America’s quadrennial pretend-affair with soccer/fútbol came to a close this summer with the final of the World Cup. Now I’m about as close to the idealized American fan of soccer as you can be, but even I admit that America’s World Cup fascination is a bit like dating someone in the fourth grade, with passed notes and whispering classmates taking the place of ESPN: everyone gossips like you’re having a relationship with that girl/boy two rows away, but after it’s all over you realize that you never actually spoke to them.
Now we can go back to our general ignorance of American soccer and our greater level of interest in Champions League, the annual do-they-ever-stop-playing-it tournament going on every second in Europe. No sooner does one of the same handful of super-rich teams win the final, around Memorial Day, then the whole thing starts up again among the who-are-they? minnows from Cyprus and Estonia, teams with no chance.
I thought of CL when I read the New Media Consortium‘s fourth annual report on museums released in late 2013, around the time of the Museum Computer Network conference in Montréal. The NMC has been around for twenty years and seems to have the market cornered on studying the effect of digital technologies on education-related fields and institutions. The advisory board is a who’s who of Museum Computer Network players (including a couple from the Met), and NMC editor Alex Freeman presented the latest report‘s findings in Montréal. (Alex and a couple of NMC advisory board members graciously answered a bunch of questions I had about the preparation of the report.)
I won’t quibble with or dissect the report’s findings: reports are reports, and even the best and best-intentioned ones are as much horoscope as crystal ball, providing food for thought along with entertainment. What I find interesting is the section of the report that examines two upcoming trends in each of three time frames–one year or less, two or three years, and four or five years.
Even beyond the fact that the first group will be here (and hopefully not gone) before the next report is issued, it’s a tweener set of time scales. I would have loved to see ten or twenty years out; assuming we’re not all be sucked into Ray Kurzweil’s singularity or upload ourselves into software consciousness, what will the museum a decade or two out look like? (Hint: I see lots and lots of Google Glass.)
The findings, arrived at in an MVP-award-style balloting process (no elimination tournament? not even a group stage before a knockout round?), aren’t controversial: Bring Your Own Device (now understood as “BYOD”) and Crowdsourcing are already here, Electronic Publishing and Location-based Services are just outside the door, and Natural User Interfaces and Preservation and Conservation Technologies are just starting college and will be here in four years. The term ”Electronic Publishing” itself can be controversial, a topic I’ve addressed here on the blog and continue to discuss every day in my job at the Met.
My question, therefore, is how do these topics make it out of the technology conversation and into the lifeblood of our museums? For many institutions, they already are, as museum directors are increasingly concerned by visitor experience, which is impacted by all of these items (you can think of at least four of them as relating to mobile and social media, with digital publishing closely related; only preservation and conservation can be considered mostly internal to the museum and its staff).
So then it appears that the usefulness of the Horizon report is to provide an agenda, not just for conferences, but for conversation. An appendix to the report provides a bevy of examples of the cited technologies. In all its areas of focus, the NMC sets the baseline for discussing technology. Our challenge is to get it into the hands of those outside of the museum technology realm.