Exploratorium science museum exhibit TextFish powered by interaction

Interactive art teaches science

“TextFish” is San Francisco Exploratorium’s first Twilio-powered exhibit where art and science come to life. Visitors are in charge of their on-screen virtual wildlife ecosystem while learning about issues like resource-depletion and scarcity. The exhibit raises awareness about human behavior and the larger things in life through a game of fishing by text messages.

Like “TextFish”, other exhibits at the Exploratorium provide people the chance to understand real world problems. They focus on innovation, curiosity, collaboration, and experimentation with the purpose of teaching us how to become natural explorers and how the world works through hands-on experiences.

How it works

Envisioned by Bill Meyer, the Exploratorium’s Director of New Media, “Text Fish” is part of a larger three-year development project called “The Science of Sharing.” Hugh McDonald, a Psychologist and PhD, curated “The Science of Sharing” exhibits in the Exploratorium’s West Gallery, an area focusing on human phenomenon.

To start, you text the word “FISH” to a Twilio-powered number. Then a fishing boat appears on-screen with the last four digits of your number. To hook a fish, you need to text the word “FISH” again and in order to stay alive, you must catch at least three fish a day. However, throughout the game you still need to remain mindful of the available resources in order to maintain the ecosystem for everyone else.

The bigger picture

Exhibits like these spark recognitions of everyday social interactions: cooperation, sharing, and competition. Other exhibits are also related to bigger world problems like global climate change and international conflict. Specifically, “TextFish” allows people to relate to the issues such as the cause of resource-depletion, the consequences of overfishing, and the Tragedy of the Commons.

“Essentially, the dilemma we want to put people in is to balance their own desire to catch more fish than the other guy with the understanding that if too many people fish selfishly, they’re going to destroy the resource for everybody,” says psychologist Hugh McDonald.

Watch “TextFish” in action here.

The San Francisco Exploratorium, located at Pier 15, is a learning laboratory where people can explore and tinker the ideas of science, art, and human perception through various exhibits.

Bill Meyer, Director of New Media

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