Museum Sanctity in a Digital Age

I must declare that I make this blog post with some trepidation.  I know that this topic is not on-trend  with the popular/populist movement in museums.  That said,  I am not an old stodger, who is completely lacking in tech skills -- the opposite, in fact.  My career depends on digital technologies: the creation and maintenance of museum databases for collections, exhibitions and digital assets; I manage several web sites and multiple Twitter accounts. Technophobe, I am not.

In this age of mobile technology it has become increasingly difficult to find a space where you can return to life before the ubiquity of mobile technologies. A museum would seem the ideal place to immerse yourself in the nostalgia of a bygone era. A quiet, reflective, contemplative space.  Not necessarily so.

More museums are working in earnest to capitalize on digital technologies to provide opportunities for deeper understanding to existing visitors, to reach new audiences and to engage in 2-way communication. These are certainly worthwhile pursuits but at what cost?  I often think back to an extremely visceral experience I had at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. As a social historian with a particular interest in the role religion played in medieval England I was drawn to the case with the small ivory diptychs which sat in the middle of a semi-circular gallery at the beginning of the Medieval section in the European galleries. I thought to myself it was a bit silly to put such small items with such intricate detail at waist level. I knelt down to look at the exquisite detail on these magnificent objects. Then suddenly music swelled and I was immersed in a medieval plainchant which come from nowhere and enveloped the small gallery.  As I looked up to see where the music was coming from, I realized that I was on my knees looking up at a magnificent altar piece with small personal devotional items immediately in front of me and the semi-circular gallery was reminiscent of the apse in a Medieval church. I still get chills when I think of that moment. I am not religious but sometimes the right combination of ingredients allows for a truly spiritual experience in a gallery.  

I doubt that I will ever regale an audience about the time I scanned a QR code in a gallery or used my phone as a vehicle for an audio guide or label text. We all know that that the road towards implementing technology, for its own sake, will lead to a path of outdated, broken ideas and stale technology in galleries who lack the budget to maintain the cutting edge.

As more galleries are incorporating video kiosks, qr codes, wi-fi I worry that we are at risk of losing those opportunities. I agree that to deliver content in a relevant, accessible way makes sense, but what we have to offer should go beyond what visitors expect. By delivering it in the same method they do their banking, buy their books, watch tv it puts our exhibitions on the same level. Our galleries and exhibitions are more than the sum of their parts or the method of delivery. People have come to expect technology, so let's give them an experience they don't expect.

 

 

 

Why "Gloaming"?

Gloaming represents that time between the light of day and the stillness of night. It is the time to reflect upon what has happened and to dream about what is to come. That is what our web site is about: reflecting on the past, as well as anticipation of what lays around the next corner... walking the streets of deserted ghost towns, tracing the names on monuments in overgrown cemeteries, looking at the faces of our ancestors in old photogrpahs and seeing ourselves....

Privacy: A Social Norm?

Privacy is no longer a social norm, according to the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg commenting on the rise of social networking.

Many young people are choosing to open their lives in ways their parents would have thought impossible and their grandparents unthinkable. Their lives play out on a public stage of their own design as they strive for visibility, connectedness and knowledge,

--  Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Does Mark Zuckerberg actually believe that "privacy is no longer a social norm" or is he simply ingratiating Facebook more thoroughly into our popular and collective conscience or is he rationalising the decision to change 350 million users privacy settings?  Facebook\'s popularity is based on the sharing of personal information.  If we as a society rejceted Zuckerberg's assertion that privacy is no longer a social norm, then sites like Facebook would fall out of favour, or certainly become less pervasive -- and invasive.

Identity thefts are dramatically on the rise invariably due, at least in part, to the posting of all of our personal information for all and sundry to see?  Recent changes in Facebook's privacy settings (which were compelled, at least partially, by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner) are a start.  Personally, I get the sense that Facebook users are more upset by yet another change to the layout than they are to the global changes in privacy settings.  If that is the case, perhaps Mark Zuckerberg is right.  Perhaps the expectation of personal privacy is no longer an expectation in this digital age.

Twitter Identity Crisis

I have been playing with Twitter for almost three years now. It is one of those social media that I felt I should be using, but I found it a bit difficult to figure out what to Tweet.  I simply tweeted things that I found interesting. After several months of tweeting, I surveyed my tweets and discovered that I was tweeting with several distinct voices.  I struggled with how to make that work with a single account. I experimented with attaching distinct hashtags to my respective twitter voices.  I soon realised that I wasn't actually attracting any new followers.

My concern with having 4 distinct voices in one account is the potential for irritating my followers.  I have unfollowed overzealous Tweeters whom I initially followed for their alleged subject content which promised to be relevant, engaging and interesting.  Unfortunately it is interspersed with various tweets about ice cream flavours, dancing hot-spots and how irritating their neighbours are. I respect their desire to tweet what they like, but it muddied the authority of their more professional tweets. When the excessive Tweets which are irrelevant to or inconsistent with their bio, it is time to reconsider the relationship.

I was worried that the authority of my professional tweets would be compromised if interspersed with posts about my dog or my politics.  I decided to create separate accounts for each of distinct my voices.  The result is that I now manage 4 Twitter accounts, each with its own personality. Although I am spreading my followers over 4 accounts, I have actually gained many new followers since adopting this strategy. That said, twitter isn't a popularity contest about how many followers you have. I am interested in the number of followers as a way to gauge how successful/relevant my tweets are.  As more people follow me and re-tweet what I have said it suggests to me that what I am doing is interesting or useful.

Having 4 accounts sounds confusing and cumbersome, but it is actually quite easy to keep them separate. Sometimes there is cross-over, but generally these are distinct on-line identities; the tweets tend to fall into one or two accounts.  You'll note that 2 of my avatars are the same.  I didn't think that there would be much cross-over between the 2 groups, so when I seconded the Dead Canadians maple leaf avatar for the Canadian Registrars group, I didn't feel compelled to replace it.    

twitter piperchickTO

@piperchickTO is my personal account in my own voice. It feeds my Facebook status and my personal web site (social media convergence is another topic worth exploring). I tweet about my dog, my house, my bagpipes, my politics, and what I am doing. I don’t expect those beyond my circle of friends and family to follow this account.

twitter canreg

@CanRegistrar is my professional special-interest account. I strive for a neutral voice.  I am the founder of a group for Canadian Registrars, and I run a web site and a list-serv so a Twitter account seemed a logical extension.  In fact, I post more on twitter than the web site or list serv.

twitter dead canadians

@DeadCanadians is my personal special-interest account for which I use a neutral voice.  It is a very specific this-day-in-history type of account. I usually express facts and don't usually express opinions. This is my most widely followed account.

twitter gloamingTO

@GloamingTO is my professional account for tweeting industry-specific news and events using my own voice.  This is the account that I use in the course I teach at Ryerson University which is about using digital applications in museums.  I set up a class hashtag and everyone signed up for a twitter account.

New Venture: Professor Allen

This fall I will be co-teaching a course in Collections Management at Ryerson University (PP8107 - Digital Applications for Collection Management ).

I will be teaching part of the course and the head cataloguing librarian will teach the rest (she is also the course administrator).

This is an exciting opportunity for me to move ahead in my career.

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