Talk About This

Talk About This

They’re onto us. They’ve heard our story and they believe it. But they’re not going to let us off easy. Audio and video technology has moved beyond mere background material or supporting evidence—it’s part of the conversation. Rather than simply dazzling spectators, it’s now expected to hold its own in a dialogue.

Media coverage on the grand reopening of the Oakland Museum of California last month heralded the new audiovisual and interactive elements of the renovated galleries, and the technological components of the space ranked high among critics’ considerations on whether the museum was successful in engaging the public. On this occasion, however, the excitement was less about the glistening technology than it was centered on the experience it provoked among museum visitors.

Museums offer a particularly effective laboratory for the seamless integration of the technological with the experiential. In these spaces, like few others, technology is the jumping-off point for a conversation. In a portrait gallery at the Oakland Museum, visitors are encouraged to create a computer sketch of their face, and the image is saved and displayed in constant rotation on a framed video monitor hanging among the paintings. The visitor becomes the exhibit, and one can imagine the interaction this promotes in the gallery. Seeing a fellow patron’s face on the wall invites conversation, and being part of the exhibit prompts engagement.

The quiet thrill of seeing oneself on screen—whether on the video scoreboard at a sports stadium or on a security monitor at the corner deli—hasn’t grown old. While we may privately cringe at the way we look in a videoconference or on the IMAG screen, somehow when we are placed in the immediate context of technology, a unique form of validation occurs. Video plays witness to our ever-changing persona in a way that is still rare even in this mediasaturated age.

Harnessing this energy and garnering the greatest effect by adding technology to an environment is not a matter of simply setting the top spinning and forgetting it. The dialogue has to continue. Somehow the leap has to be made from merely staring at a screen to shifting our eyes to the other people in the room and seeking their thoughts on a matter.

As we prepare to attend Info- Comm 2010 in Las Vegas, maybe the question that should be foremost in our mind is not “What did you see?” but “What did you talk about?” This is an industry founded by those who see a piece of technology and immediately wonder how it might solve a problem or answer a need. Let’s continue that conversation at the show.

—Kirsten Nelson