Danny Birchall, Issue 117/05, p14, 01.05.2017
Meditative, not interactive
This is my final digital column, and I offer a mea culpa: looking back, I’ve often been more sceptical than enthusiastic about new developments in technology. What I’ve tried to propose is an alternative to the two opposing modes of thinking about the impact of digital.

In innovation-mania mode, digital promises the midas touch, transforming museum experiences and blowing away barriers to access. But the reality is often expensive one-off projects that aren’t properly evaluated. At the other end of the spectrum, the databean counters promise to analyse and track users’ needs, tweaking the museum’s offer to ever-better accommodate them. The danger here is that inspiration and intuition get sucked out of museum programming and the unexpected is eliminated.

The real magic of digital is more prosaic: the internet is just where people live their lives these days. Social media gives a voice to those whose histories have often been overwritten by heritage institutions: museums should use the chance to listen as much as to educate. The intricacies of the licensing on your creative commons drop is not as important as simply making images available for teachers, students and bedroom photoshoppers. And while museums will never be shopping malls, we should savour the excitement with which visitors use their phones to save, shape and share their experience of cultural heritage.

As long as museums are part of life, they are part of the digital world. Thanks for reading.

Danny Birchall is the digital manager at the Wellcome Collection