More institutional politician than technologist, former journalism professor and Columbia dean Sree Sreenivasan is the Met’s new Chief Digital Officer. This interviewed by the New York Times about his new role addresses the the ways in wich the Met already bristles with social media.
With technology racing ahead of the traditional means for informing museum-goers of what they’re looking at and why it might be important and where it fits into the many stories of art history, the museum has many opportunities to set the agenda for the rest of the museum community.
Sreenivasan is new to the job but he’s going to have to come up with something meaningful if the Met wants to capture a leading position among digital museums. Here’s a condensed version of several of his responses to the NYT’s questions:
Mobile devices are a key part of the way people interact with the world today. So it has to be a big part of our thinking as a museum. One of our colleagues signed up for Google Glass and walks around the museum wearing the gadget, helping us prepare for a time when wearable computers are going to be ubiquitous, the way tablets are now.
One of the worries in museums is all the people looking down at devices instead of looking up at the art. Well, if you wear Google Glass, you’re always looking straight ahead, but you are also looking through the art and accessing relevant — and irrelevant — info, data and more. We can think about ways that encourage you to connect more deeply with the artwork and the artist. […] In addition to improving our audio guide, we are in the process of building out apps of various kinds. Not everything has to be done through apps, since users and visitors also can access our mobile-friendly Web site. Now the vast majority of the museum has been outfitted for Wi-Fi, so that increases the possible ways we can connect with visitors and the visitors can connect with us.
Social media is another way we increase our reach. […] Some critics of social media complain that people spend more time taking photos and sharing the photos than appreciating the moment. I think that if visitors want to capture and share what they’re experiencing, that’s their prerogative. And they will seek out venues which encourage them to do so. We can encourage and support the ones who are excited about social and photography, without disturbing those who aren’t.
Our visitors, telling their stories and sharing their experiences, often inspire their friends and family to visit us. So their photos, posts, and comments can have a real impact on people deciding to make a trip to the museum — whether from across town or across the oceans. […] Right now, we are running a 100-part series called “82nd & Fifth”: two minutes of a curator talking about a single piece of art in the museum. In addition to wonderful photography, you get to hear the curator’s passion for a particular artwork, and, if you like, you can explore further in a digital way. It’s one of the best ways to learn about the Met and to be inspired to see even more of its singular collection.
As for other museums, I’ve been spending time visiting others in the city and beyond to see what’s working and what’s not.