Sunday, February 12, 2012

Touch my hand

How do institutions attempt to make contact with the public in a world that is already full of jaded consumers? Here is one case:

A smiling woman in a low cut red dress beckons you closer. After she has gotten your attention, she then invites you to touch her hand...

Tantalising though the offer might seem, the woman is virtual, beckoning in four directions at once from a "kube" information kiosk at Bergamo airport in Italy. Sensors on each side of the "kube" turn on the introduction sequence when someone passes by. After hand touching, the woman on the video touch screen starts describing the tourist wonders of the Lombardy region in northern Italy, inviting her new found friend to search through a database of concerts, museums, interesting events, restaurants and hotels. Her kiosk can even print out receipts in Italian, English or Russian.

Does the woman in red get people's attention? No, not if my 15 minutes of observation at the airport yesterday represents the norm. During that period, I was the only person among hundreds of passers-by who actually stopped and touched the woman's hand in order to be allowed to go further in using the kiosk. Does this imply that people are already jaded by such extroverted exhibits - that act in the same manner as street sellers or fairground hawkers?

Or maybe some bystanders had already been enticed to touch her hand, but then went away disappointed. In my own browsing through the kiosk, technological aspects appeared to function well. However, I quickly became frustrated when discovering a lack of database information about cultural events. Searches on concerts, theatre and other activities came up blank, and the list of museums in the region was quite spotty. The kiosk was installed a year ago. Could it be that the owners haven't updated it since then?

While institutions might spend fortunes on developing new computer-human interactives, their work is doomed to failure if they decline to add content to make these installations actually useful.

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