For the first time in longer than I can recall, I have nothing I have to do for work. I’m between jobs, having what a friend decided to dub my “gap week”. Instead of unpacking my boxes from my old office, or spending all day reading up on the strategic plans of my new employer, I’m reading stuff I’d squirreled away, sometimes years ago that I thought I’d “get around to” in quieter moments. Susan Stewart’s “On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection” is one of the most remarkable books I’ve read lately. It’s written in a dense, but lyrical style, in the way that only a literary critic/poet could write. More on her later.
I also finally reread Adorno’s “Valèry Proust Museum” essay and the opening of that leapt out and smacked me,
“The German word museal [museum-like] has unpleasant overtones. It describes objects to which the observer no longer has a vital relationship and which are in the process of dying.”
And that’s just the beginning! He goes on to compare art museums to sepulchres and much, much more! There’s a lot more to unpack in there, but for some reason this statement about vitality made me think about why I get so excited about digital technologies in museums. A lot of that excitement has to do with their potential to create new kinds of connections between people and places and objects. Here’s one quick example of how.
Months ago, Britanny Beck from MyOrpheo shared a sweet little story with me that encapsulates a lot of what excites me about digital technologies and heritage. It’s a simple story, involving a guy, a gal, a historic building, and an audiotour.
Adam and Erica live in New York City. Erica’s favorite place in town is Grand Central Station. On one of their dates, they took the new audio tour of the station, which Erica loved. Adam decided using the audio tour would be a perfect way to ask her to marry him. He contacted Orpheo and pitched the idea of replacing one track on the tour with his proposal and then giving her a special unit with the new tour on it.
Being very good sports, MyOrpheo agreed to cut a special track and Adam was left with the job of arranging a plausible reason to take the same tour again. That’s what friends and family are for, right? So, Erica’s brother and sister-in-law conceived of a sudden burning desire to take the audio tour of Grand Central, and Erica fell for the idea of it being a double date. When she and Eric got to Vanderbilt Hall, instead of getting information on the room and its architecture, she got a marriage proposal. Eric got down on one knee, and the rest was history. Well played, Eric. Well played.
The relative ease with which one can customize digital media and the ability to create personal experiences are truly revolutionary. As is the shift in mindset of organizations to be able to even consider letting people appropriate their tools for their own ends. That’s worth getting excited about!