Friday, September 19, 2014

Futurist Friday: Cities of the Future

Just to switch things up a little, this week's Futurist Friday assignment is a listen rather than a read.

Jacob Morgan interviews Deb Acosta, the chief innovation officer for the city of San Leandro, CA, for his Future of Work podcast:

Cities of the Future: building the city of the future and driving innovation (1 hr)

Acosta shares how San Leandro is using high-speed connectivity to become competitive as a good place to run a business and a good place to live, as well as her projections of what cities will look like in the next quarter century. 

I think you will like her remarks on the importance of the arts in creating a livable city, (I kept waiting for her to say "museum"--but I guess San Leandro doesn't have one now since their History Museum & Art Gallery shows up on Google Maps as "permanently closed." Sigh.) 

I hope this podcast inspires you to look around in your own city/town/state for Acosta's counterpart. Austin has a chief innovation officer--so does Kansas City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. (Here's one attempt to map these positions across the country.)

While these officers often emphasize technology, they are more broadly responsible for a futures-oriented approach with city planning: charged with identifying strategies that will help their community take advantage of cultural, economic environmental AND technological trends in order to prosper. 

I hope these CIOs appreciate the power of museums to help shape the future, and count the resources we bring to the table as one of their tools for change. But I suspect many of them do not. So if you have a Chief Innovation Officer (or the equivalent) in the area you serve, call them up, give them a tour of the museum, ask how you can contribute to their work. And let me know what they say...

Here's a video introduction to San Leandro to warm you up for the podcast:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Refreshing the Blog Roll

Guzel and I took some time this week to review and refresh the CFM Blog roll (see right-hand column). These blogs are some of my “go to” sources each week for news and thoughtful commentary. In addition to checking URLs, deleting a few blogs that weren’t posting very often (or had changed focus), we added four, all great, and I recommend them for your reading list, too.

First, to inform your thinking about museums and social justice (the focus of the Alliance’s 2015 annual meeting) keep an eye on The Incluseum: a blog dedicated to encouraging social inclusion in museums. I met the coordinators of this site, Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, at their home base in Seattle last year. They use their blog to share resources (like the recent post on the series on multiculturalism in museums); interviews (such as their conversation with William Harris about the release of the Alliance’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy); stories of inclusive practice at museums (c.f. Santa Cruz MAH’s pop up museums); and essays by academics and practitioners (such as Hannah Hong Frelot’s manifesto “Seven Ways to make the Museum System a Better Place for People of Color.”)

One blog favorite I’ve recommended before, but neglected, until now, to include in the roll, is Lucy Bernholtz’s Philanthropy 2173. (Its name is a nod to Woody Allen’s Sleeper, which is set in that year ). Lately, Lucy has been focusing on the ethical and cultural issues of digital data, including the implications of current events and musings on how data will change philanthropy.  It’s also worth browsing her older posts—a good library of essays and commentary on a range of topics in philanthropy: charitable giving, impact investing, politics & policy, not to mention her hilarious recurring feature, “Philanthropy Buzzwords.” (Which reassured me that yes, I can giggle when someone says “philanthrocapitalism.”)

AMNH MicroMuseum Session, from the Mooshme Blog
The last two additions to the list report from the front lines of museum practice. Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning uses Moosha Moosha Mooshme to share his latest projects at the American Museum of Natural History. Games design, augmented reality, 3D scanning and printing—Barry has the kids in the AMNH Youth Initiatives mastering skills many museum staff will envy. Thanks to Barry, I understand how Minecraft is more than just a video game. It’s a whole virtual world in which you can grow trees. And dinosaurs. When I’m populating the “Museum Examples” sections of TrendsWatch for technology trends, I often peek at Mooshme to see what Barry is up to.

Ed Rodley of the Peabody Essex Museum shares his thoughts on a wide range of topics at Thinking About Museums. To get hooked on Ed’s commentary, just read his “Tilting at Windmills” series from last fall on immersion, experience and participation, and picture taking in the museum. Ed also reviews exhibits (like Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One) and does a fabulous job of reporting out from conferences such as Museums & the Web and AAM—if you can’t attend, peering over his digital shoulder is often the next best thing.

I also hope you are following the Code|Words Project on Medium, an experimental blogging /publishing project that Ed instigated along with Rob Stein and Suse Cairns. Ed’s own recent contribution to that collection is “The Virtues of Promiscuity, or Why giving it away is the future,” urging museums to loosen our control of digital assets in order to spread our shared cultural heritage. “Survival,” he observes, “lies in the widest, most promiscuous spread of the cultural seeds we steward and create.”

Speaking of promiscuous ideas, these blogs are a pretty good way of spreading gametes of information across the web. I hope they fertilized thoughts that you, in turn, will share through your own social media, or at the water cooler.

And please use the comments section below to share URLs for your favorite blogs, and why you love them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: (Un)Real Estate

#3D printing, Mars, Wikihouse

Follow the link in the photo caption to find out more. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links to associated articles) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Privacy in a Watchful World TW 14 update

This is one of a series of mid-year updates on the 2014 TrendsWatch trends. I've already posted entries on Big Data, Social Entrepreneurship, the Sharing Economy and Robots, as well as updates on the Crowdsourcing and Philanthropy trends from previous editions of TrendsWatch.

Balancing the promise of big data, TrendsWatch 2014 looked at the privacy issues raised by our accelerating collection and sharing of data on every aspect of our lives. I’ve shared my utopian vision of how big data and data analytics could help museums measure the good we do for individuals and for society. Events in the past few months have demonstrated the height of cultural and legal barriers of making this vision real. Privacy, as Dana Boyd points out, is a set of cultural conventions, not an inherently technological issue, though technology amplifies the concern. As a society, we have a lot of issues to work through about who is responsible for guarding individual privacy and where we collectively draw the line.

Some of the most interesting privacy stories in the past year have been about the evolving role of government regulation. In May the European Union court of justice handed down a decision that reaffirms that in Europe, at least, that the right to privacy trumps the right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information. The decision came in lawsuit brought to the court by a Spaniard demanding that a Spanish newspaper and Google Spain remove articles and links to article referring to government repossession of his home. The court ruled that the newspaper could retain the information on its website, but Google had to remove links to the pages from its index. (Basically, the paper gets a pass due to its status as a media organization, but Google, which has intentionally positioned itself as a “data controller” rather than a media outlet, is not.) Here is a good condensed explanation of the ruling. Essentially it reaffirmed the historic “droit d’oubli” or “right to be forgotten,” as it applies to internet search engines. The information still exists, of course (both digitally and in hard copy), it is just harder to find. The US legal approach to privacy is very different, based on the protections on free speech established by the First Amendment. Here is a nice article in Forbes on how, and why the US and UK approach to privacy issues has diverged. 

But while the US may be the “wild west” when it comes to the free flow of information, even Americans freak out when it comes to the privacy of our kids. Last April, InBloom a $1M educational technology start up supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shut down due to parental concerns over student data privacy. Parents and privacy advocates felt the company was collecting inappropriate data and did not provide credible evidence of their ability to protect access to sensitive information. The NY State legislature responded to these concerns by barring education officials from sharing student data with aggregation services such as InBloom. Now California is tackling the issue as well, and may become the first state to comprehensively restrict how K-12 student data is used (or misused) by tech companies. As this article illustrates, for people (particularly parents) to accept the application of big data analytics to information about what and how their kids are learning, companies have to:
Prove that data mining actually benefits individual students, helping to improve success at school
Reconcile their own profit motive with the public service aims of public education
Provide a cogent rationale for what data they are collecting, how it will be used and by whom
Demonstrate that they can protect the data they are entrusted with

These are lessons museums should pay close attention to, as we begin our own forays into the semi-magical realm of big data and data analytics. While museums are unlikely to be faced with legal obligations to “forget” individuals’ histories, we will certainly be subject to cultural and regulatory boundaries to what data we collect about our audience and how we use the information. The good news is, we are starting from a position of enormous trust—but we have to be careful not to blow that advantage.

Also of interest:

A story dramatizing what data can reveal about our life—also an exercise in absolute surrender of personal privacy. (FYI--I’ve pre-ordered my copy of the 2014 Feltron report)

An Infographics Genius Plots Out Another Insanely Detailed Year of His Life

For nearly a decade, designer Nicholas Felton has tracked his interests, locations, and the myriad beginnings and ends that make up a life in a series of sumptuously designed “annual reports.” The upcoming edition, looking back at 2013, uses 94,824 data points: 44,041 texts, 31,769 emails, 12,464 interpersonal conversations, 4,511 Facebook status updates, 1,719 articles of snail mail, and assorted notes to tell the tale of a year that started with his departure from Facebook and ended with the release of his app, called Reporter. Felton is aware of the symmetry between his self-tracking and the government’s snooping habits and saw his data as a test bed to see what kinds of narratives this content and associated meta-data could yield.

Video on 2013 report

Here is another project designed to draw attention to the need to control personal data

The incorporated woman
The Economist

To regain some ownership and control of her data (and other assets related to her existence) Jennifer Lyn Morone, an American living in London, decided to become Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc (JLM), registered like all savvy corporations in Delaware. And what started out as an art project—her brief as part of a master’s degree at London’s Royal College of Art was to “design a protest”—is now transforming her into a humanoid/corporate hybrid. JLM is an intriguing attempt to establish the value of an individual in a data-driven economy. As Ms Morone’s business plan describes it, JLM “derives value from three sources, and legally protects and bestows rights upon the total output of Jennifer Lyn Morone.” Those sources are the accumulation, categorisation and evaluation of data generated as a result of Ms Morone’s life; her experience and capabilities, offered as biological, physical and mental services; and the sale of her future potential in the form of shares.

Embed vide

The messy truth of the digital footprints we leave all over the web is humorously demonstrated by

What the Internet Can See From Your Cat Pictures
The Upshot, The New York Times

Your cat may never give up your secrets. But your cat photos might.  Using cat pictures — that essential building block of the Internet — and a supercomputer, a Florida State University professor has built a site that shows the locations of the cats (at least at some point in time, given their nature) and, presumably, of their owners. Owen Mundy, an assistant professor of art who studies the relationship between data and the public, created “I Know Where Your Cat Lives” as a way of demonstrating “the status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all.”

Just to confirm that intrusive technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace:

Chinese scientists develop mini-camera to scan crowds for potential suicide bombers
South China Morning Post

Chinese scientists are developing a mini-camera to scan crowds for highly stressed individuals, offering law-enforcement officers a potential tool to spot would-be suicide bombers. But the technology has raised concerns over its implications for individual privacy and potential abuse by government agencies. Stress has a range of effects on the body. It can register as changes in heart rate, facial expression and body temperature, which scientists can already monitor from a distance. Officers looking through the device at a crowd would see a mental "stress bar" above each person's head, and the suspects highlighted with a red face.

Chicago's New High-Tech Lamp Posts Will Track Everything, Always
Business Week

Almost 50 years after Simon and Garfunkel sang “Hello lamp post, whatcha knowin,” the streetlights of Chicago will answer them. The city will start collecting data through Web-connected sensors installed on lamp poles this summer. In addition to foot traffic, the project will measure air quality, sound volume, heat, light intensity, and precipitation as a means to better understand the urban environment and ultimately make Chicago a safer, more pleasant place to live. Despite their innocuous appearance, the sensors have raised the ire of critics claiming personal privacy violations because sensors will pick up Bluetooth signals from smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Charlie Catlett, one of the project’s organizers and the director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data, contends that precautions have been taken to protect the cellphone data used to count pedestrians; researchers will drop the modem addresses that signals come from. The anonymous data will be made available through the city’s public portal for anyone to view and use.

And, from the bleeding edge of tech
GeekWire Radio: Brain-computer interfaces and the future of personal privacy

What happens when we start hooking our brains up to devices? Brain-computer interfaces refer to the use of sensors to detect neuro-signals from the brain. These signals can be used to help people control games, computer programs, prosthetics or devices. Howard Chizeck, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, and UW graduate student Tamara Bonaci are investigating ways to preserve personal privacy as this new world emerges.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Futurist Friday: Stories for a Brighter Future

Yesterday I ran over and picked up my copy of the new science fiction anthology Hieroglyph from the independent bookstore Politics & Prose. (Short run--it's only about a mile from my house.)

Hieroglyph was inspired by a challenge that Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University (ASU), issued to science fiction author Neal Stephenson at a panel convened by ASU's Future Tense partnership in 2011. They began talking about why so much science fiction focuses on the dark side of potential futures and, as Stephenson tells the story, Crow "basically told me that I needed to get off my duff and start writing science fiction in a more constructive and optimistic vein.” 

One result of that conversation is Hieroglyph--a collection of science fiction that envisions future scenarios that might inspire us to make these visions come true: Not just  functional medical tricorders or quantum teleportation systems (though those things are pretty neat) but social and political structures needed for a better and more equitable world.  Today on Future Tense blog, Joey Eschrich introduces Hieroglyph and makes the case that the cultural aspects of scifi are cooler and more important than the gadgets. 

Eschrich reminds us that Michel Foucault defined technology as encompassing structures, systems of thought, and processes, not just physical items. The biggest disruption taking place in K-12 education, for example, isn't MOOCs or tablets or data analytics, it the realization that we need to move from an "assembly line" approach that treats students as interchangeable widgets and content as something that can be segregated into separate classes, to a technology of personalized, blended learning. The structure, culture and processes of education need to change--though these changes will indubitably be supported by the gadgets at our disposal.

Eschrich nails it when he says "the most important innovations that will shape our future are... the beliefs, values, communities, and relationships that will determine how we use them." The current surge in crowdsourced museum projects is driven by the ability of the web to recruit the assistance of strangers, but more fundamentally it reveals the the desire  of the public to be invited to contribute to our work, and cultivates the expectation that we provide opportunities for them to do so. Wikipedia, blogs, Facebook, Twitter are supported by (electronic) technologies, but by empowering anyone to be an author, and editor, they reshape public attitudes towards authority and overturn the culture and economy of traditional publishing. E-retailers like Amazon now account for nearly half of all book sales. In the past 20 years, there has been a 50% decrease in the number of independent bookstores in the US. Do I like the prospect of a future devoid of quirky, personalized neighborhood book dives? No. That's why I ordered Hieroglyph through Politics & Prose --paying over a third more than I would have via Amazon. While I appreciate the fact that technology can make goods like books more available and affordable to many people, I'm willing to pay a premium to invest in the future of my neighborhood. 

Your Futurist Friday assignment, with several options for upgrades:

  • Reach Escherich's article, and think about the most memorable science fiction you have read, watched or listened to. Beyond the gadgets, how is the world it depicts fundamentally different from the present? 
  • Check out the Future Tense project (a collaboration of ASU, New America and Slate), sign up for their newsletter and follow the Future Tense blog on Slate. They do good work.
  • Get a copy of Hieroglyph and dive in. If you want to discuss the stories, we can use the comments section below, to trade notes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Superhumanity

#SensoryEnhancement #Eidos

Follow the link in the photo caption to find out more. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links to associated articles) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Museum Hack: We Love People Who Don’t Like Museums

The peer-to-peer economy is great at uncovering unmet consumer demand and unused aspects of institutional resources. For this reason, I recently tracked down a young entrepreneur who has found, and filled, an empty niche in the ecology of museum experiences. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a huge cadre of volunteers staffing a Guided Tour Program. I wanted to know, why would people visiting the Met, (or the American Museum of Natural History) hire an outside tour guide? What ‘unmet consumer demand’ paves the way for his business to succeed?

My name is Nick Gray, and I’m the founder of Museum Hack. We are a band of passionate, renegade tour guides in New York City.

Museum Hack wants to appeal to the cynics, the bored, the apathetic. They were the ones that failed to be impressed or to fall in love the first time around, and we’re here for the rebound.

We love people who don’t like museums.

I was one of those people. Until a few years ago, my attitude towards museums was one of ambivalence and boredom. About three years ago, a beautiful woman took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As she showed me her favorite works, I fell in love... with the Met. The history, the humanity and the excitement came alive for me.

On weekends, away from my day job at my family’s aircraft electronics business, I started to give free tours of the Met to my friends. I showed my favorite objects, and I spoke in plain English. My friends loved it. They told their friends, and their friends told friends, and soon I had over 1,000 people on my waiting list to join a free tour. I started dedicating more of my time to creating what would ultimately become Museum Hack. In April 2013, I left my job and began working on this full-time.

As my company and staff grew, so did the personalities behind our presentations. At

Photo credit: Museum Hack
Museum Hack, we hire individuals who love museums and who love art, artifacts and objects. Their backgrounds and strengths draw from numerous experiences - not just the art world. By using guides who are knowledgeable and also able to connect with the humanity in both the works and the audience, we are able to give our clients an experience focused on the delightful, the hilarious and the human in art - in all its sexy, juicy detail! The art, the artifacts and the objects blossom in front of our eyes, and the museum becomes a playground for provoking questions, ridiculous activities and an awful lot of laughter.

Our audience is the 20- and 30-year olds who went on museum field trips when they were kids, and maybe have taken a docent tour or two, but now they want a fresh perspective. This is the generation that can pull up Wikipedia articles on famous works of art faster than you can say the artist’s name. They are constantly bombarded by up-to-the-minute information and endless options for entertainment. They are obsessed with their phones and social media. We speak to that generation; we bring social media, selfies and photos into our tours and then we make them fun and unique.

Our success is built on word-of-mouth recommendations, a testimonial to the effectiveness of making the museum more accessible and exciting. One of my favorite comments was from a man in his mid-50s from Long Island, New York: “I’d rather go shopping with my wife than go to a museum, and I hate shopping. But then I took a Museum Hack tour and now I love the Met. We are going to come back to the museum together, and I love it!”

Museum Hack has created specialized thematic tours, in addition to our famous un-Highlights Tour. We also do bachelorette parties, birthday parties, corporate team building events, and family tours. The diversity of the tours has given us access to a broader audience and has helped shift the focus of our tours from didactic teaching to communal discovery.

PBS NewsHour on Museum Hack, with commentary by
The Met's Sandra Jackson-Dumont

Many museums that have great things to offer are looking for new ways to involve their communities. I think they could learn from the techniques Museum Hack has discovered that are effective at engaging our audiences:
  • We make art social. Our tours are small and customized to participants’ interests. Our goal is to help them interact with the objects on display and each other. Have an opinion!  Snap a selfie with what you like, and tell us why! 
  • We present research-based facts using polished storytelling skills, games, humor, and passion.
  • We use people’s love of social media. Encouraging people to use their phone cameras sharpens the way they look at objects. It’s a fatigue-fighter and encourages that they commit to an opinion and share it.
  • We walk fast. Instead of focusing deeply on three to six works in an hour, we visit more than ten, chosen by the guide, based on their passion.
  • We play. We use games to keep the energy level high and the intimidation level low.
  • We are sassy. We like spunk and personality.
  • We aren’t afraid to cuss. Tony Robbins taught me about using shocking language intentionally; he takes his lead from Sigmund Freud. Robbins writes, “Freud discovered that in every culture there are words which are considered taboo: words that are rarely spoken aloud, but, when they are, produce a dynamic transformation...”  We believe it also gives people permission to be themselves.
  • We switch up voices. Museum Hack tours often have co-hosts join the guide to add a second voice. Sometimes we even swap tour guides mid-tour, just to add to the energy and unpredictability. 
VIP Night Tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo credit: Museum Hack

A lot of people (like my former self) don’t love museums, or like them in a mild way, but not enough to actually go visit. And I suspect that their numbers are on the rise—that would be a bad thing for museums, and for our society. Good museums enliven our curiosity, feed us beauty and wonder. People who work at museums are experimenting with new ways to make people fall in love (with museums), but entrepreneurs working in the private sector have a lot to offer as well. Museum Hack recognizes that we have barely tapped the surface when it comes to opening up conversations about how to make museums more appealing to those who don’t like museums. We want to bring our methods and techniques all across the nation. We want everyone to love museums!

We are Museum Hack and we think Museums Are Fucking Awesome.

This post was written by Nick Gray with “lots of editing and editorial help” from Michelle Yee at Museum Hack.