Someone recently asked me, “what does the future of museums look like?”

I began to think about the trends that I’ve witnessed over the past 15 years. How the needs of museums and visitors have ebbed and flowed with the times. It’s no secret that museums are a reflection of our society. The trends we see in museums often align with cultural movements, political climates, and technological advances that occur beyond museum walls.

When I first entered the industry in 2006, interactive media and digital experiences were just beginning to gain traction. Then in the 2010s, it seemed like every museum was actively investing in hi-tech digital interactives in response to the tech boom.

The curation and development of digital experiences is a very common reactionary response when museums aim to attract younger and more diversified audiences.

I often hear museums say, “well, we want to put a touchscreen in our new exhibit because we think it will draw younger people through our doors.” The problem with this? Most of us have the same advanced technology on our phones, on our computers, and in our living rooms nowadays that museums are trying so desperately to attract young audiences.

Technology is a powerful tool that can unleash so many new ways to tell stories, connect with the past, and have experiences that can’t be done using conventional methods. I’m a huge supporter of utilizing technology when it serves one of these purposes. But there is a time and a place for digital experiences.

I’ve noticed that today’s visitors want a museum that provides something authentic, real, engaging — an experience.

I’m seeing a trend where museums are slowly reverting back to perhaps a ‘new, old-school’ approach. Meaning, a return to focusing on storytelling, interpretation, and experiencing the joy and awe of being in the presence of incredible history, science, and cultures. The raw experience, not the digital one. Do I think the use of technology in museums will fade out? No. But I do think the purpose of technology in museums will be reevaluated and take on a new role as the need for real life experiences and classic story telling comes back. I see evolving technology creatively integrated into the overall visitor experience.

No matter what the future holds for technology in museums, I’m confident that we’ll continue to be dedicated to searching, developing, and refining how to connect visitors with history, science, cultures, and ideas. We’ll continue to use technology as a tool, rather than a necessity.

I’m honored to be in this industry and to have witnessed the waves of change this diverse field experiences. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years has in store.

Tim Wren
Director of Museum Services