This morning I found a GREAT article in the Atlantic, titled “Please Turn On Your Phone in the Museum” by Sophie Gilbert. It is split into four different sections, and the reason I believe this article is worthy of great in all capital letters, is because I had around 5 different reactions. There were multiple instances I thought “Interesting, I could write a blog about that”. I am now in a predicament, because I don’t know what to write about. Should I write a post that is basically my stream of consciousness as I review each section? Should I choose one thought and really develop it for this post? Should I create a multi-part SERIES of blog posts around this one article? Or maybe I just leave it here because I am clearly overwhelmed.
Just kidding, I have been mandated to write over 600 words a week, so that option is thrown out. Recently I have been both enamored and challenged by this blogging exercise, and I think I will take a chance and go with the stream of consciousness option. These blogs have been a massive step outside of my academic training when it comes to writing, and to be honest it has been difficult for me. Gone are the days when I had one, final, 20 page paper due at the end of the semester that I had spent weeks outlining, drafting, and editing before turning it in. This is one of the first times in my academic career that I am writing without outlining, and it is liberating.
But, that is not one of the many points I wanted to make in reference to the article, so I will save my ramblings on academic writing for later.
Gilbert has written an article for the Atlantic that opens with a pretty surface level assessment of museums and social media. The subtitle “Cultural institutions learn to love selfies, tailor-made apps, and social media.” actually made me groan a little, because I feel like we have been listening to that same broken record all semester, and for the past year to be honest. I am waiting for more depth of analysis to come, there are so many articles written that hit on all of the key words such as “millennial” “selfies” “museums” “Instagram” and make the point that basically, if you can’t beat em, join em. In my opinion, it is general knowledge that any cultural institution that resists social media will be doing themselves a great disservice in the long run.
Her first section “Curating for Instagram” echoes these sentiments, as it discusses immersive exhibits that are perfect for Instagram posts (see the popularity of the Renwick’s Wonder exhibit). Yes, I have fallen into that trap in any museum I visit, I absolutely immortalize my experience on my Instagram feed. Gilbert also recognizes that more and more museums are discussing the use of GPS and Bluetooth technology to create a better visitor experience, which has been a conversation happening for a while. Who will be the first to roll it out? Is there someone using it that I am not aware of?
The second section “History and Art, Augmented” discusses aspects of technology in museums that reach outside of simply creating social media accounts and developing an informational app. She points to technology used to augment reality by virtually adding skin to dinosaur bones, create holograms, and recreate the experience of finding an artifact. These ideas are fresh and new, and also push the envelope of what a “traditional” museum experience should be. As I was searching for the above link to the Wonder exhibit, I came across this article that came out today in the Washingtonian titled “The Smithsonian Just Released a VR App of “Wonder,” and It’s Beautiful”. I had no idea they were planning this, and I think it is a great idea considering the beauty and popularity of the exhibit. Until, the author wrote the following:
“The silver lining is that if museums keep making apps this compelling, we’ll never have to go again.”
And I actually gasped out loud in this coffeeshop – because why would you ever say such a thing?! Of course, I am sensitive to this because I have voluntarily devoted my academic studies and future career to the museum sector. But, it is a real fear that museums are actively grappling with today, will digitizing collections and exhibits drive down museum attendance?
Well, Gilbert, the smart lady that she is, addresses this very question in her next section: “Museums in Your Pocket”. She quotes Dana Miller (“director of the collection” at the Whitney in New York City) as explaining that digitizing the collection has led to an increase in visitors. While there is no data linked to this statement, if true it is promising. Gilbert also refers to the Google Art Project, an initiative I have previously written about in my blog post On Digitization.
The final section “Art Will Adapt to the Viewer” is expanding on different uses of technology in art and the museum experience. Virtual reality is brought up again, as she highlights exhibits around the world that respond to the visitors presence. Whether producing a video of the visitors taken on hidden cameras, collecting data used as visitors opt into the public Wi-Fi network, these ideas make me question levels of privacy. Similar to an app that allows a museum to track a visitors path using Bluetooth, what are the implications of this technology? Will there be backlash from visitors that feel it is an invasion of privacy? What is the difference between technology tracking a visitor and a security guard taking notes? I think this is an interesting question that will certainly be discussed as these technologies become reality.
SO, there it is. My stream of consciousness around an article that, while brief, brings up thought-provoking subjects surrounding museums, social media, technology. While this furious writing of all of my thoughts and feelings was freeing, it was tiring and next week I think I will go back to my structured practice of writing.