Tag Archives: MW

What We Talk About When We Talk About Digital

Empty Seats CC-BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user Benson Kua

Empty Seats
CC-BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user Benson Kua

So I’m missing Museums and the Web, wondering about MuseumNext, and planning for MCN. So. Much. Conference.

Realizing that the window to submit proposals to MCN was fast drawing closed, I decided the time had come to dare an Ignite talk. One of the my personal highlights of the conference, these short presentations are no walk in the park. You’ve got five minutes, and 20 slides. The slides automatically advance every fifteen seconds, and there’s no do-over if you get lost. It’s work to pull off a good one. But a good one is great, and a great one is sublime! And having survived doing a Moth-style storytelling session at AAM last year, I figured it was high time to step up submit something.

But what to talk about? Ignite-style talks are great for pithy provocations more than lengthy discourse; short stories rather than novels. A tweet from Seb Chan had been stuck in my head for the past couple of days.

And since he was sad, and I was thinking of Ignite talks as short stories, the two ideas turned into a Raymond Carver story and I wrote down “What We Talk About When We Talk About Digital.” Unpacking that title is going to take some time, and it’s unclear where it’s going to end up, but that’s why I started blogging. I’m quite excited too!

The idea
What I told MCN I’d do is present a freewheeling meditation on how we frame the problem/challenge/opportunity of “digital”, and how those frames can limit us. I’ll poke at the tensions and conflicting definitions we use for “digital” and wander into the anthropological to posit that in these days of an Internet of Things (where there are more things talking teach other on the Internet than there are people) Alfred Kroeber’s idea of the Superorganic might be applicable to the digital realm.

I know I want to build off my CODE|WORDS essay on the virtues of promiscuity, in parts. That’s a whole ‘nother topic, which I’ll have to explore. It’s one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve done in a long time, but it’s not quite there. That was one of the points of CODE|WORDS; to be faster, looser, and more discursive and less worried about polish. That said, it’s only about 80% of what I think it should be.

The meat of the piece will be to problematize the way we talk about “open” instead of “free”, “content” instead of “objects and ideas”, and “engagement” instead of “relationships between people”. There’ll be more as I explore the idea, but that’s what I’ve got for now. Hopefully, you’ll help me fill in the missing bits?

On leaving and arriving

The junk in the bottom of the desk.

The junk in the bottom of the desk.

A long silence on the old blog. It is a well-known fact that an idle blog is a dead one, but this has been more of a medically induced coma.  It’s not that I’ve been lazy, just preoccupied.

I submitted my resignation on Wednesday and am leaving the Museum of Science, some thirty-odd years after I first walked through the doors as a very junior Junior Volunteer. And the planning, worrying and waiting that accompanies leaving an institution after so long has consumed most of my brainpower. It’s exciting, scary, and very odd to think of myself going somewhere different every day. Grad school feels like a walk in the park compared to the prospect of diving into a new job, and a completely new culture. But, dive I will.

I have accepted the job of Associate Director of Integrated Media at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, and for the next four years will be managing a wide range of media projects projects for their temporary exhibitions *and* preparing for the 2017 reopening of the museum, which will entail 175,000 square feet of new exhibit space and a complete reinstallation of the collection! They don’t lack for ambition at PEM, and that’s exciting! My interest in the intersection of the digital and museums is pretty obvious if you’re reading this blog for more than the first time, and my position at PEM will be a great opportunity to turn ideas into practice. A trifle overwhelming right now, but invigorating.

Which doesn’t make leaving any easier. When you’re engaged in project-based work, there’s never a good time to leave other than at the end of a project, and like so many other colleagues, I rarely work on only one project at a time any more. So I’ll be leaving loose ends that my coworkers and friends will have to tie up. That’s a hard thing to come to terms with, but that’s the reality of it. I won’t see the final version of that interactive. I won’t be at the opening of that exhibition. I will have not any stake in who the Museum hires to fill vacant positions, including mine.

Time to mount up and move on.

And arriving

I’ll be at Museums and Web representing my my new employer, so if you’re in Portland, do come by and say, “Hi!” I’ve been going to MW since the late 90s and always gotten something out of the experience. I’m really looking forward to going in my new role, to see the conference with a fresh perspective and different questions and hopes for what I can learn there. It’ll be fun to be an oldish newbie.

Which brings me to my first question for you:

What resources would you recommend I check out, as a freshly-minted art museum professional, to get a start on understanding the state of art museum educational theory and practice? 

Anything is fair game; books, articles, websites, people, places outside the field worth looking at, etc… I know it’s a broad question, but it’s intentionally so. I’m in the divergent phase of my research and I like to throw the net wide and gather as many data as I can.  There’ll be time later to process and converge. For now, I’m hungry and I hope you’ll feed me. And don’t limit yourself to technology. As an example, I’d been dabbling a bit in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) at the Museum of Science and wondering how they might apply in a science museum context.

I’m also an experiential learner, and like to immerse myself in places. I’ve always got a list of museums I’m dying to go visit, but I’d like to ask one more question of you:

Which art museums are on your top ten list of institutions doing interesting work?

I know, I know… It’s another stupidly broad question, but bear with me, OK? I’m new to this! 😉 If you could tell me a museum that’s on your list and what about it puts it there, I’d be grateful. As an example, my personal list includes Cleveland Museum of Art because of the philosophy behind Gallery One, as well as the technological details of implementing it. The list also includes Dallas Museum of Art for their “DMA Friends and Partners” program. Ditching paid admission and membership for an interaction-based economy is endlessly fascinating to me and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and input.

next Boston Museum Tech Meetup, 2/2 7PM at CBC

Happy New Year folks! 2012 is upon us, so let’s celebrate with drinks and good cheer!

Drinks by Flickr user The Vault DFW

Our next meetup will be on Thursday, February 2nd, at 7PM.  As we have for the past few months, the meetup will be at the  Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square, Cambridge.  I’ll be there a bit before 7PM. If enough people commit, I think I’ll even reserve a big table, so check your calendars and let me know!

The topic is “digital interactives”
This month, I also have an ulterior motive. I want your brains. And the brains of anybody else from your institutions you want to bring along. Seb Chan from the Cooper-Hewitt and I have been talking about new rationales for digital interactives and I’m interested in exploring why people do computer interactives.  We’d like to come up with a definition for digital interactivity that isn’t stuck in the 1990s, as I admit my default model is… We are hoping to do something at Museums and the Web akin to Koven Smith’s awesome “What’s the point of museum websites?” unconference session, and then present at MCN on the topic, so this would foundational research for us. What do you say? Wanna drink and discuss and make kiosk jokes?