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One of the QR codes (bottom left) in position at MEAL, linking to a clip from ‘The Darling Buds of May’.

As Felicity is busy working on other things this week, I thought I would attempt to write a post about the use of QR codes at the I Spy the Countryside exhibition at the Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) in Stowmarket, which we visited last week. Being a bit of a technophobe, this post won’t dwell too much on the technical issues related to using QR codes.

The exhibition was installed in two rooms in the newly-opened Abbots Hall at MEAL. The frequent use of QR codes was one of the first things we noticed when looking around Abbots Hall, and there were also several in the exhibition. Having given quite a bit of thought to the use of QR codes over the past few months, we were interested to see how they were being used at MEAL.

So, what did the QR codes in I Spy the Countryside point to? Most of them pointed to videos relating to the objects they were positioned next to, such as the trailer for the film Withnail and I next to the film poster, and a clip from the first episode of The Darling Buds of May next to a blazer worn by David Jason as Pop Larkin in the TV series. What was perhaps most intriguing was the QR code next to the Introductory Panel linking to an I Spy the Countryside Spotify playlist. Unfortunately I didn’t have any 3G signal at MEAL so I took photos of all the QR codes, uploaded them to the computer and have been scanning the codes back in the office (where 3G/wireless signal is also pretty unreliable).

This was very different from the way we’ve tried to use QR codes at MERL, which link back to the online catalogue to provide more information about the objects displayed in a particular case in the gallery. Having not been able to access the content while at MEAL, I can’t really tell how the use of QR codes affected my experience of the exhibition, but it did make me think. Would watching videos/listening to music have enhanced my experience of the exhibition? How would it have affected my understanding of the objects on display? Would I have spent more time watching/listening to things rather than looking at the objects – and does that matter? Would I have enjoyed the videos/music more or less if I watched/listened to them while looking at the exhibition rather than at home? How were the QR codes intended to be used? Are people without smartphones/QR readers missing out? How was the content chosen for the QR codes, and who chose it? Are the QR codes checked regularly to ensure that the content hasn’t been removed from the internet (as videos are often take down due to copyright issues)? Does this technology enable new interactions between the museum and the visitor – e.g. could the playlist be changed each month in response to suggestions from visitors (visitors were able to make suggestions for contemporary collecting)? How many people have been using the QR codes and what has the response been?

There’s certainly a lot to think about when using QR codes in museums, and perhaps we should be experimenting with different types of content at MERL. If you’ve visited I Spy the Countryside, what did you think of the QR codes? Would you like to see them used at MERL and, if so, how?

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I was recently reminded of the links between commuting and a sense of place in another context. At the weekend, I spoke to a friend about his regular commute by bicycle from Watlington, Oxfordshire, to Lewknor and from there by coach on into London.

The route from Lewknor bus stop to Watlington

The route from Lewknor bus stop to Watlington

He told an amusing anecdote concerning an unfortunate and rather strange experience from the preceding week. This entailed an unusually late disembarkation from the coach at Lewknor, whereupon a 3-mile journey cross-country on foot ensued, complete with the authorities in hot pursuit. A number of extraneous factors had played against him in this context including the untimely misplacing of his mobile phone earlier in the day, the happenstance lack of his usual bike to ride, his choice of footwear and its relative unsuitability for an unexpected midnight ramble, as well as the bizarre case of mistaken identity that led to the arrival of a police helicopter and patrol car on the scene.

So, how does this connect to the Sense of Place project? This surreal comedy of errors further highlighted to me our ever-present reliance on material culture and on the technologies of everyday life. It also underlined the fact that even the places that we pass on a daily basis are capable of becoming rapidly alien to us in the right (or in this case, wrong) circumstances. In short, my friend was in the wrong place at very much the wrong time, became embroiled in a person hunt that was inherently linked to that neighbourhood albeit not in any real sense to him, and he simply didn’t have the requisite equipment to ease his eventual, if somewhat dishevelled, return to the safety of home. A phone with which to call a taxi, a bike to speed his return, or a less ridiculous pair of shoes might each have helped in some small way. Suffice to say he now understands that winklepickers and muddy rural terrain don’t mix (and just as a curatorial aside, perhaps some patten’s might have been more effective, or maybe even some mudboards)!

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