Today, Steve Jobs made a lot of announcements about new Mac PC advancements. One, in particular, may have a significant impact on how we conduct public archaeology. As I’ve written before, I think that the iPhone and iPod Touch (and other smartphones) and digital social media will continue to have a dramatic impact on how we communicate with the public through the use of real-time, two-way community engagement before, during, and after we conduct archaeological excavations. One new part of the iPhone and iPod Touch that peaked my interest quickly was the introduction of FaceTime.
FaceTime provides the ability for iPhone 4 and iPod Touch users to communicate over a wireless internet connection through video chat. Until now, this communication has been limited to only these two devices. However, today, Jobs announced the release of FaceTime for Mac beta. This makes the possibilities for some very neat public engagement to take place, because it means that a person with an iPhone or iPod Touch can now communicate with someone with a Macintosh computer.
So what are the possibilities? I can think of only a few, but I think it’s pretty huge:
Live Site Tours.
The Archaeological Site Tour has been the most traditional form of public archaeology. Members of the public visit a site, are given a tour by an archaeologist, have a chance to see archaeologists in action, look at artifacts, and ask questions. FaceTime gives you the chance to do this remotely. An archaeologist could turn on FaceTime, call in to a classroom of fifth graders, and give a live, personalized tour of their site, answer questions, do activities, and so on. With FaceTime for Mac, the tour can be projected on a wall from a laptop or desktop, and it can be larger then life.
This could be replicated in so many ways. Schools that can’t afford a field trip to a site could bring a number of sites into the classroom. Guest lectures could come to a college classroom from across the world at an archaeological site. Is there a special interest group, or a local historical society, or some sort of funding agency that you want to show your work to? Beam them in to your site.
Working with Others.
Maybe you’re having trouble identifying a certain artifact, or interpreting some stratigraphy while in the field or the lab. Normally, you could send photos via email, or pick up the phone and make a phone call. FaceTime, or other online video sites like uStream, would allow this connection to be instantaneous and visual. A quick call to a fellow archaeologist, or back to your lab, could give you the chance to discuss it instantly, visually, and have a good back and forth that would be difficult or less productive over the phone or email.
As I’ve discussed before, the obvious drawback is the need for a wifi signal, but this is becoming less of a problem with the advent of tools such as the Virgin Mobile Novatel MiFi, which make wifi networks portable and more accessible.
Of course, this can be replicated in the lab, or in other disciplines. There’s no reason that the process of our disciplines can’t be shared more readily with the public, and using tools like FaceTime, or uStream, or other live video feeds could really go a long way in making this process fun, engaging, and as visual as possible.
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