I think this would have been a superb week to read Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, particularly in relation to Rosenzweig and Cohen's thoughts on Exhibits and Film as made available through digital media (mainly the internet). Yes, access is truly a wonderful thing, but is viewing a online version of a museum exhibition about say, Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 portrait of George Washington (Portrait included) the same experience and does it garner the same 'take away' as going to actually stand in front of the portrait and the supporting artifacts and exhibit? Benjamin would naturally argue no. Rosenzweig and Cohen also agree that the internet is not a replacement for the real thing, but weigh the negatives of that against the positives of increased access. But can a person truly engage the exhibit in the way intended by viewing it online? Can you breech comfort and provoke through the controlled view of a computer screen? Will museum directors and museum design staff become moot players eventually as exhibits cease to be physical and just go online? Will people eventually give up on a museum and just go to their computer to experience an exhibit?
For the most part I appreciated Cohen and Rosenzweig's thoughts and analysis. However, for some sections (particularly those on creating, maintaining and backing up a site) I started to have flash backs to taking the GRE when they explained to you how to use a mouse and the up and down arrows. This, I suppose, does function as an example of how issues of digitization and digital media become out of date by the time you publish them.
Skipping back a paragraph, returning to the future of museums, I found the piece "Museums and Society 2034" fascinating and aggravating all at the same time. The point that struck me the most, possibly because I did all of the digital media reading first, was their discussion of media in the museum. They apparently do not believe museums will fall off the face of the earth, which is good, but they do believe they will become more media/digitally driven. This will be good for a society that is increasingly 'tech-y'. However, they miss the ever popular 'generation gap'. Despite feeling myself to be fairly technically savvy, it is entirely possible that when I am 60, I will be completely inept at using whatever the latest mechanical doohickey (technical, I know) the kids are writing their school work on. How will this translate to museums? If they are increasingly media and digitally driven, what generation's technical knowledge will they be catering to? Will parts of museums become inaccessible to a particular generation or group due to the technical constraints of the exhibit? (Throughout this entire article I waited for the phrase 'flying car' to get thrown around. Alas, it did not happen.)
And to make this completely lacking in any form of segue, a wee discussion of the two smaller articles, that about Haunted Mice and that about Internet as Civic Engagement. I liked both of these pieces, and think that they provide case studies about how the internet can be a really useful tool, for those both supernaturally inclined and community driven.