Thursday, July 4, 2024

A Google Search is NOT Exhibit Development

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

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

The Web is a great purveyor of information. Still, 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 AI applied to exhibition development 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. These are perfect examples of the axiom that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

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

Ummm ... I could do that Google search myself! How about providing nuanced advice or expertise if you're an advisor or exhibit team expert? Otherwise, why bother having exhibition advisors in the first place?

2) 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, a museum administrator claimed we couldn't use a particular item in an exhibit demonstration because "Google says it's dangerous."  Even though I produced the correct references and 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 or AI query) 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, design, or activities is just plain silly.

3) 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?

Let us know in the Comments section below!

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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