A rock’s story

I’ve been following closely (this may sound odd) the story of a rock. Not just any rock, and not just any story. It’s a rock on Mars, and it’s been tweeting. So, a first-person Martian rock story.

You can see the whole thing here, storified. The rock is sitting happily in Gale Crater. A strange robot from another planet arrives, shoots it with a laser, and leaves.

Hard to imagine how to make this interesting. But it is. The rock has a remarkably upbeat, cheerful personality (rockonality?). It tries so hard to be liked by its new neighbor.(“Wait, @MarsCuriosity, don’t leave! We could be friends!”) It carries on cheerful, if sometimes confused, conversations with a host of followers on (presumably) earth (“@BadAstronomer It’s only a little hole. I’ll be all right. Thanks for asking! :)”

The rock gets off some great lines. (So do its followers. My favorite is this: from @mars_stu: “@N165Mars ok, but I strongly suggest you learn the following phrase: “klaatu barada nikto”. You might find it useful in a couple of sols…”) And it ends with the heartbreaking “#FridayFollow @MarsCuriosity. Because I can’t. 😦 ” and  a link to a song that I must admit I’ll never hear in quite the same way.

The rock’s followers cared about it. One wrote: “@N165Mars @MarsCuriosity man, I actually feel sad for a martian basalt :-(” Another wrote, about its last tweet: “Saddest lil #FF [follow Friday] ever.” They cared about a rock on Mars. Why? Because it told a good story. It’s got personality.

There’s a moral here for museum people, I think. Objects that tell stories are more interesting than those that don’t. Usually, we do that by telling stories about them. That’s what labels do.

But what if we followed @N165Mars’s example and let objects speak (or, tweet) for themselves? Museum objects could tell their stories in the first person. Curators can give them a point of view, and Twitter can give than audience. Why not have an object tweet on its way to the conservation lab, about its installation, about its neighbors in an exhibition, about the people who come to see it? Getting the tone right might not be easy. But figure out how to do it, and there’s a new way for museums to connect visitors (virtual visitors, anyway) to collections, and to history.

—-

A postscript. It’s been done, of course…. @mia_out replied with a link to My Life as an Object, from 2010:

Each week, a different object from Nottingham City Museums and Galleries‘comes to life’ and tells its story across different social media platforms, interacting with an audience, and culminating in the object’s preservation in the museum.

A bicycle, a box, a baby scale, and a painting speak in an appropriate style. Very nicely done!

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2 Comments

  1. Not as extensive as Nottingham’s great project, but I know the National Postal Museum (among other museums) has had success with this as well. In NPM’s case, with Owney the Postal Dog: https://twitter.com/OWNEYtheDOG

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