing the loss of these memories

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