Has Technology Changed the Way We Engage and Connect?

Just a little more than twenty-five years have passed since the introduction of the personal computer  and computerized games. Are you old enough to remember DOS or the first Nintendo play station?  

If you’re a young adult you’ll probably remember the Nintendo entertainment system and if your older you might remember DOS.

I was first introduced to computers through work in my early twenties. There was no such thing as social engagement and the world-wide web hadn’t made its introduction yet. My introduction was to a tool. A glorified typewriter. Computers were one of the tools I used while I worked as a graphics layout and paste-up person for a publishing company. I also remember using a land line phone if I needed to speak with someone. Cellular phones in the 80’s were huge! And, not as common as they are today. And, we don’t call them cellular phones any more. Just cell phones. But, you knew that.

It wasn’t until 1991 that the world-wide web was launched. Remember AOL? Then, Google came on the scene in 1998. Do you remember what you were doing in 1998? In the mid 90’s I remember carrying around a beeper. that’s what people who couldn’t afford cell phones used and if someone urgently needed to get in touch, then you would look for a public phone to use. That’s when public phones were more common. About two years ago, when I was in Montreal, I saw a public phone in the subway. I was in shock. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a public phone. So I took a picture of the public phone with my smart phone.

At the time I was in art school, it didn’t focus on computer technology. The Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design was a school of fine arts with a small graphics department. Now it’s a University with Mac computer research labs and technology at the core of its curriculum.

What does all of this mean? Well, there is a real divide between generations when it comes to communicating and engagement. There are those who emerged at the cusp of the technology explosion, who never experienced DOS, beepers and the dial phone and those that still remember what it was like to use a dial phone.

What I find fascinating is how technology has shaped experiences beyond social media and other web engagement platforms.

Cultural centres, museums and art galleries are monoliths built on a model of engagement that developed in the late 19th century; paintings arranged on white walls for people to passively appreciate and critique. Today, people don’t want to be passive bystanders. They want to be part of the creative experience.

I think this is something galleries and museums are starting to recognize. Technology has changed us and the way we want to experience the world.

Professionals in key institutional positions are retiring and with that comes new ideas and change implemented by those stepping in to fill positions. There is a generation of cultural workers that grew up with new media for the greater part of their life and they’re bringing those experiences with them.

Culture is in a constant state of flux. Art events and process oriented art has always been around. Art students learned about the dadaist happenings during the early part of the 20th century. By the 70’s Andy Warhol was famous for The Factory and gatherings that took place there. These events were created for a select group of people. People within a circle. The public events (happenings) experienced today are different in that they operate for everyone and anyone that wants to participate.

In the late 80’s all night public happenings emerged in Europe with the Helsinki festival as the model for future illuminated events. Today, as we stand at the start of the 21st century, the public want to be a part of cultural experiences and art rooted in process. Have you heard of Burning Man? If you haven’t, Google it. It’s an amazing experience.

Many times I’ve heard artists complain of galleries and institutions as gate keepers and monolithic white elephants, out of touch with the community. As someone who worked for a non-profit organization, I understand the struggles of artists and institutions.

The question is, how do artists bring their work into the public domain? And, how do institutions embrace their community and create exciting programs that feels inclusive and not elitist?

Nina Simon, Executive Director of The Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, has been referred to as a visionary for her work in participatory museum engagement. She is the author of the book The Participatory Museum and her blog Museum 2.0.

After listening to a Youtube broadcast of her speech at the NAMP conference  I was excited and couldn’t wait to share what I had learned. I don’t know how her thinking will help artists individually, but I think everyone can walk away with something. One thing I’m sure of is we need to look at the ways we ask our audience to experience and engage with our art.

how you are keeping up with the changing times?

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One thought on “Has Technology Changed the Way We Engage and Connect?

  1. Yes, I remember life before social networking!

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