Human Interaction With Audio Tour Guides

As technologies and their capabilities continue to be further developed every day, it is important to observe the ways in which they become integrated with existing forms of and institutions for different types of information. Museums are among the institutions that preserve information and provide the public with access to it, whether art, history, culture, etc.. According to Bates, information can be thought of as, “an objectively existing phenomenon in the universe, which is also constructed, stored, and acted upon by living beings in countless different subjective ways, each way distinctive to the individual animal having the experience” (Bates, 2006). Audio tour guides have been utilized in these spaces for a long time, serving to both provide information, and maintain the integrity of a silent shared space. However, the information that typically makes up the contents of audio tours follows the museum in a single direction, providing all consumers with the same information in the same progression. I see this as an opportunity to use UX design to improve upon an existing way in which information is transmitted in these spaces, and to make museum goer’s experiences more customized to their interests with the use of more specified user interface design and AI technologies.  

To gain more of an understanding of other people’s experiences with audio tours, I conducted an interview with an avid museum goer, Suzanne. Suzanne, who loves consuming information about art and history in many different forms, explained to me that the main issues she has with following audio tours are: a.) an abundance of information, not all of which is interesting b.) a predetermined path through the museum space c.) a pre established pacing based on the length it takes to transfer the predetermined information. From her experience, her critiques can be broken down into dissatisfaction with the current “affordances” of the existing technology into issues of content, use of and transmission through space, and time (Sengers, 2000). For Suzanne, the perfect audio tour would be one in which she could autonomously control where in the museum she would like to be, which pieces she would like to hear information about, and the duration spent at each piece. This idealized vision is similar to what Senger calls the “AI Dream”, or the hope that, with the use of artificial intelligence, technology will be able to take on some human characteristics and make things much more enjoyable and personalized for the consumer, learning what they like and dislike through continuous use and data collection (Senger, 2000). However, when applying Bates’ definition of information as “some pattern of organization of matter and energy given meaning by a living being (or a component thereof)”, how does this conception allow for the “semiosis”, or linking of different components of information, with AI and other technologies that also take on life like characteristics (Bates, 2006)? It is a question for which the answer unfolds as these technologies are applied in real time. 

            For this reason, it is important to look at Yvonne Rogers’ detailed work in theoretical approaches to Human- Computer Interaction. Rogers highlights the fact that many people who are at the forefront of developing technologies, although they are aware of and wish to apply certain theories, often are competing with the race to be the next innovation, and do not always have the ability to develop a technology completely theoretically before it is demanded on the market (Rogers, 2004). Rogers concludes her in depth account of theories with a call for those developing technologies, particularly user interface design, to discuss and research which theories to apply and why. By doing such work, Rogers hopes a more universal language for developers will be created in order to be able to use and integrate these ideas into technology as it is being developed, instead of conceptualizing the effects after users are already engaging with it. After a theoretical framework is established, different decisions can be made to expand and refine the affordances of technologies in relation to what users need and want from said technologies (Rogers, 2004). I believe this is pivotal in order to create user interface designs that are useful and specified to the desires of the user. It is through interviews, like with Suzanne, that developers on all levels of technology can get a better understanding of what people want, where technology can improve, and inspiration for where new technologies should be aiming. In order to more fully develop how audio tours could be improved and what consumers are looking for, it would be very useful to conduct more interviews in museum spaces and work to create a version that takes into consideration all variables that are considered important, and make an audio experience that is catered specifically to each individual user. I hope to be able to continue exploring theoretical approaches to human computer interaction. 

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