Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Google Ruining Your Exhibit Development Process?

First off, let me state that I really like Google --- I've even been to the Googleplex.

But Google has a real tendency to erode exhibit research and let some museum folks think that a Web-infused short cut is a substitute for the tricky work of actually understanding and connecting ideas together.

The Web is a great purveyor of information, but bits and bursts of information do not necessarily equal knowledge --- the type of deep understanding of a subject that leads to compelling stories and exhibitions. (This is also why many "digital panaceas" like QR codes applied in exhibitions are often so trivial, but that's for a future posting ...) 

Recently I've been bumping up against three types of Google abusers during the exhibit development process that are perfect examples of the axiom that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

The Google "Expert" This first googly-eyed abuser is really someone who should know better, because they are often an expert in their respective field.  I've worked on several science-related exhibits recently where content experts on the exhibition team just send links or URLS (or just cut-and-paste sections of web pages) as responses to specific questions about scientific content.

Ummm ... I could do that Google search myself! (In cases like this, I've been sorely tempted to send back a link from this website) If you're an advisor or exhibit team expert, how about actually providing some nuanced advice or expertise --- otherwise why bother having exhibition advisors in the first place?

But Google says ...  The second miscreant always does a quick Google search of a particular exhibit content topic or material, and if the first (or first few) Google "hits" somehow differ from the direction the exhibition is heading, they'll pipe up with, "But Google says .." whether they actually have the foggiest notion of what's actually being considered.

Recently, I had a museum administrator claim we couldn't use a particular item in an exhibit demonstration because "Google says it's dangerous."  Despite the fact that I produced the correct references and even material safety data sheets, that particular idea was dropped from the exhibit programming.

Here's a news flash --- the top results in a Google search (or Wikipedia entry) can often be misleading, if not completely incorrect. Web searches are a place to start, but to set Google as the ultimate arbiter of exhibition content or design or activities is just plain silly.

The Google "Quick Draw Artist"  This last item is as much an etiquette issue as an exhibit development one.  Namely, people whipping out their screen-based devices to poke and search on even in the middle of a conversation.  Checking email and taking "Google potshots" during exhibit team meetings or discussions, is just plain rude.  If we're taking the time to schedule an in-person meeting, can't we just turn off the screens for a bit?

What do you think?  Is Google gumming up your exhibit development process, or can it "do no evil"?

Let us know in the Comments section below.

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