Thursday, April 1, 2010

Museums & Technology conference: guest review

By Lauren Merker, Research Assistant
I thought I would follow-on to Maria’s post on the California Association of Museums’ annual conference with my impressions. It took place in Silicon Valley- a seemingly appropriate location for a conference titled “Museums and Technology”.

I (and presumably like most of the attendees) came for a variety of reasons, but with high expectations for learning about innovative techniques and cutting edge trends in the museum field. This expectation was probably driven by the ubiquitous and often times mysterious word “technology” following the word “museum” in the conference title. I came prepared to be wowed and inspired by cool gadgets, innovative uses of social media and the Internet, and new ways museums have used technology to make what they do more accessible. Unfortunately, my standards may have been a bit too high.

The conference was structured to focus on technology, innovative uses of social media and the Internet, and cool gadgets that could be used in a museum setting. However, it was made clear to me that the attendees, and even many of the presenters, were just not ready to bring the conversations up to a level that inspires. Instead, the conference was kicked off with a metaphor about how a popcorn maker and a shower head exemplified the best kind of technology (no offense Nina) and that thread of “sticking to what works” wove itself throughout the entire rest of the day. The bar of innovation was set low and underneath it was an unwavering din of technological confusion, misunderstandings about media and the Internet, and grasping on for dear life to “what has always worked”.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I may be (barely) part of the “Millennial Generation”- happily riding the wave of instant communication, knowledge, and gratification. But my cuspy birth year roots me firmly in the ideals of Generation X, which gives me my shaky sense of pragmatism and a healthy bit of mistrust. So I get it. I empathize with the museum professionals who haven’t blindly embraced any and all forms of media and technology for use in their institutions. Admittedly, much of these techy gadgets and flashy websites won’t in any way execute a mission more effectively. But, cant we at least open up our minds to the possibility that some of these gadgets may be useful? And that some types of social media can reach new and diverse audiences? And understand that dabbling in big, fun ideas can be a great exercise that creates a mood of risk-taking and achieving the impossible? Sigh…maybe at the 2015 “Museums and Technology” conference.

1 comment:

Nina Simon said...

Hi Lauren,
I appreciate your honest take on the CAM conference.

I share your interest in seeing examples that are truly inspiring and forward-thinking... but I don't expect to find such examples at a museum conference. With very few exceptions, museums are in the mainstream, not on the leading edge, when it comes to technology adoption. There are so many other conferences and venues, from E3 to Eyebeam to the MIT Media Lab, where the newest and shiniest is on display. If the CAM conference (which I believe was themed "reflect on tech") had been focused on the newest developments in museum technology, I think it would have been rather dull.

As it was, my favorite session had nothing to do with technology - it was the CEO discussion about making innovation possible within museum staffs. We still have a lot of groundwork to do before a state museum conference is a place where you can be wowed by technology. As you say, perhaps in 2015.