Is technology uninteresting?

eclipse_rc2

Last week was my first chance to ride the Eclipse at Gröna Lund. As I came back for a second ride, I mentioned in the queue that we were in the most roller-coaster dense amusement park in the world. Encouraged by interest, I also told the story of how the Vilda musen roller coaster was built into the structure of the classic Jetline ride, and how a laser measurements from the Free fall drop tower was used to get the 3D data from the pre-CAD coaster to feed into CAD for the new construction drawings. The story is beautifully told at the German www-site Coasters and More. However, I think that one of the most surprising aspects of that story is that no trace of it can be found at the Gröna Lund www site.

Is amusement park technology uninteresting?

Technology lies at the heart of exciting experiences in the amusement park, creating tensions between magic and reality, between the experiences of eyes and body, danger and safety. The unusual motions of the rides challenges our views of what is actually possible, in the real, physical world.

From discussions in amusement park queues I know that many riders are interested, e.g. in how trains are accelerated, prevented from running into each other and brought to a stop at the end of the ride, how many g’s you are exposed to during different parts of the ride, the shape of loops, safety aspects of “what happens if …” and much more. I have also stood with friends in the queue for Balder at Liseberg, showing accelerometer and rotation data for the ride – and discovered a cluster of queuers listening in and wanting to have a look.

Sometimes aspects of technology in connection is presented in connection with the opening of new rides – only to disappear in the next release of the park www-site. This happened e.g. to presentation of the launch technology for the ride Kanonen at Liseberg. Again Coasters and More remains a useful source.

Amusement parks as a learning environments

Although the primary mission of amusement parks is clearly not to communicate science and technology, parks abound with full-scale implementations of idealised motions, where the whole body feels the forces connected with acceleration, and technological solutions achieve the motions while keeping riders safe.

Young people enjoy amusement parks – and are often surprised to learn that math, science and technology are involved. Like science centres, amusement parks can be used for field trips to learn more about math, science and technology in enjoyable settings. These learning opportunities are often neglected – but not for participants in amusement park physics or science days, e.g. the 500 students and their teachers who come to Liseberg tomorrow to study physics in selected rides.

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Is it all just PR now?

Public engagement is at the heart of the annual Gothenburg International Science Festival. In 2013, the festival included a Forum for Research communication.

In her keynote presentation, Vivi-Anne Perry talked about the increased demand on researchers to demonstrate impact also outside traditional research journals and how this changes the nature of Science Communication. She raised the question if university press releases run the risk of being more about a competition for attention than about public engagement. Her talk had the title “Pimp my science – is it all just PR now?”

In July 2012, an advertising agency certainly managed to pimp a message. A serious and ambitious project, aimed to show that women can play important roles in science, was launched with a campaign full of stereotypes. It brought an outrage. The intention of producing a movie going viral was amply fullfilled – in spite of the movie being withdrawn from the EU site within 24 hours.

A large science center recently launched an app Dino Stomp, accompanied with the text “Take a movie of your friends and see them being squashed by a giant dinosaur”. Apart from the not-so-friendly approach to your friends, it also seems that it may lure children into what educational researchers refer to as “the Flintstone effect” – that many people incorrectly believe that humans have coexisted with dinosaurs.

An amusement park brings on a campaign with sad children’s faces, made “happy” only with a “laughing app”. The campaign was interpreted in many unintended ways by many different groups. Meant as a joke – but at the same time communicating many signals far removed from the values of the park.

Chalmers university of technology presented a large ad, which could be described as “attack of the syringes”, to recruit students to their top-class engineering programs. The text “Choose a university where, in the worst case, you may become a sought-after engineer” fails to convey respect for the engineering profession. The people in charge do not acknowledge that they see a problem.

What happens when the advertising agents or information officers succeed in getting overwhelming public attention – but at the cost of sending signals that strongly deviate from core values of the organization?

When the message is pimped to the point where communication becomes “just PR” – to whom does the public relate?