The future of museums – the massively multiplayer forecast

I’ve just received an announcement from AAM about a Massively Multiplayer Forecasting Game they’ll use to shape our thinking about the museum of the future. (If you’re a member of AAM, no doubt you’ve received this message as well.) Here’s a copy-and-paste from the announcement:

Players are encouraged to “imagine out loud” how their families, their local communities, their professions, or their extended social networks might respond to the game scenarios. They build websites from the future, keep blogs from the future, upload podcasts from the future, make videos from the future, develop research wikis from the future, and host discussion forums from the future. In short, they persuasively record, discuss, and debate the details of how they imagine their own personal futures might play out within the game parameters. In Superstruct, we’ll show you the world as it might look in 2019—and you’ll show us what it’s like to live there.

And here’s what the announcement says about some of the scenarios the game will present players with:

It’s 2019. Your museum is contacted by the Department of Homeland Security and informed that an international group touring your museum was exposed, on their flight to the U.S., to the latest deadly strain of Respiratory Distress Syndrome. You are instructed to lock down the museum and shelter staff and visitors in place while government authorities determine whether anyone is infected. Are you prepared to deal with this? Other snapshots from 2019: Is your museum ready to help your community cope with an influx of climate refugees? How will your operations change in the face of soaring energy prices or collapse of the food production and distribution system? Your museum depends on its website to deliver information and attract visitors, but your content has been corrupted repeatedly in the past few months by hackers attempting to undermine the credibility of your museum. How do you adapt?

I’m struck by the fact that these scenarios are completely focused on quasi-catastrophic threats from the outside. I’m personally more worried about the threats to the future of museums from the inside, so to speak. I hope they’ll add this scenario as well:

“It’s 2019, and your museum’s digitization initiatives are still paralyzed by copyright concerns, the tantalizing vision of a revenue stream from licensing digital images, and the notion that providing online access to digital images of its collection equals an unbearable loss of control. Your visitorship is dwindling – since they can’t find much of your content online, people have stopped believing that there’s much worth seeing on your walls. How do you adapt?”

The latest indicator that this scenario is becoming less likely: the Smithsonian just announced that they’ll put the 137 million-object collection of their two dozen (give or take) collecting units online. Kudos to our SI colleagues and their new Secretary G. Wayne Clough!

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