Monday, 8 February 2016


One of the most puzzling conversations I had while I was visiting museums in the States was at the MuseumNext conference in Indianapolis.

I was really lucky at that conference to intersect with Frith Williams from Te Papa (who was in America at the same time on a Fulbright). After two weeks of intense travelling and observing it was wonderful to spend time with someone who knew my local context and could help me process all the things I'd seen and heard.

At the drinks after one of the days of the conference, Frith and I got talking to two local post-grad Museum Studies students, who were volunteering at the event. They were agreeing vociferously with one of the speakers (I forget which) about the need to reach out to millennials (or whatever we want to call the current college-age population). I didn't dispute that we can't use "the same old channels" to reach this audience*, but it was when we pushed these two young women that things got interesting. They didn't read print newspapers or watch broadcast tv. But nor did they use Facebook, Twitter, or visit the websites of local museums. At this point Frith and I were quite puzzled - how did they track the world around them and talk to their friends? Well - mostly by texting, apparently.

I was kind of dismayed by this conversation. The marketing/comms side of me was dismayed by the narrowing of access points to these young viewers. How can you tell people about something they might enjoy - or something you've tried to make for them - if you can't reach them? And partly because two post-grad students who want to work in museums and live in the most vibrant museum country in the world were somehow proud of the fact that museums couldn't reach them - and unconcerned that they weren't being at all active about seeking information about what was happening at their local cultural institutions.

I was reminded of that conversation and my mixed feelings by this article by Felicity Duncan on The Conversation. She mixes anecdotal observational of her students (studying comms and social media) with recent research releases and writes:
Today, however, the newest data increasingly support the idea that young people are actually transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat. Instead of posting generic and sanitized updates for all to see, they are sharing their transient goofy selfies and blow-by-blow descriptions of class with only their closest friends.
Duncan concludes (by way of a rather strange segue into how this is scarier for parents because they can't monitor their kids):
The great promise of social media was that they would create a powerful and open public sphere, in which ideas could spread and networks of political action could form. If it is true that the young are turning aside from these platforms, and spending most of their time with messaging apps that connect only those who are already connected, the political promise of social media may never be realized.

*I would love to get some real research into how different age, geographic and cultural groups do and do not find out about arts events in their locations and nationally. I know in Lower Hutt, for example, that readership of the local print newspaper is still very high, and I wonder if that is reflected around the country, or varies region by region and age group by age group.

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