Week 4: Technology as Objects

Digitized images and objects along with electronic kiosks are nothing new nowadays in museums. Many have adopted the practice of incorporating technology into their exhibitions. However, based on this week’s readings and my own experience, I am a little doubtful about the effectiveness of technology in museums, especially when it involves minority cultures. Gwyneira Isaac argues in her essay that media technology has become a ‘museum object’ rather than a platform that provides for better exploration and cultural understanding of the artifacts in the exhibitions. Its presence has distracted the viewers’ attention from what’s really important. When I visited the Getty Center for my museum field report, kiosks were usually occupied by younger kids. Adults just stood back and watched as their kids became immersed into the technology. These kids did not look up from the screen to examine the real object in front of them, and instead treated the kiosk as if it was a part of the exhibition. I wonder if they have attained any cultural knowledge or understanding of the object or if they were simply drawn in by what the device can do. If it is the latter, wouldn’t technology pose a threat to the objects it’s supposed to support?

There have been arguments regarding the lack of diversity or underrepresentation of minority cultures in exhibitions. And as cultural institutions, museums have the social responsibility of educating the visitors, broadening their perspectives, and encouraging conversations among the community members. However, Lavine and Karp point out that exhibitions reflect the views and attitudes of the people who created it. They wield a form of authority where “decisions are made to emphasize one element and to downplay others, to assert some truths and to ignore others.” With this in mind, exhibiting cultures that were historically undervalued, misrepresented, or silenced can be a great challenge for these exhibition makers. With an already sensitive issue at hand, a misguided use of technology within these exhibitions can lead to further marginalization of cultures and trivialization of their issues.

Isaac also points out how media technology is used for the wrong reason, such as to “present the image of modernity.” Museums need visitors to function, and with places like Apple, they might have felt the need to amp up their image among the younger generations. However, incorporating some kind of technology into the exhibit does not necessarily mean that it will enhance the visitors’ experiences. It can actually deflect the purpose of the exhibition. Therefore, museum curators really need to weigh the pros and cons of incorporating technology into exhibitions and decide if it is appropriate and carefully examine the effects on the museum visitors.

One thought on “Week 4: Technology as Objects”

  1. Very true. Your blog post reminds me of the One Laptop Per Child project, which aimed to bring a low-cost laptop to every child in the world. Many people now regard the project as a failure, because it didn’t account for the differing cultural contexts in which people use technology.

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