writing about talking + talking about writing

Posted on October 8, 2012

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I’ve been thinking about blogging and social media lately; about what it means to ‘grow up’ professionally in public, and about what the indiscriminate opportunity to publish – open to anyone, but grasped by relatively few – is doing to our professional dialogue. The longer I think about these issues, the less certain are my conclusions.

Andrew Sullivan, a veteran of the art form, writes of blogging this way:

This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism. It is accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers and other bloggers, and linked via hypertext to continuously multiplying references and sources. Unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory. The consequences of this for the act of writing are still sinking in.

The consequences for museums, and museum professionals too, are also still uncertain. In his post, entitled Why I blog, Sullivan further proposes that “…the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.” But if this is a broadcast medium, it lingers like a publication. What are the consequences of this for our profession, or for those individuals who choose to engage in this space regularly? Although there are some museum blogs that have been around for years, it is a form still in its nascency.

In November, I have two opportunities to reflect on these questions. The first is in a panel on blogging at MCN2012 with Ed Rodley, Eric Seigel and Mike Murawski, which will consider blogging from both a personal and institutional perspective. We’ll ask what it means “to learn in public, and be an active and consistently open communicator? Where does blogging fit into an institutional, professional and personal identity? How do you manage multiple online identities? How do you deal with the inevitable public criticism and negative reactions to your work? What impact has blogging made on your career and life more generally?”

I’m super eager to work through these questions with smarter and more experienced heads than mine, particularly at a conference like MCN. I loved MCN last year, and with the program for MCN2012 looking great, I cannot wait to head back to the USA.  The conference is kicking off with an Ignite session to pop the mood into “stimulating” from the start. MCN2012 will also be a chance to catch up with so many museumers who challenge me, and to follow up in person with some of my favourite museumgeek guest bloggers like Janet Carding, Liz Neely and Matthew Israel. I’m feeling inspired already.

I will also be reflecting on social media as a disruptive force in museum discourse at INTERCOM2012 in Sydney. INTERCOM is  ICOM’s International Committee for Management, which “focuses on ideas, issues and practices relating to the management of museums, within an international context.” The 2012 conference has #museumchallenges as its theme, which recalls Rob Stein’s discussions from 2011 (I wonder how the conversation will have altered in a year). The INTERCOM program looks great, and I’m looking forward to learning what museum directors and speakers from around the world see as being the greatest immediate and long-term challenges facing museums now (plus, Jasper will be here!). How different are the concerns of museum professionals in China, Finland or Colombia from my own? And what can we learn from their experiences?

No doubt I’ll pick up lots of new insights to share with those playing at home, too.

Are you attending MCN2012 or INTERCOM2012? Do you think that social media has impacted your work or profile as a museum professional? How do you feel about its influence on your own career, or the sector at large?

BTW – Mar Dixon is conducting her second annual survey on social media and the cultural sector. You should fill it out.