by • 21 Nov, 2012 • Thoughts about museumsComments (5)8498

The Museum Without Technology

I’m in Sydney at the moment for a bunch of workshops and to contribute to Intercom 2012. My stay started well with a lunch meeting at the Australian Museum. Over sandwiches we discussed future digital trends and how to cope with them as an institution. On of the central ideas we discussed is what I like to refer to as ‘technology as a commodity’ (like water or electricity) or the disappearance of the interface*.

I believe we’re moving towards a world in which the interface between us and the world will disappear. At the moment mobile (and some watches) are about the smallest interface around and the trend is definitely that smaller is better. At a certain moment in the near future interfaces will be so small and so smart that they will have effectively disappeared. Nothing will separate us from the (technologically augmented) world around us: there will be no more inter, only face.

This is not an original thought and I’d love to give proper credit if I knew who was the first person to come up with this, but maybe it’s so obvious nobody really thought of it. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it, though, as it has impact on the way we do stuff in museums.

  • First of all, with all the world’s knowledge and information unconstrained by any interface, it will roam freely through our galleries and exhibitions, making it ever more important that we have a compelling narrative to get and keep the visitor’s attention. Of course, there’s opportunity in all this as well, as museums will be able to be the cabinets of curiosity of the (post) digital age.
  • In a museum without interfaces, there will be nowhere to hide. Interfaces are great ways to hide weaknesses in content or a story, just like explosions make up for a lack of plot in many Hollywood productions. When technology is a commodity, this is over, and whatever your museum shows or tells must be great by its own merits.
  • We will not be able to hide behind technology anymore. At the Australian Museum we discussed how computers seem to be a constant in our work as museum professionals. I believe (and hope) they will disappear as well, at least partly, so that we can look beyond (our) desks to do our job. I’ve made it an habit to spend as much time away from interfaces as possible, using the time instead to talk to and observe people, doodle and write in cafes or even go for a run to get my job done. It works.

The Museum Without Technology seems to be a great title for a Koven J. Smith presentation or museum association unconference theme. There’s much more to it than the three simple points I addressed above and I think most of these are opportunities rather than threats, although they will first present themselves as challenges.

I’m curious to hear if you agree with me, and/or where you think this is heading. Thanks!

* As Mia Ridge (rightfully) pointed out, the actual ‘interface’ will never disappear. There’s always some sort of interface: “Even haptic, ubicomp, ambient computing have interfaces.” What will happen is that the interface will become ‘invisible’ (again, not always really so) in a way that we don’t consciously see it or interact with it anymore, much is the way an iPhone or iPad tries to disappear and be invisible. Of course, then it’s easier to summarise this and say the interface will disappear:-)

Header photo by Jeff Kubina on Flickr.

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