The future which is already here: TrendsWatch Report 2016

About a year ago, we published a summary of the annual report produced by the Center for the Future of Museums: this month they have just published the corresponding report for 2016, the TrendsWatch 2016, and we are once again presenting a selection of quotes that we have wanted to highlight.

We hope that this summary will be useful for you, and we recommend that you read the full report and the multiple links to articles that allow you to broaden the information. For us it has been stunning, rewarding and sometimes even distressing to read it. The complexity and the scope of the topics it proposes opens up new possibilities at the same time as making us think, in a serious and documented way, about the role museums are playing and will play in a changing society.


As in the previous reports, this document tackles five issues, each of them organised in diverse fields: a presentation of the theme, a reflection of how it affects the society in general, another about its impact on the museums in particular and a last section of proposals, additional resources and examples of how some museums have already tackled them.
TrendsWatch 2016

TrensWatch 2016

From the Museu Picasso we are very grateful to the CFR, and to Elizabeth E. Merritt, the author of the report and to her team, the excellent task carried out and their generosity in sharing it.


New job, or a jobless future?

“…as we enter the 21st century, work is again being radically reshaped by technology, culture and economic forces. Full-time work is fragmenting into the “gig” economy of Internet-powered freelance work. In the office, alternative organizational structures are supplanting traditional bureaucracies. Many workers aren’t “in” at all—they are telecommuting or using co-working spaces instead. While high-value workers are demanding—and getting—flexibility, autonomy and imaginative benefits, technology is making the lot of part-time and low-wage workers even worse.”


“In many ways, this (gig economy) is a win-win: Millennials prize flexibility and autonomy; employers avoid expensive, intractable infrastructure. But this bargain has a dark side as well: as our regulatory infrastructure lags behind, many gig workers are vulnerable to exploitation by companies seeking to maximize profits while offloading risks.”



Les edats dels treballadors individuals


“All these forecasts about how offices are organized and people are compensated presume that we have jobs at all. Given how rapidly robots and artificial intelligence are becoming more sophisticated, this is far from certain. […] The optimists believe these new technologies will simply create different kinds of work, even if we can’t foresee exactly what these new jobs will be.”


“The economy and the job market may also shape what people expect from museums in terms of education/training/opportunities. […]As trainers, museums may specialize in serving as accelerators of higher-order human cognitive skills that are valued but not replicable by more intelligent machines.”


“[…] museums may find themselves using more part-time and outsourced labor overall. Some believe the future of work will be characterized by fluid, temporary teams of skilled specialists, assembled to accomplish a specific task and dispersing when it’s done.”


More than human: augmented abilities

“Advocates call for an increased focus on cognitive accessibility, better access to information and communications, and more comprehensive treatment of the built environment. And we are experiencing a metamorphosis in how society views disability and how people with disabilities view themselves. But even as we struggle to create equity for all people in their diverse states, the terms of the challenge are about to change. Advances in technology— neurological interfaces, haptics, advanced prosthetics, gene editing—are expanding the spectrum of human physical, sensory and cognitive abilities.”


“Social movements that reject our urge to “fix” people are gaining strength just as we see a proliferation of technological tools designed to do exactly that. […]”


“We are rapidly moving beyond the realm of assistive technology, designed for people with disabilities, into augmentive technology that expands the boundaries of basic human capabilities. […] And the fact that with augmentation, people with disabilities can outcompete people without disabilities may at last shake the perception that disability means “less than.””


Image of the exhibition +HUMANS, al Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)

Image of the exhibition + HUMANS (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB))


“More broadly, how might augmentation exacerbate inequality in society? When bionic arms can outperform the ones we are born with, might people choose to replace a healthy limb with robotics? What about people who don’t choose to become enhanced or can’t afford it?”


“Significant numbers of people choosing to enhance and expand their senses would profoundly alter the experience of art and music created in a preaugmentation era. How will augmented visitors experience art and other traditional museums? How will augmentation change the way we design exhibits and public spaces and create experiences?”


Museums and augmented reality (AR) / virtual reality (VR)

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) hold promise and peril for museums as well. Why go to a museum when you can just don a headset to experience fabulous sights, sounds, touch—and hang out with friends—without leaving home? […] If VR and AR experiences become both affordable and widely accessible, museums will need to sharpen their positioning and value proposition with their communities.”

Saturnia History Museum

Saturnia History Museum, a Sim City. Credit: Simtropolis


“Researchers are building an impressive body of evidence for the “prosocial” benefits of virtual experiences. […] The power of VR/AR can be dangerous too. […] Virtual reality is not only more effective than traditional media in triggering empathy, it is also more effective in desensitizing both men and women…”


“Museums, along with print journalism and classical music, have been steadily losing market share to other pastimes. […] …increasingly sophisticated AR and VR will heighten the impact museums can make as they push their content out into the world via these platforms. Can AR/VR experiences provided beyond museum walls help win new audiences? “


Identity, representation and the role of museums

“People are climbing out of the boxes long used to define and control society— male/female; straight/gay; white/black/yellow—demanding control over their identities and how these identities are represented. […] now activists are using the power of social media to ensure they are heard. Objects—powerful symbols of individuals, groups, history and society as a whole—have become explosive points of contention. And museums, as public stewards of our collective history, find themselves enmeshed in the struggle over representation, identity and material culture.”

Market neutral signage
Companies like market neutral signage

“But accepting fluid boundaries can heighten concerns over representation and control. Are there limits to the right to claim one’s own identity? […]The landscape is no less fraught when it comes to groups rather than individuals. Who has standing to speak on behalf of a community?”


“The rise of social media has changed the dynamics of these conversations, both accelerating change and amplifying conflict. […] The increasingly fractal nature of identity can make it hard to moderate competing voices that each claim to speak on behalf of a community.”


“As a society, we need to create an environment (physical and regulatory) that treats people with respect, which includes not presuming they fit into neat categories.”


“Whether they seek an active role or not, museums are being called on to act as cultural hazmat teams. […] Do people want museums to serve as explosion-proof vaults for volatile social issues? Or do they want museus to bury offensive objects in collections storage, out of sight and out of mind? Or (optimistically), do people trust museums to foster productive debate, dialogue and reconciliation?”



Hapiness in metrics

“Increasingly people (and organizations) are rebelling against [the ] focus on finance, pointing out that it has fostered the accumulation of wealth at the expense of health, sustainability and wellbeing. Governments are experimenting with a variety of nonfinancial metrics including happiness, and businesses are finding that happiness is actually profitable. Once we redefine success to include more than cash, museums are poised to make sizable contributions to our collective bottom line.”



“If we do indeed face a future of radically lower employment […] and increasing inequality of wealth, it’s more important than ever that we embrace nonfinancial measures of whether a person is a valued, and valuable, member of society.”




“To the extent the search for nonfinancial metrics focuses on happiness rather than a better-rounded look at wellbeing, we need to be careful about stigmatizing unhappiness (or anything less than euphoria). (…) A cultural shift to mood metrics may simply mean people lie about their mental state as well as their income, and are more stressed and less happy as a result.”


“Perhaps most importantly, because we get what we measure, a national or international shift away from short-term financial gains toward subtler metrics that factor in sustainability, health, wellbeing and, yes, happiness, may result in a world that is not just richer but better.”



Author: Anna Guarro

Head of Educational Services and Activities


TrendsWatch 2016


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