Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

There's an App for That

Of course there is.  Whatever "it" tends to be, in this case, there's an app for it.  There's an app for everything these days.

This was what was going through my mind one rainy day at work earlier this year while I huddled over my semi-functional computer, working on data for the zoo's new app.  Specifically, I was sorting through the dozens of species we have on display and writing fact sheets for them.  I spent a lot of time on Arkive and a lot of time pirating info off of other zoo's websites and, I'm not too proud to admit, a little time on Wikipedia.

I had to work with our education team and development staff to try and decide what species we were going to work on, how much information we were going to include, and what the exact target audience was.  You don't want to talk over the head of a curious elementary school student by using seven syllable words.  You don't want to baby-talk to a college student.

Through it all, through the researching and writing and editing and proof-reading, I had one on-going thought... Are people even going to use this damn thing?

There's a lot of positive things to be said for apps.  They are less visually intrusive than signs.  You can change them and update them easily; if you move an animal from one exhibit to another, or change a species, or have something that you wish to convey about the individual animals on displau (information on a newborn, or about a geriatric animal that might cause some concern), you can add it easily.  You can put a lot more information on them, linked to our sources.  You could, for instance, have the signage at your orangutan exhibit be linked to information about palm oil, or at your aquarium display to the sustainable seafood program at Monterrey Bay Aquarium (which has its own app, naturally).  You can incorporate audio or video - at your chameleon exhibit, visitors could watch a clip of a chameleon tongue in action, or see a bird-of-paradise display, even if the actual birds are not displaying.

The downside is that it just gets people doing the one thing that they should be coming to the zoo in order to not do - look at screens all day.   I worry about visitors spending their entire visit looking at the phones and not looking at the animals.  Furthermore, I worry about visitors looking at the phones and not interacting with each other.  Some of my happiest zoo memories are of watching guests interact.  Seeing parents read a sign to their child and explain the words to them, or seeing a couple converse over an animal, pointing of odd traits.  I would hate to lose that and replace it with a horde of people walking back and forth, only occasionally glancing up from their phones.

We had enough of that with the Pokemon Go thing last year.

My director tells me that the apps are the future.  He even briefly flirted with the idea of taking down all of our signage and replacing it with the app.  We were able to convince him not to on the grounds that we have lots of seniors and other folks who don't have smartphones... and people like me, who are just technologically inept and have barely worked out texting, let alone apps (seriously, I'm current in negotiations with the Smithsonian to buy my current cell phone as a historical artifact).

So the signs stayed up, and we're adding the app, too.  We've also gotten WiFi for the entire zoo.  I suppose that's the best option - having different sources of information available to accommodate different learning styles and preferences.

As long as people look up from their phones now and then to remember where they are, I guess I'm fine with that.

No comments:

Post a Comment