Printed: 2020-07-14

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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How To Make a Spy Exhibit Boring

Evan Selinger


October 16, 2012

Museums are using technology to create spectacle, not spark learning.

In the status update age, it may be hard to believe, but not every aspect of technology should cater to you and your experience. Museums are especially vulnerable to the dangers of user-centrism, and pressure is increasing for them to embrace the experience economy by offering interactive exhibits that “come alive.” Sure, visitors are learning and having fun, but in the long run, this attitude may threaten the durability of collections—you know, the reason why you go to the museum in the first place.

Today’s museums give the entertainment industry a run for its money. According to the Horizon Report: 2011 Museum Edition —a joint effort between the Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts and the New Medium Consortium —there’s an all-out digital love fest going on. In the near-term, its authors expect extensive efforts to focus on mobile apps. In the next two to three years, they predict “wide-spread adoptions” of augmented reality. Four to five years down the road, emphasis should shift to digital preservation (looking for ways to “future-proof” digital objects) and smart artifacts that “blur the line” between digital and physical things.

To get a sense of whether the digital turn will live up to the hype, we went off to see “Spy: The Secret World of Espionage” at Discovery Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. Although the venue is branded as a “more than a museum”—presumably because it offers shows that assault the viewer with titillating technology—we prefer to see it as a magnifying glass that can illuminate potential museum pitfalls.

The essay was co-written with John Mix

To Read the rest of the Essay, CLICK HERE

Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The AtlanticWiredSlateForbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.


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