It defied expectations. Younger adults are supposed to be in love with technology, right? It is practically the air they breathe.
Yet our data showed something completely different.
At outdoor history museums (OHM), people under thirty were the least likely to want the sites interpreted utilizing technology. People over seventy were the most likely to seek out technology. In fact, people over seventy were 4.5 times more likely to prefer audio tours over young adults under thirty.
We were surprised, and we thought it might be a fluke, simply because we were talking about technology in historic settings. Perhaps the dissonance was putting people off.
then we asked the same question in our study of Connecticut Cultural Consumers,
which included Core Visitors to a variety of museums, and we found the same
thing. Take a look at the results from both studies, below:
Take a look at the results from both studies, below:
How can this be?
We believe a few things are going on here. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not a single age group is that enthused with technology in the museum. But we should also note that we have not asked this question in science museums exclusively, and if we did we suspect that technology would be more accepted in that setting than in history, art, and children’s museums.
So why do older respondents embrace technology more enthusiastically than younger respondents? We believe there are two reasons. First, older respondents are more likely to report difficulty hearing speakers and guides, while audio tours typically have clear-spoken narrators, the audio is directed in the ear, and the volume can be controlled. Similarly, narrators in video productions are also clear speakers, and closed captioning assists those with hearing difficulties as well.
Second, we are picking up signs that sometimes young adults, who are plugged in for so much of their lives, need a break from technology, and museums can provide that break. Young parents are seeking to get their children away from screens and in more active play at children’s museums or in an educational (and fun) environment at other types of museums.
this mean doing away with technology in a museum? Not necessarily. Sometimes technology is a fantastic tool for
learning and engagement (such as the fantastic
dining table in the European Decorative Arts galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts – I am in
absolute raptures over it). Yet our
audiences are telling us that, overall, they want museums to be doing what they
do best: sharing real and authentic experiences through objects, art, science, and nature. And most museums do not have to rely heavily
on the latest technology to do that.
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