Everyone has a museum that’s somehow memorable and special to them. With over 2,500 museums across the UK and over 55,000 globally, museums often form the focal point of cities, and our memories of the places we visit. From the weird and wacky to the statuesque and beautiful, each museum serves to portray a distinct message to every visitor through their doors. They act as time capsules to preserve various aspects of human culture and turn these into an experience that unites their visitors. At a time when technology is pulling our attention everywhere we turn and information is available at the tap of a button, it has now become more important than ever to balance the dual role of technology between increasing accessibility and eroding tradition.
Perhaps the key way technology can enhance museums is in increasing accessibility. Museums have been justifiability accused of being elitist and hard to access. Often set in imposing buildings with strict rules, the museum experience is intimidating – but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve already seen the emergence of audio guides that have made museums more accessible to visitors from across the globe, and technology has the capacity to develop this even further. Technology could digitise the whole experience, allowing people to access exhibitions through their own screens, in their own homes. This would allow people who feel anxious in the confines of a strict museum setting, or are unable to physically travel to a museum, to still be able to access the exhibits and information contained within. Doing this ensures the information and history contained within remains present in cultural knowledge and safe for future generations.
To go further, people often forget that technology makes things fun. Museums don’t need to be highbrow institutions that exist for the elite few. They have such an important role to play in teaching and inspiring younger generations that is often forgotten. For instance, the Petrosains Science Museum in Kuala Lumpur opens with a dark ride through an audio-visual display showcasing Malaysia’s scientific history. This has had a massive impact in engaging younger generations in both Malaysia’s past and their role in its future. Shouldn’t this be what all museums aim to do? Through developing the audio and visual interactive capabilities of museums such as science museums, this could make the museum experience more engaging for younger visitors. By bringing museums to life this can help underline their importance and attract new audiences, keeping them relevant in our ever-changing society.
Fundamentally, museums should play a key role in preservation. Whether it’s history, art or science, museums encapsulate our values as a society and show what we want to keep safe. Also, the important role museums play in storing and caring for historic artefacts should also not be understated. Digitising the contents of museums make sure these artefacts can live on. Imagine if every artefact in every museum was digitised and freely available for years to come. The cultural impact of these artefacts would be able to live on long past the actual physical shells of the museums that house them. However, whilst the digitisation of museums is important, merely replicating a museum online is not enough. We still need to care for the items from history that make museums possible.
However, it’s also hard to picture how technology can encapsulate the je ne sais quoi that makes visiting a museum so transcendental. There’s more to a museum than its exhibits – the building, the atmosphere, even the people all serve to build an individual spirit unique to each museum. Countless visitors throughout history have spent many a day at museums, people watching, working, or merely relaxing. The museum experience is just as worthy of preservation as the exhibits inside, and whilst technology has an important role to play in developing museums this can’t be done at the cost of museums’ integrity and tradition.
Museums are not a thing of the past. Visiting a museum is an experience that has remained valuable and relevant throughout our history, and technology shouldn’t change this. However, the museum experience should be accessible to everyone – and technology has a key role to play in ensuring this is possible. To survive, museums should embrace technology and live symbiotically with modern developments. Nothing will ever replace the emotional experience of going to a museum, but that doesn’t mean technology shouldn’t be embraced to try and replicate this for as many people as possible to keep museums relevant, informative and fun.
[Catherine Bouchard – she/her – @cat_b_99]
[Photo credit: Edward Palmer]