Understanding the Postdigital Museum

At what point does the use of digital technology in museums cease to be newsworthy? The answer is now, argues Ross Parry, the author of "The End of the Beginning: Normativity in the Postdigital Museum." Parry makes the case for a new way of seeing museums – one that accepts digital technology as normative, if not quite universal, and focuses on what that means for museums' strategies and structures. It's time to start thinking of museums as "postdigital."

Via case studies of several museums across the United Kingdom, Parry examines the ways in which digitality has become bound up in museums' missions, structures, and self-perceptions. In many respects this has been an outwardly observable shift. For example, prioritizing digital technology is now explicitly worked into many museums' mission statements, especially with regard to how museums aim to bring their content to the public. It can also be seen in the shake-up of museums' departmental structures. Workers in many departments are now encouraged take on digital responsibilities and roles, which is gradually replacing the old structure of technology-based work being confined to an IT department that was, traditionally, fairly isolated from the rest of the institution.

More abstractly, Parry observes positive reinforcement for workers who engage in "digital thinking," which is characterized by the collaboration and iteration that are hallmarks of digital projects, but which in the postdigital museum has started to influence offline projects as well. This indicates that postdigitality is not just about a certain level of technological sophistication — it is a way of thinking and working.

The overarching theme here is that the use of technology in museums is no longer revolutionary. Rather than having a digital strategy or a digital presence, digitality is now pervasive through all departments and initiatives. It has been assimilated, embedded, naturalized. Parry asserts that museum research must reflect this by moving beyond questions about technology "adoption" and "uptake," and by blurring the distinction between the concepts of 'digital' and 'nondigital.'

Parry, Ross. 2013. "The End of the Beginning: Normativity in the Postdigital Museum." Museum Worlds 1(1): 24-39.

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