At a Local Café: Two Phones and a Truck (Busboys & Poets on 14th Street)

Photo Credit: Dan Kerr

How can a sidewalk experience connect to a special event inside a café? We recently tried pairing our truck and phones with an event panel on our Right to the City theme, titled Saving DC’s History & Culture: From Chocolate City to #DontMuteDC.

We used different technology inside and outside, and call this kind of activation “inside-outside storytelling.”

Photo Credit: Dan Kerr

Our truck was the most eye-catching attraction, yet it was the truck’s video with sound that seemed to cause the most pedestrians to pause, listen, and inquire.

We parked right in front of the venue, with the truck initially serving as an advertisement for the event that was set to begin within the hour. A number of those who stopped decided to venture inside to see the full exhibition, featuring historic pictures and oral histories from the Smithsonian’s anniversary show, A Right to the City.

The head curator for the exhibition, Dr. Samir Meghelli, stopped by to test out the system, before he moderated the event inside. (Photo Credit: Dan Kerr)

In front of the truck was our desk payphone. This unusual object was partly chosen to catch the eye, and offered a chance to browse some of the audio from the exhibit — or leave a story of your own.

One lesson: we need to waterproof the phone! An intense summer storm came up with little warning, and we packed away the outdoor phone rather than risk damaging the equipment. Thankfully, the truck provided a robust way to continue recruiting visitors, including after the panel as attendees spilled onto the street.

Photo Credit: Dan Kerr

Our second technology was a classic phone, set up inside the venue. It was used both before and after the event. The attendees were very intrigued by the Storytelling System, so much so that they took all our calling cards and informational materials!

Photo Credit: Benjamin Stokes

One of the most interesting things we noticed is how each kind of phone ended up serving a slightly different audience. The indoor phone was primarily used by people actually attending the event. It was effective at encouraging them to visit the exhibit outside, and revealing how they might connect others later by sharing the call-in number. By contrast, the outdoor phone was higher profile. It engaged people on the street to take a risk and try something new — first with the stories, and possibly by visiting the museum later.

This was our first attempt to use both phones at once. Some of our lessons were technical and practical (like the need for proximity to a shared wifi hotspot), but the most interesting ones for storytelling were about matching the phones to the right situation and event context. We are excited to try out more multi-phone setups in the future.

For more, see video of the event (on the museum’s Facebook page). The event took place on July 17, 2019. Thank you to Busboys and Poets for hosting!

This post was contributed by Mitchell Loewen, a Game Design graduate student at American University, with feedback from the team at The Playful Cities Lab.

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