For a while I’ve been pondering change and trends in museums. In my article, ‘Museum metamorphosis à la mode’, I suggest that certain museum developments may correspond to a fashion logic, as evident in trends of interest running across the museum sector, and in how keeping up with current culture has become as important, and cooler, than serving as custodians of the past.

The V&A’s Rapid Response Collection is a very interesting example of this, where ‘[o]bjects are collected in response to major moments in history that touch the world of design and manufacturing. This new strategy helps the V&A to engage in a timely way with important events that shape, or are shaped by design, architecture and technology.’ (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/rapid-response-collecting/)

Louboutin’s 2013 Nudes collection, for example (the collection is not fashion specific, by the way, but I choose this example because it relates to my domain in particular), was thus recognised as representing a significant sociocultural shift, as ‘[t]his was the first time that a major fashion house had adjusted its definition of nude to include skin colours other than white’. (Rather shocking, really, that it has taken so long). Furthermore, the collection’s curators leverage Twitter and Instagram to ask for the public’s suggestions for new accessions; another museology-of the-current trend.

‘Fifi’ pump in five nude shades, designed by Christian Louboutin Ltd, 2013. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘Fifi’ pump in five nude shades, designed by Christian Louboutin Ltd, 2013. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But aside from this movement towards matching and musealising the Zeitgeist, I also detect a trend for nostalgia on the rise. I’ve written about the death and the resurrection of the diorama elsewhere, one of my favourite examples of an altmodish museum technology which nevertheless has a unique didactic and experiential quality, and which furthermore appeals to our yearning for the past.

Another surprisingly strong example of this came up yesterday on Facebook, where the National Museum of Denmark latched on to the ‘Throwback Thursday’ trend on social media, and posted a vintage photo from the museum galleries. Interestingly, the majority of responses expressed a nostalgia for this kind of museum display, with remarks such as ‘It’s actually really beautiful. When I was a child, the National Museum was more magical, lots of objects and hardly any explanations – that was cool’ and ‘would prefer exhibitions as they looked back then, showing the quantity and variety of objects’.

It is interesting, I think, that the public responds in this way (disclaimer: I have not been checking out who ‘the public’ is in this case – some of the other comments seem to come from museum people, and the quoted commentators may also represent a bias, it’s only one instance and an unrepresentative sample, etc. – nevertheless), perhaps a little differently from what the museum expected.

Screenshot from Facebook, post on National Museum of Denmark's profile page

Screenshot from Facebook, post from Nov. 27th. on National Museum of Denmark’s profile page

From a museum history perspective this type of display is terribly out-dated and dull. Furthermore, museologists may see this display form as a reflection of the traditional authoritative museum from which it stems, an institutional identity which modern museums are very keen to leave behind. Glass cases become negative by association, perhaps, as much as because of their actual constraints.** But for a new generation of museum goers it’s the blinking interactives and dead computer kiosks that are old hat, aesthetically troublesome and cloyingly didactic. The unmediated collection, on the other hand, appeals not only because it is quaint or induces nostalgia, but also because it seems fresh. Rock collections simply rock.

(For me personally, Pitt Rivers Museum and Galeries d’anatomie comparée et de paléonlogie top the list of museums I’d love to see (oh, and ‘House on the rock’, which looks like every kind of museo-manic awesome rolled into one as directed by David Lynch)). In this age of ever-increasing levels of digitisation and connectedness, I believe that materiality and mental space is sometimes experienced as a scarcity, and could therefore become a mega trend* in the future. If they want to make that their unique selling point, museums have both in buckets.

*(see also Charlotte SH Jensen’s inspiring post about the significance of mega trends for the GLAM sector)

——

** Note added Feburary 24th, 2015:

As stated by Britta Brenna (2014:47f), “In a long tradition of museum critique the glass case has been a metaphor for what museums do to objects. Museums, it is claimed, decontextualizes objects, severe their bonds to any original context, and taps them for monetary and use-value. However, these critiques have a tendency to treat the glass cases as ‘black boxes’; self-evident museum features that do not need further investigation.”

Brenna, B. (2014), ‘Nature and texts in glass cases: The vitrine as a tool for textualizing nature, Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies, Vol 2, No 1 http://www.nordicsts.org/index.php/njsts/article/view/1201406

[sketch for a prologue]

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Glitter banner (acrylic binder, glitter, velvet) & photo by Lise Haller Baggesen Ross 2011

A common, or readily comprehensible, metaphor for scientific research is shining a light, a torch perhaps, on the world, and reporting what you see. You know, a nice, neat circle of light; a concise elucidation for the sake of enlightenment. Everything around it is necessarily left in the dark, still, in this spot of light we see at least a portion of the world, bright and clear.

In this project, however, the multifaceted field of mobile museology has worked somewhat like a mirrorball. So many things to think about, so many ways to consider the interplay of museums and media, fashion and design research, change, trends, politics, practice, #museumselfies and theoretical conundrums. And I cannot rely solely on academic discourse presented in peer-reviewed journals and authorised anthologies if I want to try to get a grasp on what is going on. Every museum visit provides new food for thought. In my Twitter feed, hardly a week goes by without a new cluster of people commenting from yet another museum conference or seminar, under yet another obscure hashtag. At the same time, national and international newspapers regularly report from the digital frontiers of the museum, often setting of another round of responses and discussions in the blogosphere. All this talk about transformations, challenges, new horizons and changing paradigms. What is new is perhaps not so much that the museum institution is up for discussion, but that I, like the rest of the museum community, am constantly reminded of the ongoing debate and called to reflect on new viewpoints and perspectives. The field is not fixed.

Rather than making one clear projection, then, my research produces a dapple of lights, illuminating different aspects at once. In one article I explore a fashion perspective on institutional changes, in another, mobilisation and digital discourse. My blog posts, as my research, comprise a jumble of musings, on anything from methodological curiosity to musealisation of everyday objects. I have not been able to tear myself away from the sparkle to focus my mental torch on a single issue. But then, do I really need to?

Mirrorball methodology may not sound like sound academic practice. What of the focus, the stringency? What of relevance and rigour? Surely that could never chime with swaying to a beat in a flimsy light? And really, a dissertation should not be ‘all over the place’, no. But could there be an argument for trying to join the dots, rather than fixating on one spot? Could there be a place in academia for jazzing it up a little?

I believe there is. There must be, or we’d lose out on trans-disciplinary perspectives, on trajectories of thought which may not always be fully formed but nevertheless need articulation, for others to pursue or reject. Likewise, academic genres must be mouldable to fit contemporary research interests and methodologies if we are to be truly transparent about what we have actually done, rather than reconstructing research to fit into existing formats.

I’m not even talking about breaking the mould, either,  just stretching it a little. And the pattern of light is not as random as it may seem at a glance. I’ll do my damnedest to tie it together and make cohesive arguments, to articulate as best I can the arena which I have assembled and the matters of concern which I have uncovered, in proper academic prose. The mirrrorball image, fetching as it is (ah, the tune it invokes in your mind), and quaintly befitting reflective research in the GLAM sector, is just metaphor, not really method. But please, hum along, come along when sometimes I wander. I do believe that such an approach will prove illustrative.

Thanks to a confusion of hashtags on Twitter I just came across another story that somehow relates to my project interest (seems to happen a lot these days). MoMu, which is otherwise associated with ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, has now also become the shortform name (&hashtag) for the newly reopened Moesgaard Museum in Århus, Denmark.

But apparently, MoMu also refers to the Museum of the Mundane, a London and New York based (and agency driven) ‘celebration of everyday design brilliance’. The simple but clever concept is about attaching museum-style labels to mundane urban objects like ATMs, manholes or traffic lights, in order to point to their design history and significance. It is easy to imagine this kind of campaign being instigated instead by a city museum, or perhaps evolving as a grass-root phenomenon, like yarn bombing, and interesting to wonder what kind of things would then have been given attention. What would I put a label on? What would you?

Still,

MoMu may be a glorified ad for the branding agency that created it, but it nevertheless raises an interesting point: perhaps it’s less the famous towers or historic districts that define a city, but rather the mundane objects encountered at every street corner. Together, boring objects accumulate to form a richer image of the city than the one you see in tourist brochures.
(Rory Hyde http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/oct/02/best-urban-objects-mundane-bollards-bricks-black-cabs)

The Guardian story also references another project, the miniscule Mmuseumm in New York which presents itself as a ‘modern natural history museum dedicated to contemporary global archeology’ with

an understanding that “as is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm.” The only access to a greater truth is through the individual perspective of a collective gaze. By examining the small things, the vernacular, we are able to look at the big one, life itself, or at least start to see its edges. (http://mmuseumm.com)

This thinking is, again, reminiscent of Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence/Modest Museum Manifesto and also brings to mind The Museum of Important Shit (links go to previous posts about these, with links from there to origin). Together, they show up a kind of pattern of interest in a ‘re-enchantment’ of the mundane, or a belief that the everyday is actually rather enchanting if only we care to see it. This belief is the ‘utopian motif’ mentioned by Gumbrecht (2006) (who references re-enchantment as the antidote to the disenchanted modernity, as diagnosed by Max Weber) – utopian because of the sociological and political idealism that it conveys.

Projects like these, however, attempt to make real the utopian dream, by establishing Foucauldian heterotopias in the form of museums of the mundane, or – to use a concept which I am currently working to formulate, as an extension of Foucault’s terminology, to describe exactly this kind of museum gaze which may also see the other-and-more-ness of everyday objects – by creating heteroscopic peepholes providing an other-view of the everyday.

In the 2006 article ‘Aesthetic experience in everyday worlds’, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht ‘reclaims the utopian motif’ that aesthetic experiences may occur in the everyday. The article builds on the ideas presented in his own book The Production of Presence (2004), as well as on Kant’s description of aesthetic experience as ‘disinterested pleasure’ – disinterested because it is independent of purpose and function, which we otherwise tend to pursue (as per his definition of beauty as ‘purposefulness without a purpose’) – ; on Heidegger’s dual concepts of ‘earth’ and ‘world’ (which, to be honest, I don’t quite get, but it’s something to do with objects, as we are experiencing them, being at the same time conditioned by and concealing their ‘primordial givenness’, and yet historically specific, erm…); and finally on philosopher Martin Seel’s idea that aesthetic experiences, or, in Seel’s terminology, the effect of appearance, is conditioned by a decontextualisation of the object and its related conceptualisation from its original context (Gumbrect 2006:305). From this complex of ideas, which all, as Gumbrecht points out, focus on the subjective experience rather than on the ontology of the object of experience, Gumbrecht proposes four concepts contained in aesthetic experiences: the content of aesthetic experience (i.e. the feelings & impressions experienced); the objects of aesthetic experience (i.e. that which triggers these emotions); the conditions of aesthetic experience; and finally the effects of aesthetic experience (that is, the consequences or transformations produced by the experience).

The condition of decontextualisation is characteristic of museum objects (not only due to the physical museum context, but also to the practical and symbolic process of musealisation, cf. Desvallées & Mairesse 2010), but both Seel and Gumbrecht hold that, in principle, any object or concept is capable of becoming decontexualised, and therefore that effects of appearance or aesthetic experiences may occur also in the context of the everyday. In fact, Gumbrecht asks, ‘[h]ow much longer will the visitors of museums be bored to near-death with the self-accusatory truism that museums (inadvertently or not) give a certain aura even to the most banal objects?’ (2006:315), when ‘straighforward pleasures'(ibid.:316) of the everyday may provide more intense or enjoyable aesthetic experiences?

The question that remains, however, is what triggers these experiences, this decontextualisation? And perhaps, from an institutional perspective one might want to ask if such experiences can be triggered, if it is possible to set the frame for an aesthetic view of the everyday:

‘remember some of those moments in which what we consider to a thoroughly normal everyday experience all of a sudden appears in a new, exceptional light, in the light of aesthetic experience. These are moments that make sudden changes happen through a switch in the situational frames within which we experience certain objects. We suddenly think of food as “artsy food”, we suddenly see clothes as “fashion”, we suddenly begin to appreciate an “elegance” in the solution of a mathematical problem, or we are suddenly surprised to hear a rhyme that we have inadvertently produced while speaking. Under which specific conditions do such switches occur, and how do we return from them, if ever, to the more pragmatic everyday attitudes?’ (Gumbrecht 2006:302)

Having just finished Gumbrecht’s article, I came upon a short series of tweets from @DRKunstklub showing a collection of dead frogs, which added another perspective to the notion of everyday aesthetic epiphanies. The fascinating story behind the collection is told also on DR Kunstklub – a division under the culture and arts section of the Danish Broaccasting company – ‘s website and Facebook page as well as on the independent website I Do Art. Here Lone, the collector, says of her motivation for her unusual collecting interest that ‘I collect in order to create philosophical questions and contemplate things’ like life, death and destiny, and later explains how, in the case of this particular group of dead frogs, found on a road, it was the aesthetics that suddenly spoke to her, and inspired contemplations about beauty.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 11.59.38

Tweet from @DRKunstklub Oct. 10 2014 10:56 Caption reads: “A reflection occurs, over what is beautiful, and whether we always need to be beautiful. Can the ugly be beautiful?”

It seems to me that Lone’s description not only reflects the potential for finding aesthetic experiences in even the most mundane details of our everyday surroundings, but also illustrates one of the the central concepts in Gumbrecht’s The Production of Presence, that is, the oscillation between ‘meaning effects’ and ‘presence effects’ that is central to aesthetic experience. To be elaborated…

References

Desvallées, A. & Mairesse, F. (eds.) (2010): Key Concepts of Museology, ICOM & Armand Colin, available for download from the ICOM website, http://icom.museum/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/Key_Concepts_of_Museology/Museologie_Anglais_BD.pdf

Gumbrecht, H.U. (2004), Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey, Stanford, CA: Standford University Press

Gumbrecht, H.U. (2006), ‘Aesthetic experiences in everyday worlds: Reclaiming a utopian motif’ in New Literary History, 37:2, 299-318

So, over on Twitter, apparently it’s #NationalHandbagDay. Which calls for a celebration, thinks Europeana Fashion.

@EurFashion tweet 1:00 PM - 10 Oct 2014

@EurFashion tweet 1:00 PM – 10 Oct 2014

Me, I’m not so sure. OK, so it’s an excuse to feed something into the Twitter stream, like #FossilFriday (also today, as every Friday), the recent #MuseumCats day a.k.a. #MewseumMonday, and other initiatives of that ilk. But come on. It’s also more than a bit silly, isn’t it, jumping on a hashtag like #NationalHandbagDay? (Which nation, btw? Says who? But no, that would be pendantic to ask for such clarifications from ‘a best practice network co-funded under the CIP ICT-PSP program* and composed of 22 partners from 12 European countries, which represent the leading European institutions and collections in the fashion domain’ (http://blog.europeanafashion.eu/about/ * the CIP ICT-PSP program is run by the EU commission)).

Feeding into the Twitter stream of course garners attention for the network, makes it visible in the public eye. In the blink of an eye, at least, before the stream moves on. But the risk is that with such a feeble excuse for sharing an image of this bag, on this day, the lasting image is negligible, or could even be undermining the institution’s ethos and mission.

At least that’s the impression I’m left with. Blinded as I am by seething annoyance, I struggle to see how this promotes an understanding of the significance of fashion heritage.

But OK, I’ll try to snap out of it, give it a go. Say it loud: Happy National Handbag day!

There. Better now?

Working on my third article, about the museum gaze and museum objects, last week I came across three very different participatory projects that all resonated with me. In different ways, they inspired considerations of objects outside the museum, of attributing museal value to your own things and of notions of the everyday vs the extraordinary.

#Deldit2014 is an Instagram based call for submissions of photos of how we live in 2014. The initiative comes from ‘Den Gamle By’, an open-air museum of urban history and culture, whose mid-19th century township was recently supplemented by a section of city life in 1974. Now, in preparation for a future exhibition of 2014, the curators ask the public to share photos of their homes under a common hashtag. 

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Screenshot from Instagram, submission for #deldit2014

Participation in this project simply requires taking a snapshot of your home, the contents of your fridge or other snippets of everyday life. It thereby simultaneously satisfies the widespread urge to share your life on social media, and offers the tantalising prospect of contributing to future heritage, although the museum makes it clear that only select photos will enter their collection. But what makes the project most interesting for me is how adding hashtags or other descriptions inspires reflection not so much on the specific contents of my home, but of how they are typical of the times. What transpires is that most signifiers of personal taste and choices are actually ‘so 2014′: buying organic milk and veg, streaming TV series rather than watching TV, replacing CDs with Spotify and records (and referring to them as ‘vinyl’ rather than records or LP’s), having white painted floorboards; this, I realise, will seem like a timestamp when looking back sometime in the future. But of course the task of identifying and collecting the present is a great challenge, also for curators who cannot rely on the comfortable clarity of future hindsight, and are also themselves caught up in the Zeitgeist as well as in the unspoken codes of their own social taste tribes. Enlisting the public is therefore a brilliant strategy, as it simultaneously aids the curators and potentially broadens their perspective; promotes the museum in a cool, fun and approachable way via participants’ social media networks (marketing gold); and inspires reflection on current cultural heritage.

At Museum of Copenhagen, the exhibition Søren Kierkegaard: objects of love, works of love’ comprises the philosopher’s personal possessions and quotes from his writings on the subject of love with contributions of objects and their related ‘love stories’ from the public. This juxtaposition of refined prose with mundane objects worked a treat, and the simple yet rather striking execution of the physical exhibition renders it well worth a visit. The exhibition also has a virtual counterpart, from which the excerpts from Kierkegaard’s writings have strangely and sadly been omitted, but where some of the objects and the stories behind them can be found. (And although not all items from the exhibition can be found online, at least here all digital content is fully functioning, which unfortunately was not the case onsite. This remains a curse on digital mediation in museums, regardless of the platform, and equally frustrating each time.)

IMG_5214

Private snapshot from the Kierkegaard exhibition. The simple exhibition design consisted of a circle of double-sided exhibition cases, showing Kierkegaard’s quotes and objects in the inside circle, and items from the public related to the same themes on the outside.

Frankly, I haven’t read any Kierkegaard (this exhibition served as yet another reminder that I really ought to change that). Still, contemplating the philosophical concepts and many forms of love – loving friendship, romantic love, love of the self or love of a parent, for example – has such a universal appeal that prior knowledge of the literary sort was not a prerequisite. As the museum’s director, Jette Sandahl says, ‘[i]t’s a subject we are all experts on’, and, one might add, a subject that nevertheless can leave us all confused and unsure, as no level of expertise can safeguard us from fumbling and failing. This uncertainty, I gather, is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s writings on love. And while the historical artefacts may have the solidity of traditional museum objects, grounded in verifiable facts and documentable data regarding a person of indisputable cultural significance, it is the ambiguity of the subject matter that makes the exhibition interesting and relevant.

For me, Kierkegaard’s possessions had less of an aura than his words. The object that struck me the most, or stuck with me the most, was therefore not one of his, but one that was most banal. A simple handwritten note, of the ‘Will you be my boyfriend? Yes/No’-type. Of course, it’s instantly recognisable, we’ve all been there, as senders or recipients or both. It invokes sweet memories of a tender and somewhat silly age, but then again, little more than that: it is not a tale of everlasting passion. So what amazes me is that ‘Thomas’, who donated the object, had kept this scrap of paper for all these years, especially as the proposed ‘relationship’ came to nought. It is touching that it survived to become a museum object, with the essential capacity to speak simultaneously of the specific and the universal. Thomas’ anecdote of how the note was passed to him gives this item a specific provenance, but it also allows us to remember our own similar stories and reflect on scales of emotion, on coming of age, on the myriad of possible paths that makes up a life. The simple object, when cast in the right light, thus becomes an object for reflection.

Again, of course, I am reminded of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Still not impressed by the novel nor convinced by his Modest Manifesto for Museums, I have to concede that personal objects and stories of individuals can sometimes be very well, if not necessarily, as Pamuk would have it, ‘much better suited to displaying the depths of our humanity’ (ibid.).

Such an object might also have found its way to The Museum of Important Shit. A spin-off project from the film 20000 days on Earth, the website introduces the museum thus:

This virtual Museum catalogues the things that remind us of those transformative moments that make us who we are, and unlocks the stories connected to them.

This whole thing started with an old piece of chewing gum. Seriously.

We were shooting the film and Nick told us this spine-tingling story. Nina Simone had been a nightmare backstage at one of her final gigs. But when she walked on and sat down, she took the gum from her mouth and stuck it on the piano, and… transformed. It was one of those rare moments. Nick felt the gears of his heart change. We’ve all had experiences like this.

A few weeks later, we’re shooting another scene. Nick is asking bandmate Warren Ellis if he remembers that Nina Simone gig. Warren interrupts: “I have that gum” he says. And he really does. A pathetic looking dirty piece of gum, wrapped in a towel.

As Nick says in the film, “It’s shit, but it’s important shit. And that’s what this Museum is all about. We might not all have the masticated detritus of a jazz legend tucked away, but we all accumulate objects that have little financial value, but they hold the stories of the things that make us who we are. The Museum will unlock these transformative moments that define our very being. We urge you to share them with us, with the Museum, with the world. (Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, London, September 2014 http://www.20000daysonearth.com/museum/)

For some reason, this project stirred me. I wanted to make a contribution of my own, and was sad to realise that I did not have a secret stash of stuff to share (or at least the bits and pieces that I do have I decided were too private to make public, although sometimes the most public of spaces, such as the World Wide Web, can induce a comfortable sense of complete anonymity.) The rock stardust (‘Nick’ in the story being singer Nick Cave) obviously gives the project a certain allure, as well as amplifying the impact and reach. But the notion of these pivotal moments in life, and how we might hold on to them by way of simple objects, also just rings true. Although I may have discarded my own knick-knack, I can still relate to the urge to keep and treasure such relics, as material manifestations of a life lived, of joys and dreams and memorable experiences. It is, after all, a common condition, as argued by Sherry Turkle, who introduces the concept ‘evocative objects‘:

We find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgences. We are on less familiar ground when we consider objects as companions to our emotional lives or as provocations to thought. The notion of evocative objects brings together these two less familiar ideas, underscoring the inseparability of thought and feeling in our relationship to things. We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with. (2007:5)

Our love affair with evocative objects, however, has a touch of the illicit, as if sentimentality was an unseemly indulgence. One could argue that perhaps memorabilia is better kept in our hearts and our attics, that ‘important shit’ should not be musealised. Even though the cultural value of museum objects does not correlate to market price, the aura of precious odds and ends might fade in the public glare. Important shit may be too important to be subjected to the mortifying process of musealisation (if one is to trust the likes of Adorno and Huyssen). It could also be argued that personal debris is not worth the attention of museums. That while an object may speak volumes to the original keeper, its significance being a personal matter, it may not have much to say to a public audience, as museum objects are expected to do. Then again, perhaps this commonplace and very human attachment to bits of worthless junk and days gone by rightly calls for a communal celebration. In which case, however, it is the collective story, and not the individual objects, that warrants museum attention.

Now of course, the ‘Museum of important shit’ is a museum only be name. It makes little sense to assess the project or the submissions according to any museum standards. Still, it’s an evocative concept, one that triggers many thoughts about the correlation between museums, objects and subjects. About the conditioning of objects to the museum context and to museum narrative. About epistemological twists and turns. And about the difference between seeing museum objects as things that tell as story, and regarding them as potential things to think with.

And then, of course, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.


References

Adorno, T. (1967)1981, ‘Valery Proust Museum’, in Prisms, MIT Press, Cambridge
Huyssen, A. (1995), ‘Escape from Amnesia’, Twilight Memories: Marking time in a culture of amnesia, Routledge, New York & London
Turkle, S. (2007), ‘Introduction: The things that matter’ in Evocative Objects, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

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I bit my tongue on #museumcats day. But this time I’m gonna have to have just a bit of a rant.

So the Apple presentation was, what, yesterday? (Didn’t care enough to check it out, which could either mean that I’m a laggard, or putting myself on a high horse, or that I’m not alone and the days of Apple-mania are coming to an end). And the new gadgets will be out sometime next year. And then how long before you have a critical mass of users? But still, apparently, we have to know, definitely and asap, WHAT DOES APPLE WATCH MEAN FOR MUSEUMS?

My guess is, not much, for the time being. Plenty of time to wait and find out what Apple Watch will mean (I mean, mean? isn’t that elevating it a bit? at a glance it doesn’t look like much of a technological revolution, but I could be wrong) elsewhere, how use patterns may evolve, where the potential for appropriation for museums lies etc. Plenty of time to chew the cud and consider whether it really is necessary to find a way to design specifically for wearable technology. And plenty of other tasks to get on with in the meantime.

To me, this kind of overexcitement reeks of technology in search of a problem. Of businesses drumming up business (conferences, like MuseumNext, are businesses, big business even in some cases (I imagine, although actually I’m not speaking from a position of knowledge here), and digital developers/consultancies (like Sumo, for instance, who, as it happens, are behind MuseumNext. Small world) will also know to hype the hype and sell needs and problems to solve). But at least that’s kind of a comfort. Because the saddest thing is when it’s museum folk who get so bored with their own institutions that they are ready to jump on any digital bandwagon in the hope that it will take them to a brighter, cooler future.

I may be a laggard, but I’m not a luddite. I believe digital/online/social/mobile media can have a great many uses in museums. Some of them to great effect. And some attempts turn out not so great. That’s OK. As long as we don’t waste energy and ressources on simply following the temptation to play with the latest toys. As Nancy Proctor says, ‘It’s not about the technology’. I’ll leave it at that.

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