The future is bright, the future is a-social

Ancient Greek sculptures from the Parthenon at the British Museum
Parthenon Galleries, British Museum copyright Andrew Dunn via Wikimedia Commons

It is more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic started and the whole world is still trying to get to grips with the new reality. Many industries and sectors have been adversely affected as a result of national lockdowns employed to control the virus.

The heritage sector has seen not escaped these adverse effects. Museum and gallery closures, restrictions in visitor numbers, the introduction of approved visitor routes in buildings, and required pre-bookings are some of the new realities we all have to face. While we are all waiting for a return to some kind of normality, it is a good time to examine what technological methods could be employed to better address these new realities.

Social distancing is one of the new realities and here technology can offer a good solution in the form of an a-social app. An a-social app is based on a reverse use of Location-Based Services (LBS). Instead of offering services to gather people together, they operate in an “asocial” or “anti-social” way, allowing users to avoid meeting other people. Examples of such apps are Cloak and Split [Baker] and HOBBIT [Posti et al.]. Asocial apps operate in the same way as social LBS apps do, with the difference being that once Wi-Fi signals other than the user’s are detected, they transmit warnings to the user of the existence of others in the vicinity and can thus be used to avoid people. Of course in a museum or gallery environment, it is not possible to avoid people altogether; they can be used though to show the density of signals in any particular area, with the effect that visitors are directed to other, less crowded parts of the site.

Looking past the apparent social distancing benefits of such apps there are many other benefits: improving visitor experience; giving visitors control of the route they follow; occupying time that would otherwise be spent waiting in a long queue; showcasing different parts of the site; diverting visitors to less busy parts of the site, etc. The public’s familiarity with apps makes them easy to use. The development costs could be shared amongst heritage organisations which could create uniformity in use and improve popularity. Once the app has been downloaded at the British Museum, for example, it could also work for Tate Modern or the National Gallery. In the post-Covid era, such an app could be very useful in busy museums, where crowd density indication would redirect visitors to less crowded parts of the museum, returning to popular exhibits at a more convenient time.

The future is bright the future is a-social.

Sources

Baker Natasha https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apps-antisocial/new-apps-help-people-avoid-unwanted-encounters-idUSBREA2U13120140331

Posti Maaret, Schoening Johannes, and Häkkilä Jonna DOI: 10.1145/2598510.2598592

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