MCN 2019 was an odd one, partly for its setting in a vacation paradise, and because I basically had no presentations. I did, though, help with managing volunteers, so I felt a bit unable to truly enjoy the proceedings. But, with those caveats, I will put down the biggest ideas I saw from the conference
- Cool tech is Passe: When technologists say tech for tech’s sake is a bad idea, you got to think they mean it. Over and over, sessions and attendees talked about how much they prefer to see tech as an tool to a solution. An ancillary to this was that the tech folks need to be in at the beginning, something we like to say every year, but sadly needs to be repeatedly yearly as well. When tech comes in late, it is an add-on or a shiny toy instead of a good solution. I will say that I had a great conversation in passing with a couple people working on VR, and they had an important caveat. Cool tech is passe when it doesn’t solve a real problem. It has to be the best solution for the problem at hand. And, if we don’t experiment with new tech, we won’t be able to use it well when it matures.
- Process is King too: Content is king is something I’m professionally dedicated to. But so many sessions were about process as being the way the content can really reign. Some of these sessions were about fostering a culture of sharing and respect. Others talked about breaking through siloes to work collectively. In some ways, I kept thinking our field needs a supply chain model for ideas, where everyone needs to see our interrelations in a more structural manner. I was particularly struck by this when talking to social media folks. This type of work is insanely hard. Most of them are much more facile writers than the rest of the field as they are continuously tacking tone for each platform. The rest of us just write in one or two styles. And, yet, these folks are often given the least lead time. I can’t help but feel (hope) if people understood the challenge of this type of writing that they would be brought in earlier in the process.
- Fad concepts often go too far: There seemed to be a trend to really question some of the popular terms in the field, like empathy and agile. Why? Because a critical eye on practice is good, firstly. Also, we often see the next new thing not just in tech but also in methodologies. When we do this, we often adapt processes poorly, missing the point. Or we think hey that’s going to save us. The truth is we are going to save ourselves by changing. There is no panacea. There is no bandaid. We are the authors of our future as a field.
- White Supremacy though ain’t a fad: The social problems of the world do not stop at the database. They are riddled with the things that make our society, in this case, the privilege of whiteness. Avoiding this truth does not make it go away. Dismantling the problems of the past will not occur unless each of us place critical attention to our work. All elements in society are, and should be, suspect. What happens if we do this? We make our museums more accessible, inclusive, and engaged.
- Sharing is Caring: Open Source of course was big the last couple years. This year, I heard many conversations about coalition-based work. People were talking about sector-wide research and action. I’m intensely excited about these conversations. We are both one museum in a city, but also part of the collective of museums. What can we do as a field when we stop competing and start acting as a bloc?
Thanks to all the MCN2019 attendees for being awesome, for the volunteers for keeping things going, and to the program chairs, Andrea, Andrea, and Eric.