Category Archives: society

Museums Under New Management. Yours.

Yahoo Ad at Times SquareOver the last decade museums have become increasingly focused on their audience, what it knows and what it desires. While the focus group and formative evaluation has been around for a long time, there is a new trend in museums to solicit and feedback a visitor’s ideas as an integral part of their experience ‘on the floor’ . This is rapidly becoming the most valued mode of interactive engagement. True to the very notion that these experiences are essentially anti-authoritative, there is no agreed upon terminology for what this new activity is. Common terms used are ‘user-generated content’, ‘public-curating’, ‘crowdsourcing’, ‘bottom-up planning’, ‘audience engagement’, ‘user-centered design’, ‘talkback’, among many others.

These ideas follow a general trend in society based on a constant re-definition the self through the objects and ideas we associate ourselves with (see earlier post on this topic). With the notion of personal self-fulfillment at its apex, this new sense of how our identity in constructed also re-defines how we as individuals relate to society on the whole. We no longer expect to identify with overarching ideas and desires of a collective, societal-level experience, unless we select to join that experience. In fact over arching ideas are treated as suspect ideology. For the last 40 years or so the commercial sector has been bolstering this sense of the self determining individual, desire and focus on the self with generations of products designed around an expectation that products and services will be personalized and responsive to individual customers needs and interests. (No matter that we as consumers we eventually become slaves to some company’s idea for who we are).  If museums have traditionally reflected ideas about society and transformed to keep pace with larger shifts and societal identifications than it can be assumed that museums must also necessarily change to reflect this obsession with self-definition.

Last week we began to explore how a range of social-networking technologies have emerged to meet this new desire.  The social network is essentially a device that builds on the processes of self-selection and personalization, placing the user at the center of his web-based world, filtering content and creating associations that reinforce the user’s sense of self. Following the Web 2.0 Summit, Facebook founder, Sean Parker relates his vision of the future of internet commerce and posits that very soon, if not already, information services (like Yahoo, Google, YouTube, MSN) will be outmoded by network services (like Twitter, Facebook, Ebay, Paypal)” as the core value of the internet. Sean says that “Collecting data is less important than connecting people.” and ” New economic value on the internet will not be generated by the search, but by the number of connections it generates”. In other words, it is not the content but the connections that count. Crowdsourcing and auto-generative processes that lend meaning generated by collective actions of individual users over the opinions of experts, has now become a new tool for the production of the museum experience. In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki asserts that a diverse crowd is often wiser at making decisions than expert individuals. The Brooklyn Museum took this idea to heart when they ‘crowdsourced’ their recent exhibition titled Click.

pyramid_n

Illustration by Nina Simon (museumtwo.com)

Nina Simon writes extensively on this topic of museums and how they relate to Web 2.0 technologies and social participatory experiences. In her post titled Hierarchy of Social Participation, she created the above diagram that illustrates five potential levels of a museum’s engagement with visitors. These range from passive receptivity at the bottom (most museum experiences) to collective social engagement in the creation of the museum experience (few but a growing number of museums). You could say that these emergent museums are “under new management”… that of the visitor.

It is interesting to try to imagine a museum that has no authoritative voice, no scholarly enterprise at its core, and perhaps no content of its own. This kind of museum would simply provide the infrastructure and the interface to connect visitors in a creative and generative process that aggregates an ever-changing and collectively produced content. The process itself and the feeling of being connected to other people becomes the experience. One commenter on Nina’s site likened this highest level of creative participation to that of a rave party. The Brooklyn Museum is a rapidly emerging as a pioneer in this area of Museum 2.0 exploration. It is not surprising that they also have regular, late-night, public parties in their exhibition halls after the curators and collections managers go home.

Tim Ventimiglia

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Museums,Technology, Life

Technology Based LifeI would like to share with you my response to the first chapter of the book Networked Publics titled “Place: The Networking of Public Space” by Kazys Varnelis and Anne Friedberg, and what I think the role of Museums would be in the future in response to a technology-based life.

How new technologies are affecting human relationships and social structure? As human beings we have always been part of social groups and I wonder how technology is changing this. Is this human disconnection created by technological connection going to turn us into a kind of hermit with no private lives and no personal relationships?  Or are we maybe going to become nomads again?

Cell phones have brought about significant changes at many different levels. As stated in Networked Publicseven working and meeting schedules are more flexible because we have the opportunity to call and tell we are running late. But from my personal experience more relevant changes have occurred in developing countries. Places where rural and poor people never had a telephone because companies wouldn’t go that far away or risk not to get paid, suddenly had the opportunity to connect to the world. The appearance of the cell phone and pay-as-you-go plans gave these people the opportunity to communicate with the rest of the world for first time and in some sense to belong to a society bigger than their small towns or neighborhoods. They finally could be part of the exterior world.

But in the same way cell phones had the capacity to integrate communities into the world, they also have a bigger capacity to disintegrating human physical contact. We have arrived to a point where we don’t even want to hear each other’s voice. We can just text each other. There is no need to create a physical connection. But as human beings we need to touch and we need to be touche. It is part of a healthy life. I can understand now why some movie writers would imagine the future of the world as a place where people won’t even touch each other to have sex.  But I wonder if this isolation is the consequence of technology taking people apart or the reaction of people trying to get back their personal space and get away from a live overload with technology. The question here is: Is technology isolating us from people or is it taking away our personal space and moments?  I think the answer is both. We don’t have more time for ourselves but we are fewer and fewer in direct contact with other people. People expect us to be working, informed and available all the time just because technology has given us the possibility to do it, but it has also taken away our right to rest and have those spaces in live so important to be with ourselves, reflect and even pray. I remember a business man telling me how upset he was because airplanes have internet now and his boss was expecting him to work on the airplane while before he could have this time for himself.  Is this global connection disconnecting us from ourselves?

Another interesting relationship is the way communication can transform architecture. As Victor Hugo stated the book changed the way architecture was used as a communicative surface. Are new technologies and ways of communication going to change the relationship between architecture an humans in more deeply ways?

When internet appeared we were wondering if office spaces, stores and restaurants would become obsolete by the fact that you could do everything from home and send it by internet and also get everything from the net. But now with mobile internet and mobile technologies, I wonder… is our house going to become obsolete?

If telecocoons have given the possibility to create their own worlds completely divorced from a physical architecture, can technology lead us to a divorce from it as a permanent place to live? If we can carry our work, our connections, our communications, our games, and our diversions in a small cell phone inside our pockets all over the world, why would we need a house?  Could it be possible that we go back to the time when men were nomads? Traveling now is easier and more affordable and technologies give us the possibility to stay connected to the world no matter where we are. Maybe the future residential projects will become hospitality projects and hotels would become our virtual homes. Instead of bringing our bags full of stuff we will bring our cell phones full of connections.

Now the question that rises is: What is going to be the role of museums in a so connected and at the same time so detached world?  In a world where people will lose their connection with themselves and where physical connection with other people and spaces will be irrelevant, museums will offer a space for reflection and reconnection with us and also a physical space to promote physical connections between people while learning and amusing ourselves.  In a world where people see themselves just as part of a global network, museums will still be part of the network but will bring people together again and will recreate a sense of society and a sense of belonging to the human race and not only to a technological network. No matter where we are, museums will be the space to escape from virtual life and reconnect with real life.

Maria Antonia Villegas

Bilbao’s Epitaph

Frank Gehry's Performance Pavillion at Millenium Park

Frank Gehry's Performing Arts Pavillion at Millenium Park

We knew it was coming. Today New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff officially declared the end to an epoch of iconic cultural architecture in America. I suppose this is also the end of the Bilbao Effect. His article surveys history of American cultural identity as expressed through architecture beginning with the City Beautiful Movement in the late 19th Century. I found this statement rather interesting: “The problem with freedom, after all, is that it allows for horrifying imaginative failures as well as works of stunning genius.” This reminded me of a quote from Goethe ” There is nothing worst than an active imagination, a lot of money and no taste”. It makes you wonder how many bad ideas we may have been saved from. What will all of this mean for the next generation of museum building? What forms will museums of the new epoch take in response to this new found modesty? Perhaps what is happening inside the museum will finally become as important than what is happening on the outside.

Tim Ventimiglia

Identity Museum – MOCA

The Museum of Chinese in America

The Museum of Chinese in America

I recently visited the newly re-opened MOCA–Museum of Chinese in America.  Drawn partially, I’ll admit, by the museum’s architect, Maya Lin, I was also interested in seeing what, if any new design ideas on how to present this history–“Chinese in America”–an example of these unique groups building museums to tell specific cultural identity stories.  Firstly, I find the title of this museum interesting–“Museum of Chinese in America,”  not “Museum of the History of Chinese Americans” or “Museum of American Chinese,” but “Museum of Chinese in America.”  The words “Chinese in America” suggest to me a purposeful separation of “Chinese” and “America” and does not imply overlap or inclusion.  Perhaps that is part of the point, that for most of the history of Chinese immigrating to the U.S. our culture separated and labeled them as “Chinese” and not “American.” I thought that this was particularly relevant to our class conversation about the growing presence of such group and identity-specific museums.  I have to question, who is the audience?  Throughout my visit I felt as though the museum made no effort to connect this “Chinese” experience in America to any other immigrant group (other than a brief commentary on the Japanese interment during WWII).  If museums keep telling these specific stories and do not connect them out to a larger point or group, aren’t they missing part of the point of the very history they are trying to present?  Regardless, some of the objects on display in the museum, e.g. a candy box for “Fu Manchus” or a copy of “The Good Earth,” were great tools that could speak about racism without use of many words.  I wish the current section, instead of having a wall of famous Asian Americans–Maya Lin, Yo Yo Ma, Ang Lee, they might have discussed current immigration or racial issues because this story is still ongoing–just because we have museums that discuss these issues historically, does not mean they are not still alive and relevant today.

kmcaleer

The Self

Many of our conversations in class today concerned the museum visitor historically, a changing sense of “the self”, how this contributes to identity and the ways in which museums engage their audience. Our conversation widened to explore the role of social networking technologies and the issues associated with self-selection and collaborative filtering and how that relates to a museum’s function, its authority and the role of the curator.

It is interesting to imagine that today people generally interact with a greater number of other people than at any other time in history. However these people are also far less likely to encounter someone who does not already share similar interests. One obvious conclusion is that we are in danger of losing the ability to be critical thinkers, to debate issues, and engage in rational conversations with consenting adults who disagree with each other.

You can see evidence of this in our political news media. There is a great deal of emotion, no shared language, and next to nothing that opposing parties can agree upon. As CFM’s “Museums & Society: 2034” study discusses, self-selection has led to a polarized society where constituencies gather in safe clusters of like-minded peers, institutions and their content. Technology plays a role in this but it may be more of a symptom of something deeper than technology as an instigator. It is always easiest to blame the tool. This does not mean that social networking technologies are inherently bad. But they do reveal a tendency that is growing stronger and should be better understood in the context of museums.

The idea of self-selection and the shaping of identity has a long history that predates Facebook and other applications by decades. In fact the shaping of identity in our political and commercial world  is largely informed by psychoanalysis and its contributions to commercial marketing and public relations beginning in the late 1930s. At this time analysts began seeking a practical means of applying their science to the public at large. I recently saw a recent BBC production titled “The Century of the Self “which explores this history in four chapters.  Its one of the most powerful and timely documentaries that I have seen. It is a must for anyone thinking about these issues. It is available as streaming media on Archive.org.

Tim Ventimiglia

The Future Museum

Following a rough history of the museum in the posts above, what shall we say about the future of the museum? Hopefully the rest of this semester will cast some light on this and put forth some informed speculations. When imagining the future one can really only talk about current trends and, if they show signs of continuing, to project how they might shape our world. Throughout history museums have followed changes in society and evolved to suit its needs. It is safe to guess that the increasingly rapid changes in society (technology, energy, education, economy, etc) will precipitate a need for museums to adapt sooner than later. In fact the existing museum models do seem a bit tired and are hard-pressed to keep up with and address a range of social and technological issues that are already in play. Thanks to a wide variety of thinkers in the museum community, some initial ideas are emerging.

Museum Stages.xlsx

We know that the museum of the future will have to recognize a world that is connected by a complex and constantly shifting network of influences, a disappearance of temporality and a sense of self that is shaped more by the social networks we inhabit moment to moment than by any singular defining experiences. Through collaborative filtering, users of Web 2.0 applications talk to more people than any generation before them but are less and less likely to meet someone who does not already share similar interests. We are by default all members of special interest groups. In fact each of us likely has multiple identities that inform our sense of self. Some of these may even conflict with one another. Museums already find themselves no longer serving categorizable audiences but micro-constituencies which take form and disappear with a speed that is impossible to respond to in traditional mediums. We are all simultaneously curators and consumers.  Content is generated by the user on-demand and the proliferation of free content via the internet has changed they way a younger audience perceives cultural value in a museum. Thinking about a new model for the future of the museum does not suggest we abandon the object or “the real” and supplant these critical assets with technology. But it does suggest that the new mediums and experiences of a generation who know the world through social networks and new tools must come into play. However to understand these new “Networked Publics” [ed. Varnelis] we should not look at the technologies but look more carefully at the desires of the society that gave shape to and created these technologies to serve its needs.

Some major influences on my thinking here include the recent work of historian and cultural theorist Kazys Varnelis, who is the director of Columbia University’s Netlab, Nina Simon who perhaps coined the term “Museum 2.0” with her notable weblog dedicated to the subject, and Dr Angelina Russo who presides over a weblog titled Museum 3.0 (perhaps trumping Nina, or maybe just because Museum 2.0 was taken). All three are amazing thinkers and far more qualified scholars than I am. I have also been reading AAM’s Center For the Future of  Museums’ recently commissioned study “Museums & Society: 2034” and The New Media Consortium’s “2009 Horizon Report” which forecasts the adoption of emergent technologies in public space. I will summarize those in a future post.

Tim Ventimiglia

The Post-Modern Museum

At some point in the mid 20th Century the modern museum began to take on a new form. Consumer culture gained a hightened level of self-consciousness, and the very notion of “the self” as shaped by individual experiences rather than a societal imperatives, took root and fostered a new way of thinking about museums. What emerged was a focus on the customer, a deeper understanding of the audience and meeting that audience’s needs. The post-modern museum emphasizes the user, education, relevancy and accessibility. In fact it is often described as a place of lifelong learning, supplementary to a more formal education compulsory learning in schools. Unlike the modern museum which might be characterized by didactic pedagogy, learning in a post-modern museum is experiential and accounts for different learning styles. Here the constituent chooses his or her own interests and the museum tailors its programs and exhibitions to those interests. Instead of prioritizing the curator’s voice as an overarching authority, these museums rely more on the meanings produced by their visitors and constituents through interactive engagement. As Eilean Hooper-Greenhill puts it “Meaning is produced by museum visitor from their own point of view, using whatever knowledge and skills they bring with them, according to the contingent demands of the moment”. Here, modern social psychology and constructivist educational theory prevails.

Museum Stages.xlsx

Exhibitions in these museums are largely developed with the aid of professional designers, creative practitioners who borrow the tools of advertising, a carefully crafted language, the focus group, formative evaluation and the survey. They are generally multi-modal, mixing a large variety of tools and techniques – combining exhibit script, objects, photography, graphics, media, interactivity, immersive sensory experiences, dramatic and directed lighting  – all of which serves to stimulate the exploratory desires of the visitor. The may have a proscriptive route but often have ways to wander and impulsively dig deeper into subjects you might be interested in. The ultimate challenge of this kind of museum which seeks cultural relevancy is that culture is a moving target.

Tim Ventimiglia