Have you ever wondered how the MCN Program Committee chooses the conference theme? It’s often a messy but always a very thoughtful process.
In early February, as we started to contemplate possible directions for themes for this year’s conference, we (the Program Co-Chairs) invited Program Committee members to consider these questions:
- How have current events and non-museum trends intersected with our work? Alternatively, how can they inform our work?
- What are the big opportunities and challenges facing our community of practice?
- What’s exciting in the world of museum tech and how could it transform your work?
The discussions quickly turned into an incisive analysis of our field, future, and wider cultural context. In a freewheeling thread of 60+ posts, we canvassed the Museums are Not Neutral movement, Net Neutrality, activism and resistance, and equity, accessibility, and inclusion. We asked how museums can establish public trust and foster meaningful discourse and personal connections in a time of discord and disinformation, and noted the ways in which we’ve recently seen the promise of technology flounder in biased algorithms, fake news, and the invective of online trolls and bots. At the same time, we celebrated the transformative power of digital tools and how essential they are to our everyday work as well as to our institutions’ respective missions.
In short, we found ourselves extolling the virtues of profoundly human qualities—empathy, communication, creativity, and inquiry—within the context of planning for a museum technology conference. Wait… isn’t that a bit contradictory?
Program Committee member Chad Weinard helped us see this through thereby coalescing the general thinking:
“… I’ve been working lately with digital humanities projects in academia, which empower humanities research with digital tools and mindsets (digitization, visual analysis, etc.). That’s great work, but I’m feeling over the past year that another, perhaps more urgent task, is the reverse … making technology culture more human. Museums may have a role both in digitizing humanities and humanizing the digital.“
Hence, Humanizing the Digital was born. Because we recognize the diversity of professional disciplines within the MCN community, we wanted to make sure that this year’s theme could kindle vibrant dialogue among all circles, from IT to interpretive media. In fact, we intentionally tested that further by asking Program Committee members to “try on” the theme as a way to generate ideas for would-be sessions to gauge alignment with the theme. For reference, here are a few examples of what sessions could focus on:
- Digital leadership and strategy
- Ethical responsibilities of museums in the digital age
- Public communication and advocacy
- Using technology to build empathy, foster dialogue, and inspire positive change
- Hands-on and participatory solutions to specific museum technology problems
But wait a minute: wasn’t the MCN 2016 theme The Human-Centered Museum? Indeed it was, and it does share a similar focus with Humanizing the Digital. But we’re hoping for 2018 to be a continuation of the rich discourse that blossomed in New Orleans. In addition, we also believe that Humanizing the Digital takes on new dimension, and a gravitas of it own, in light of the profound social and cultural changes that we’ve witnessed over the past few years.
We look forward to seeing the proposals for workshops, sessions, or talks that Humanizing the Digital will inspire you to submit, as well as the ensuing conversations—both online and IRL. Stay tuned for upcoming updates on the conference keynote speaker, and the call for proposals, which will be live April 1-30.
In parting, we invite you to look to Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, for inspiration:
“If being human is not simply a matter of being born flesh and blood, if it’s simply a way of thinking, acting, and feeling, then I am hopeful that one day I will discover my own humanity. Until then, I will continue learning, changing, growing, and trying to become more than what I am.“
-Adrienne Lalli Hills, Rob Weisberg, and Catherine Devine
MCN 2018 Conference Program Co-Chairs