Thursday, June 18, 2015

What museums need to learn from the social aspects of the digital revolution

Fascinating talk at Remix Sydney recently by Dr Genevieve Bell, the Australian born cultural anthropologist and now director of the User Experience Group at Intel. Her talk responded to the question 'how will the technological revolution going on outside the walls of cultural institutions transform the environment in which we operate?''


Genevieve talked to the dichotomy we are dealing with on six issues:
  • Connectivity: We want to be connected all the time and get to where we want online instantly but we also want to be able to disconnect and have our own space. This leads into;
  • Privacy: We want to share information and images all the time, but we also really worry about our reputations and what people make of us. We particularly worry about what has been collected in the past which might surface in the future, and interestingly the current generation (millennials) worry about it most.
  • Big data: We all want more data as we think it will tell us more truths. In reality data is only as good as the data fed into it, and since we inherently tell lies a lot of the time ("you look great today" etc.), it's often not good data. We advocate transparency in others and yet jealously guard our secrets.
  • Algorithms: Algorithms are required to make sense of big data, but are all based on what has happened in the past. The surprising thing about so much data is how poorly we predict what it will tell us.
  • Memory and storage: The world is building unlimited storage and therefore memory - soon nothing will be forgotten. Yet as humans we are conditioned to (and indeed need to) forget some things in order to be able to move on. We should remember the big stories (e.g. the Stolen Generation), but we need to be able to forget the little stories about how we may have behaved with each other.
  • Innovation: We crave new technology and are culturally wired to consider it as a good thing, as a mark of the progress of humanity. However, we also fear it because we are conditioned by books and films that human hubris will overwhelm us, and the technology will go feral and kill us.
Genevieve concluded by advising us to weigh up new tech solutions against the following criteria:
  • They must be market inspired, solving problems that we care about
  • They must be experience driven, delivering experiences we want
  • They must be people centric, acknowledging that we are human and by our very nature a mass of contradictions
As the museum sector continues to grapple with new technologies and how to use them, this is salutary advice from someone right at the heart of the social dimension and impact of these technologies.

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