Telematics: A Critique of Two Projects

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, the “Voices of Liberty” installation showcases not physical objects or artifacts of the past but the stories and testimonials of Holocaust survivors, refugees, and people who made the U.S. their new home. Equipped with a headset and an iPod touch, the visitor can travel at his or her own pace to nine universal themes designated by circles with communal seating.

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Once a person has entered a zone, a story relating to a particular theme plays on their iPod with a picture of the person appearing on the screen. Photo Credit: Voices of Liberty website

The setup of the room directs the visitors’ attention to a view of the New York Harbor, Statute of Liberty, and Ellis Island: the same place many of the stories took place.

In the “Keeping History” section of the exhibit, the visitor has the choice to contribute their own personal story or share the journeys of their ancestors arriving to the U.S on a computer kiosk. To make it all-inclusive, visitors are also invited to reflect on their experience of listening to other peoples’ stories. In conjunction with this installation in New York, people can go online to contribute their stories.  With everyone’s contributions, this creates a collective database of everyone’s stories stretching decades of time and multiple generations.  By adding an online component, people can communicate their personal stories with each other and “do not need to be in the same place at the same time” to add to the museum’s collection of journeys to the United States (Ascott, 2001, p341).

In 2008, the Exploratorium in San Francisco sent their museum scientists to China to set up a live-feed of a solar eclipse. Visitors were encouraged to stay at the museum to watch the feed, enjoy the provided entertainment, and learn more about a solar eclipse. Also, the Exploratorium broadcasted the live-feed of the solar eclipse with educational information from China to an online audience through a webcast.

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Thousands of people watched the eclipse either in person, online, or at the museum all at the same time. People could share their experiences with pictures through the museum’s Flickr page or post written responses on another webpage. Just like in the “Voices of Liberty” exhibition, people did not need to be in the same location or even in the same time zone to share their experience.

Through the use of technology, people were able to share their experiences collectively in their respective location. The Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Exploratorium acted as facilitators to connect people with a reinvented “social bond (Levy, 2001, p. 372).” The Museum of Jewish Heritage setup the room purposefully to look out at a particular location, allowed people to share stories either on-site or online, and inspired people with meaningful, personal stories. The Exploratorium invited people to share the moment of a solar eclipse in San Francisco, created a webpage for anyone to watch the live-feed, and encouraged people to tell their story through pictures and personal posts online.

Through the utilization of telematics, people shared moments of awe and amazement while watching a solar eclipse at the same time. People shared similar stories of their journey to the U.S. and connected with others.  For example, one of the common feelings in the testimonials is loneliness. This public forum could bring comfort and solace by reading other people’s similar stories and connecting to how others felt in a similar situation. Roy Ascott (2001) reinforces this by stating that a person can have a “more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the production of global vision through networked interactions with other minds, …other sensing and thinking systems across the planet (p. 340).” With today’s technology, we do not have to feel alone because of the use of telematics and this “global vision” can make us feel closer than ever to each other. Meaningful and all-inclusive projects and exhibitions can connect people from remote locations and facilitate a dialogue through digital outlets to allow everyone a chance to contribute and make his or her experiences matter.

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