Chapter 2: The Interrelationships of Mobile Storytelling: Merging the Physical and the Digital at a National Historic Site

by Brett Oppegaard and Dene Grigar


Chapter Abstract:

This chapter focuses on the production of a mobile history platform used to explore Fort Vancouver, a historic site located on the banks of the Columbia River in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area. Fort Vancouver, once dubbed the “New York of the Pacific,” is a major archaeological resource, with more than 2 million artifacts in its collection. Most of those pieces, gathered from more than 50 years of excavations, are kept in warehouses, along with the boxes of documents, drawings, and other assorted historical records in storage that, because of severely limited access, obscures the fascinating and multicultural history of the place. It is a goal of the Fort Vancouver Mobile project to make these materials available through a direct experience with the site with the aid of mobile phones. By drawing from this example of a mobile storytelling platform, the chapter points toward ways that mobile stories utilize “intermediality,” a term with expansive edges that helps us understand that a wide range of media should work together to transform the ways we experience space.


Hands-On Exploration:

Rapid prototyping with low-fidelity representations of your ideas, especially in situ, can lead to fundamental discoveries about mobile storytelling opportunities before any major resources are spent on the development of those projects. In this activity, you are asked to find or make a wood block about the size of a mobile device and give that to representative users (people who you think are your target audience) in the place in which they would be using your mobile media.

If your idea is focused on the development of a sense of place, then you might just simply ask the user, “What do you want your mobile device to do here?” The wood block, in that case, is a tool for helping the user step outside of the constraints of the current technology and cultural limitations and to peer over the contemporary fog, like with a periscope, into what Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell describe as the “proximate future.”

If you have specific questions about ways in which you might deliver your content across mobile media and want to know how your audience might react to that, the wood block also serves as a low-cost mediating tool, which substitutes the user’s imagination for prototype development, allowing for more testing–and faster testing–of ideas.

Conduct this activity with at least five representative users, recording and transcribing the conversations, before stopping and trying to do any analysis of what you have heard. By clustering those comments, in whole, and examining them closely together, those five users likely will have identified many of the significant challenges you will face in the development of your idea, and they also will give you a chance, from the start, to create a conversation with the people who eventually will be the core users of your mobile media, at a point in which major course corrections are not costly and relatively simple to do. If you get unclear results, or want to refine the ideas further, the wood block is flexible, always updated, and ready to serve on whatever inquiry you want.