This is an attempt to work with the framework of flow within J.H. Falk and L.D. Dierkling’s The Physical Context: Exhibits and Labels in their book Museum Experiences.
Above is an image I took at the Smithsonian Institute in May of 2006 of the Hope Diamond, found at the Museum of Natural History.
Now, when 18-year-old Mitch was visiting the Smithsonian, he had exactly in mind what he wanted to see and in many was he was the person that Falk and Dierkling described as the person that did not read the labels. When I walked into the Museum of Natural History, the first exhibit you walk into is the display of the Hope Diamond, the rest just appears to be a bunch of rocks and bones. I did not read the labels because I felt as if I already knew what they were. There was a disruption of flow based on how Nakamura and Csikzentmihalyi describe in their article The Concept of Flow on page 92
Staying in flow requires that attention be held by this limited stimulus field. Apathy, boredom, and anxiety, like flow, are largely functions of how attention is being structured at a given time.
Walking into the Museum of Natural History, the first exhibit you see and everyone is gathered around it is the Hope Diamond, probably the most famous artifact. Walking around throughout the rest of this museum went very much against what Falk and Dierking on page 74,
Museums are novel environments, full of strange and wonderful things.
Yes, the Natural History Museum is full of unique items, but the problem is, after seeing something like the Hope Diamond at the very beginning, everything pales in comparison. It all looks like a bunch of bones and rocks and you are not sure if you are passing the same thing multiple times.
Later, visiting the Museum of American History, I feel as if I fell more in the range of Falk and Dierking’s notion of a person that reads labels — probably because I already knew much about the items there and wanted to both see them in real life and know more about them. Really, the more I reflect on this and think more about the people I was with while in DC, I understand why I act the way I do in museums when the interest is there. If I do not know much about the topic, or do not really care, then all I want to do is get through the exhibit and find something more exciting to do.
Chunking information in a subject area that is new to a visitor is not an easy cognitive task. The visitor who already knows about Chinese ceramics will find it much easier to deal with a case full of Chinese vases, regardless of exhibit design, than one who knows nothing of the subject (79-80).
The flow of the museum is important, but however, if the visitor is there to see one thing and nothing else, especially if the most famous artifact is one of the first things you see, keeping people interested may be more difficult than expected. Imagine if the Mona Lisa were in the lobby of the Louvre (I have never been there, so I cannot say if it is there or not). Would people go through the rest of the museum when the most well known artifact is at the very beginning?