Museum Camp

A project of the
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Technological Mediation and Visitor Experience in Nature

  • Processed with Moldiv

    We Go To 11: measuring technology use in nature

  • Processed with Moldiv

    We Go To 11: hard at work

  • Data-Map-Used-Tech

    Cluster map showing participants' changes in mood (using technology)

  • Data-Map-Did-Not-Use-Tech

    Cluster map showing participants' changes in mood (not using technology)

  • Team-11-Word-Cloud

    Word cloud showing participant responses to how the place "made them feel like."

Team Members

Marcus Frost, Aimee Gardner, Rachel Grossman, and Jen Kretser

What was your hypothesis?

Technological Mediation enhances visitor experience of popular scenic coastal environments.

What indicator did you measure?

Our team set out to look at these four indicators:
1. The duration of time at the location
2. Positive disposition
3. Inspiration
4. Sense of connection with the location

How did you measure it?

Our method consisted of direct interviews on site at Steamer Lane. Interviews were conducted in teams, with one researcher primarily asking the question and the other recording responses. We conducted interviews a “unit” at a time; a unit could be an individual or group.
We did two sets of interviews (1:30 pm – 3:15 pm & 6:30 pm – 8:15 pm) on Steamers wharf

The direct interview consisted of five questions:
Q1: Did you take any pictures or video while you've been here? (If the answer was yes there were two follow ups: QYi: Do you know why?/what motivated you?
QYii: Do you know how many times or how many pics?)
Q2a: How long have you been here?
Q2b: During that time, how much of it was spent taking pics and video?
Q3a: Indicate where you were on this mood chart around 9/10am. Q3b: Indicate where you are right now.
Q4: Can you complete this sentence: This place makes me feel ________.
Q5: Did taking pictures or videos enhance your experience of Steamer Lane? (Show thumbs up, sideways, and down)
We used a mood circumplex for Q3a&b and a visual aid for Qb; see attachments.
At the end of the interview we distributed lollipops as a thank you with an attached question: “How do you think technology affects people’s experience of nature?” The prompt included a phone number and a hashtag.

A PDF of our methodology can be viewed/downloaded via this link:

A link to the lollipop take-away can be viewed via this link:

What did you learn?

Secondary research:
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984).[1] He defines biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life".[2]

The term "biophilia" literally means "love of life or living systems." It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital.[3] Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with nature are rooted in our biology. Unlike phobias, which are the aversions and fears that people have of things in the natural world, philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings.
To many people, "nature" means plants as in a park or forest, but the weather and animals are also closely involved. In the book Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations edited by Peter Kahn and Stephen Kellert,[4] the importance of animals, especially those with which a child can develop a nurturing relationship, is emphasised particularly for early and middle childhood. Chapter 7 of the same book reports on the help that animals can provide to children with autistic-spectrum disorders.[5]
Human preferences toward things in nature, while refined through experience and culture, are hypothetically the product of biological evolution. For example, adult mammals (especially humans) are generally attracted to baby mammal faces and find them appealing across species. The large eyes and small features of any young mammal face are far more appealing than those of the mature adults. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that the positive emotional response that adult mammals have toward baby mammals across species helps increase the survival rates of all mammals.
Similarly, the hypothesis helps explain why ordinary people care for and sometimes risk their lives to save domestic and wild animals, and keep plants and flowers in and around their homes. In other words, our natural love for life helps sustain life.
Very often, flowers also indicate potential for food later. Most fruits start their development as flowers. For our ancestors, it was crucial to spot, detect and remember the plants that would later provide nutrition.
The hypothesis has since been developed as part of theories of evolutionary psychology in the book The Biophilia Hypothesis edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson[6] and by Lynn Margulis. Also, Stephen Kellert's work seeks to determine common human responses to perceptions of, and ideas about, plants and animals, and to explain them in terms of the conditions of human evolution.
Peter H, Kahn Jr. is a scientist, environmentalis, technologist, and humanist who has written a book called Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of Human Life (2011) [7]. This book discusses two trends that are reshaping the human experience. These are:

1. The degradation and destruction of large parts of the natural world
2. The unprecedented technological development in terms of sophistication and pervasiveness.

At the nexus of of these two trends lies what he calls “technological nature” [8]. For example, this could mean something like watching a documentary about nature replacing actually being in nature, or having a window in an office that opens to the outside. His finding is that it is better to have access to “technological nature” than it is to not have access to no nature whatsoever.
Kahn has coined the term “environment generational amnesia.” [9] What this means is that each generation constructs a conception of what is environmentally normal based on the natural world encountered in childhood. With each generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation tends to take that degraded condition as the non-degraded condition, as the normal experience.
NYTimes article: Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain. Matt Richtel. Published August 15, 2010.
Behavioral studies have shown that performance suffers when people multitask. These researchers are wondering whether attention and focus can take a hit when people merely anticipate the arrival of more digital stimulation.
1. Wilson, Edward O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
2. Kellert & Wilson 1995, p. 416.
3. Fromm, Erich (1964). The Heart of Man. Harper & Row.
4. Kahn, Peter; Kellert, Stephen (2002). Children and nature: psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations. MIT Press. p. 153.
5. Katcher, Aaron (2002). "Animals in Therapeutic Education: Guides into the Liminal State". In Kahn, Peter H.; Kellert, Stephen R. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. MIT Press.
6. Kellert, Stephen R. (ed.) (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press.
7. Kahn, Peter H, Jr. (2011). Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of
Human Life. MIT Press.
8. Kahn, Peter H, Jr. (2011). Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of
Human Life. MIT Press.
9. Kahn, Peter H, Jr. (2011). Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of
Human Life. MIT Press.

Direct results of research:
Number of units interviewed: 24
Analysis Circumplex:
• Almost all of the people who used technology during their visit start out either negatively or positively excitable and shifted to the happy or inspired side of the spectrum
• Most of the people who reported not using technology started and ended in the serene/calm quadrant
Those people who used technology at Steamer Lane arrived there in an active (NW or NE quadrants) condition and stayed relatively active. We are assuming that being in the beautiful place helped move them into a SE quadrant/more passive quadrant.
Analysis of Word Cluster: The most prevalent comment or word used was some variation of feeling “at home”, “home” with other descriptive words including “alive” and “happy”. We are assuming that the “sense of connection to nature” is indicated through those words.
If people are already looped into using technology, then the people experiences in nature tended to be enhanced by the use of the technology. Though interestingly, several people stated that their camera was a barrier to their experience.
Reflections on the project:
The process was challenging. Initially we thought we had chosen something relatively simple, but once we began unpacking it we realized it was actually quite complex (and hard). Some of the lessons we learned were that if this was a long term study is to add observation and make note of how often they used technology, how long they were there and then interviewing them as they left Steamer Lane.
Our conversations/interview approach created a willingness for people to engage, open up and feel invested in the research idea – asking for the website to see the results. Even for those of us who use technology there is an underlying angst about whether or not it is impacting our own experience. There is an increasing body of research that indicates that technology is impacting our perception of the world and people are becoming more and more aware of that impact (and, consequently, want to talk about it). This seemed to be more apparent in the older interviewees who straddle both worlds. For the teenagers in the study group, their responses indicated that “of course they took photos” and shared them instantly on social media.
Direct application of this type of experience to home museum/organization
The process of doing this type of rapid-fire social impact study forced us to focus relatively quickly and act almost immediately. It did not have to be some drawn out affair that required lots of money etc – you can do research and at least get a sense of a question/hypothesis in a relatively short amount of time. Surrounded by incredibly creative, smart people it was amazing to watch that process unfold and move into reality within a short span of time with innovative, out of the box ideas. This could be done at home museum/organization to help staff have a better understanding of their programs and projects.

Any surprises?

It was surprising that the generational gap that the secondary research had indicated an more extreme gap but within our small sample size we didn’t really see as much of that as we thought. There was some level of surprise that people were happy to speak with us , thanked us for asking these questions, and curiosity about what we were studying and then the results. Meeting strangers from all over the world (couple from Switzerland on their 6 week American honeymoon, woman from Texas who had a heart transplant 25 years ago, guy who shared his binoculars so I could watch the birds etc etc) it was so lovely just to connect with people in such a beautiful place. Those connections were meaningful for everyone in our research group.