What's On Your Phone, Elizabeth Merritt?

At the American Alliance of Museums, Elizabeth is Vice President for Strategic Foresight, and founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums – a think-tank and research & development lab for the museum field. She is the author of the Alliance’s annual TrendsWatch report, and writes and speaks prolifically on the trends shaping the future of nonprofit organizations. She has her M.A. from Duke University and a B.S. from Yale. She completed the Getty Institution’s Museum Management Institute as well as the University of Houston’s certificate course in Strategic Foresight. To read a broader interview with Elizabeth, see AMT-Lab's conversation with her from September.


Patrick Zakem: What are the apps you use everyday, and why do you like them?

Elizabeth Merritt: I’m so busted—now I have to confess how much time I spend playing Ingress. It’s a massive multiplayer augmented reality game (with an elaborate sci-fi backstory) based on Google maps that has me running around “hacking” public art and monuments for my team. It’s a great way to explore cities as I travel, and it’s even helped me discover hidden treasures in my own neighborhood.

I’m also a complete convert to the “quantified self” movement, so I use the UP app (which links to a biomonitor on my wrist) to track my movement and sleep. TweetCaster, of course, to monitor my various Twitter accounts. And (if I may extend the question to my iPad) Flipboard, with is a fabulous tool for monitoring a variety of news sources and social media feeds—I like the fact that it gives you previews of the first few lines of stories and tweet links, as well as graphics. That makes it much easier to assess whether I want to dig deeper into a story.


PZ: Is there an app that has surprised you with its usefulness?

EM: Lyft, the “sharing economy” ride service accessed through an app. I have a cab curse—when I hail a cab various improbable and often unpleasant events ensue. (For example, I once took a cab for just a few blocks because it was absolutely pouring—and the roof of the cab leaked like a sieve. That was one of the more benign adventures.) I’ve found that I far prefer using the Lyft app to find a driver nearby, hop in the front seat and have a nice chat on the way to where ever I’m going. Also Postagram, which lets me create and mail physical postcards using pictures on my phone. That may seem terribly retro, but I like visiting my mom in law and seeing the postcards displayed on the door of her fridge.


PZ: Is there an app you think developers should be working on?

EM: You know IBM Watson, the cognitive computing program that is currently learning to cook, play the stock market and make medical diagnoses? Someone should sic Watson on all the open data available from and about museums, and channel him into an app that becomes my own personal museum mentor. It would be like the love child of Siri and Phillipe de Montebello. “Elizabeth, you have an hour before your appointment in Dupont Circle—why don’t you pop into the Phillips Collection and check out the Laib Wax Room? I see from your biomonitor that you are rather stressed today, and this might calm you down.” That would be awesome. And, as futurists would say, totally in the Cone of Plausibility.


PZ: If you could recommend one app to arts managers, what would it be?

EM: Sleepmaker Rain free from Jenny Apps. Because a good night’s sleep is the best preparation for a hard day of meetings and presentations. Also, often the best thing to do in a stressful situation is bliss out for a few minutes before reacting.