March 28, 2010

iPods, MP3’s, and museum guides

As part of the Cooper Hewitt's exhibit on contemporary design (Design USA), a guide is avilable on an iPod touch. Designed by 2x4, it's a cool way to learn more about the work but, like a digital coffee table book, it functions more as a complement to the exhibit rather than a true guide, which makes it all the more disappointing that you can't take it home (or at least download the app from the store). After pausing in front of various pieces to look them up on the iPod, I gave up trying to marry the two and settled into a spot in the atrium where I could relax and look through the pieces on the iPod independent of their physical presences in the museum.

All the same, I was happy to see audio guides distributed on an mp3 device. A few years ago I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei. A computer was set up in the lobby to let visitors download audio guides onto their mp3 players. I was glad for the opportunity not only to access the guide on a device I already owned, but also for the opportunity to take it home.

I've long wished that more museums would follow suit, even going so far as to offer dowloads on their websites. Often, I find that I don't necessarily want to listen to the audio guide while I'm experiencing the art, but would like to listen to it afterwards, after I've internalized what I have seen.

I still find myself listening to the guide I downloaded in Taiwan on the odd occasion. And I would love to have a copy of the audio guide offered by the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, if only to hear the way it introduces the bronzes. And how much fun would it be to be able to listen to Roger Moore narrate a visit to the Forbidden City from your own city?

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