One of my fondest memories as a child growing up in Fremantle is going to visit the WA Maritime Museum. It is full of historical artefacts, trinkets and displays, and covers a huge variety of topics from important in maritime history, stories from those who worked on the sea, oceanic explorations, to even just general information about ocean life.
If I close my eyes to reflect on my memories there, I can recall many intricate and in-depth displays, and hoards of written information and labels on display around the museum. But it’s not just the visual elements that I can remember, it’s also the sounds. Many of the displays incorporated various forms of digital media in an effort to immerse visitors. Simple things like the roaring sound of giant waves crashing and rolling around in a storm had a significant impact on the kind of atmosphere that was created when observing a section of the museum dedicated to the dangerous life of sailors. I wasn’t just reading a plaque and looking at a boat, I was suddenly caught up in the excitement and terror of what it’s like to be a sailor on the high seas, stuck in a terrifying situation.
The way a museum engages its visitors can have a large influence on how much interest it can maintain in people, and how much information they will retain. ‘Engagement’ in a museum context to me, is about the immersiveness and level of interactivity that can be enjoyed. There needs to be an adequate combination of knowledge and interactivity, and I think that interactivity can help to support and solidify the knowledge that is being presented.
The future of the typical visitor will likely be one that has a vast digital and technological understanding of the world. With this in mind, I think that in order to maintain the interest and engagement of future visitors, then the use of digital media and technology needs to be recognised and addressed. Museums all over the world have already ‘updated’ the way they cater to the visitor; it is not uncommon for the availability of audio guides, short films, interactive computers and digital photo albums. But is there more than can be done? How can these ideas change as technology advances?