A little more than a week ago, The Economist published an article about museums. In particular, they drew attention to the fact that the number of museums isn’t in decline. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. Would you have guessed that today, not only are museums not in decline, but that there are more than double the number of museums there were two decades ago?
As a soon-to-be parent, I can’t help but be pleased with this fact. I’m very much looking forward to taking my little one(s) to the museum to learn about the natural world around them. It seems I’m not the only one pleased by this either, with museum attendance way up.
I suppose what’s surprising to me about this is that I figured that with the advances we have had in technology, most people would be more inclined to explore the natural world around them from the convenience of their couch. While I’m glad that this is not the case, I wish someone would do some sort of study to better understand this behaviour. The article ties in the idea of higher education. That is, more and more people are going to university and graduates are more likely to visit museums. This makes sense, but I don’t think that it explains the whole story.
Another point raised in the article is the burgeoning growth in other countries. If you look at the graph embedded above, you’ll see that there’s quite a bit of growth planned for the Southeast Asian countries. [As an aside, in The Economist's "The World in 2014," you may be surprised to know that over 40% of the world's population will be voting in a national election next year.] While this growth may help explain an addition piece of the growth in museums, it still doesn’t quite feel like it’s explained the whole puzzle. Of course, in science, especially the social sciences, we know that it’s not always possible to completely explain behaviour, but I’d like to think that one aspect of this has to do with technology.
That is, I’d like to think that as a species, we’re recognizing that technology is a useful tool for helping us navigate the world around us, but that it’s not the be-all and end-all of human existence. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate technology. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to type on this external keyboard connected to my laptop, while looking at an external monitor connected to my laptop. Beyond that, you wouldn’t be able to read this article on your smartphone or on your laptop/computer, if it weren’t for technology.
With that being said, technology, in my opinion, hasn’t been able to capture the visceral experience of being there and seeing something. Technology can’t (at least not yet) involve all five of our senses in experiencing. Until it does, I’m happy to continue visiting museums.