Beware the Ides of Technology

There has been an interesting dilemma in the world of museums this month. The selfie stick. They were the most popular Christmas gift last year and now they are infiltrating museums to the extent that they are considered a danger to patrons and being banned from these public institutions all together. They haven’t been a danger to people in any other situation, yet apparently they are a danger to patrons of galleries. But is this really the way to deal with this popular phenomena?


The selfie stick phenomena took off due to one reason. It allows them to take better pictures. People like including themselves in pictures nowadays and wanted them to look better and capture more background. Yes it is a sign that we are a little more self-obsessed but is it necessarily a bad thing when it comes to museums?

Over the last couple of weeks several major museums across the world have instituted a ban on selfie sticks with the Metropolitan Museum of Art leading the charge in New York. Even some Australian institutions have jumped on board banning this technology (despite the fact that a lot of art galleries here don’t let patrons take photos of paintings!).

But in a move which seems, to me, counter intuitive, I found out about it from a news article which categorised the ban as stepping AHEAD of a trend.

I have two issues with this description (and the ban itself).

Firstly, can it really be classed as stepping ahead of a trend if you are banning the latest development in technology? Is that not stepping behind a trend? Going back in time and ignoring that it was ever invented?

Secondly, trends are difficult to predict at the best of times. Some trends have their 15 seconds of fame. Other trends contribute to people’s lives and never go away. I’m not making a prediction about which way selfie sticks will go, but they do contribute to people’s lives by allowing them to capture important moments in their lives through much better pictures. So I wouldn’t completely discount them!

But there is one more reason why they should be allowed in museums. The director of the National Portrait Gallery, Angus Trumble, admitted that keeping up with the latest technology is difficult for museums and galleries “Particularly when it evolves as quickly as in our time. To adapt ourselves to the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter generation. It is impossible to keep one step ahead”. But does that mean you give up and ban them?

Selfie sticks fall into this same category. They encourage visitors to take photos, better photos – even more shareable photos – which display the museum in a better light through social media than a normal selfie that struggles to get even the head of the photographer in the frame let alone any artwork. And that results in more effective word of mouth recommendations through friends seeing beautiful pictures of the museum and causing them to check it out as well!

Why not encourage this new channel?