Social media + the shifting pace of museum discourse

Posted on May 19, 2012

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Ed Rodley has just started the coolest museum blogging project I’ve come across lately. He is asking the museum/blog community to imagine making a museum from scratch.

I thought it would be a fun thought experiment to build a new museum, one with no baggage, no legacy systems, no entrenched staff of Generation ___ who need to understand ____.  If you were going to build a museum in 2012, what would it look like? How would it be organized? Who would work there and what would their work lives be like? Want to play along?

The first post is only a few hours old, but already it is bringing to the surface some interesting questions. If somehow you read my blog and don’t already follow Ed’s, I suggest you head over there right now.

This concept of co-building or co-creating an idea-museum together in this way really brings home to me just how powerful social media can be for encouraging really engaged discourse that can reshape our sector in a very fast and dynamic way. Right now, after reading Ed’s post, all I want to do is think about my first steps in making a museum. Those questions and ideas are sure to stick with me for days at the least, and likely much longer. And in response, I am participating in Ed’s discussions, and additionally starting my own over here. And all it takes is a few more people doing the same, and the entire discourse of the field starts to shift.

In the pre-Internet days, new ideas must have taken so much longer to filter through and be engaged with. Print media and conferences would still have allowed new ideas to flourish, but the call-and-response must surely have taken more time. I am curious about what that meant for museums, then, and the way the sector was reshaped through conversation.

The theme for INTERCOM 2012 is #museumchallenges. The brief starts with this statement:

Museums have always operated in times of change, yet the challenges and pace of change over the last five years has been unprecedented. Globalisation, environmental issues and climate change, relationships with Indigenous and creator communities, diversity of audiences, different employee mindsets, new skill sets, new media and technologies and the global financial crisis, have placed increasing pressure on the ways museums are managed and led.

I wonder if it’s not so much that the pace of change has altered, but the pace at which that change is communicated internationally via blogs, Twitter, video-streaming etc. Is it simply that the discourse can now shift within a matter of days, whereas previously it would have taken far longer? Is social media then creating an illusion of unprecedented change, or is it in fact a contributor to that change? And do you think a new museum theorist could be truly impactful on the sector these days without participating in social media?

Social media has been implicated in political revolutions. To what extent do you think it is playing a role in museum revolutions?

Posted in: Ideas, Museums, Questions