Creative Cultural Research – Week 2

Posted: February 18, 2015 in Mediated Lives

My blog this week is based on Michelle Henning’s chapter about New Media, found in Sharon Maconald’s book, A Companion to Museum Studies (2011).  Having been to many museums over the years, I have noticed a change in the way information is presented and how new technology is revolutionising the museum experience. This convergence of “mass media practices and technologies with data processing technologies [Manovich 2001:23] are permeating many aspects of the museum experience. From hand held information devices to virtual museum realities, the user is bombarded with information in a way never seen before. I can understand why institutions such as museums would want to embrace new media – to modernise and reach new audiences, to deliver information in a similar way to ‘the outside world’ but at what cost? I’m not convinced that more people would enter museums because the information was being accessed via a mobile phone. However there are many museum apps already in existence that offer a virtual tour – see

Here, in the comfort of your own home, you can ‘immerse yourself in the life of two roman cities, study objects in detail and discover an eruption time line’.

Is this a cautionary tale for museums? As Griffiths (2003:375-7) ponders “New media is threatening the authenticity of the artefact, the authority of traditional sources of knowledge and as vulgarising museums, turning them into commercialised sites for edutainment”.

One of the many functions of museums is to present artefacts and information that we would not normally be able to see. When this becomes virtual does it negate their function? Perhaps there is a balance to be struck which satisfies the technologically savvy user and the bystander historian hiding in all of us. Museums of the future have a difficult path to tread as they try to keep the awe and wonder of historical artefacts while presenting information in an interesting and ‘technologically pleasing’ way.

Not only do museums have to battle with the expanding desire for technology but also the ever decreasing attention span of the general public. Most educators and psychologists now agree that spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation (citing new technology as the biggest culprit). In 2013, the average adult attention span was 8 seconds (a goldfish has a 9 second attention span).

Is it too much for museums to present artefacts and assume that users will take time to discover their historical story? For museums not to become defunct they do need to meet the needs of the users and many museums are now thinking of ways to present their artefacts using cinematography and 3D backdrops to bring the artefacts to life and attempt to place them within the culture and setting within which they were found. The American Museum of Natural History uses taxidermy, wax modelling , 3D backdrops, cinematography, all geared to immerse the user in the information and artefacts. The 8 second attention span is negated here as users flit from one scene to another, immersing themselves in a wealth of information.  Museums of the future will need to cater for all users, taking into account a diminishing attention span and which take users on a fully sensory and interactive journey through time. Technology must enhance rather than engulf this experience.


Henning M (2011) – New Media found in: Macdonald S,  A Companion to Museum Studies

Manovich L (2001)  – The Language of New Media

Griffiths (2003) cited in Macdonald S,  A Companion to Museum Studies (2011)


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