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Museums and the Web Wake-Up Call
March 25, 2006


baby with cell phone

An archetypal mobile superuser. It starts very, very early.

I thought I was beginning to understand this job just a little bit. We talk to curators and educators about art, listen to the public, and generally get excited about things and try to pull it all together in digital form. We’ve been doing Web and new media for 10 years now, and I was beginning to feel like I was getting the hang of it.

Ha! Wishful thinking, Dilbert!

The cause of my vexation is the 10th annual Museums and the Web conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I waltz in here with my freshy dry-cleaned coat and tie to teach a workshop about managing large projects and give a paper  on data strategy. And, oh yeah, listen to the other papers and talk to people about what’s new and cool. But gotta get back to the office. We’re reopening in 90 days. Chiao, baby!

And then, wake-up call. Literally, ring-ring, “hello.” It’s a paper about teenagers and mobile phones given by Denise Bressler from the Liberty Science Center in Jersy City, NJ.

Denise writes:

“The research on teen ownership and usage of mobile phones is astounding. Teenagers are the ones establishing the rules of this new mobile culture ad hoc; they are the ‘archetypal mobile superusers.’ To them, the mobile phone is not a device for making phone calls, but rather, a ‘lifeline’ to the social network and an instrument for coordinating their everyday life.”

Now I knew that teenagers—generation M for Mobile—use their phones a lot. But what floored me about Denise’s paper was the extent to which mobile content delivery is simply a way of life for American teens, and how differently they perceive the telephone device than I do. It’s not about talking. (How quaint!) It’s about text and Instant Messaging and Internet access and photography and video and music. It’s about $700 phone bills (if you’re not careful) and living your life online, wherever you are.

Hearing the paper, I was reminded of the feeling I had back in the ‘90s when we all knew that the Internet revolution was underway, but we had yet to fully explain how to use it and what it meant to our organizations. I also remember sitting in a room with television, radio, and music-industry executives last year who were stupified that with all their content they couldn’t seem to turn a buck online. Yet consumers were spending $2 billion a year downloading ring tones—ring tones, fer goodness sake!

Though I’m a crusty geek-manager kind-of-guy now, maybe I’ve learned enough to recognize the future when it reaches out and pours hot conference buffet coffee on my lap. What’s going on with mobile computing now is as profound and revolutionary as what was happening with the Web ten years ago, and one way or another it’s going to affect the way we interact with our visitors and they interact with each other.


Posted by Michael Edson on March 25, 2006 in Museums & Technology


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