View from the Middle

Photo of me in 1982I’m at the tail end of Gen X, born in 1979, but mentally I’m right there in the middle. And “middle” is a great word to describe this generation today. If I’d been born just a few years later I’d be one of those “digital natives” that everyone keeps talking about. You know, those people that grew up with digital technologies and (more so) the internet. The people that have no fear when it comes to technology because they’re just so gosh-darn used to using it for everything that they do. People often assume because of my age and the job that I do, that I am one of these people. Not so! The first computer I ever owned I bought in 2004 (I still have it). The first two years of work I did at the Smithsonian is saved on floppy disks. I hand-wrote every college paper, and in 1998 I declared the Internet to be a fad that was useful only for advertising and porn. The design school I attended taught me letterpress printing, black and white film photography, and stop-frame animation. I studied graphic design but never touched a computer. I’m still trying to get my head around basic web development, and don’t ever ask me a question about linked data.


This is why Gen X is lucky. We grew up in a non-networked world. We remember cassette tapes and floppy disks and video game cartridges. We made room in our suitcases for books and CDs and camera film. We weren’t able to immediately find the answer to every question. We took a break between sending something to print and collecting it from the printer. We wrote letters to stay in touch with remote friends. And then… we SAW IT ALL HAPPEN. I began my professional life in 2003. This was the year that launched Safari, Second Life, Skype, and LinkedIn (that last one surprised me, too). Apple opened the first iTunes store. Valve introduced Steam. The U.S. set standards for commercial emailing. 2004 brought MySpace, theFacebook, Gmail, Flickr, Yelp, Firefox, and World of Warcraft. Entering the workforce at this moment, I had to learn new things quickly to survive. I wasn’t old enough to be resistant to change, and I wasn’t young enough to take it for granted. I was in the middle.

Gen X witnessed the changing world. We participated in it, we changed with it. We saw the potential because we knew what it was like before. This is the advantage we have over the digital natives. We know and understand what has changed, and we are ideally placed to shape it. We emerged in-between a world with no internet and one where everything and everyone is connected. From here we can see everything; it’s a good place to be.

Smells Like Pioneer Spirit: Isolation & Innovation

Because many of you attended #AAM2012 in Minneapolis you know that its Minnesota Museum Month this May. I have been visiting a Museum-A-Day to contribute to bring awareness to the 600+ museums in my home state, with aprox 60 in my local metropolitan area.  You all came here and loved it- I heard all weekend how you loved our museums and the food and how cool it was. Yes, Having the most museums per capita is amazing but because I live here I have always had the perspective that Im supposed to move to New York or California to “make it”… and living in MN is like living in the middle of nowhere.  So with that feeling I thought of what pioneers GenXers are known for being and went to visit a museum out in the middle of nowhere to deeper embrace my Minnesota Museum culture.  I went out to rural MN and had a profoundly successful museum experience and also found parts of my identity there.  I learned more about the feminine identity of the 19th century and felt that I could relate with them by being isolated and innovative. I also learned that I love where I am…even in seemingly the middle of nowhere! GenX smells like Pioneer Spirit!

Please read about how a GenX finds herself at the farm.

This is one of my first blog posts on museums.

Let me know I’m not alone out here..

–Paige Dansinger  @museumpaige

When we run out of old white men…

Sometime in early November I came across the blog post the usual way. It was tweeted, and the catchy 140 headline made me think, “Whoa, here is somebody with something to say.”

That tweet was: What’s the easiest way to be a Museum Director? Evidently, be a man. There was a link with its crystal blue cryptic temptation.

I clicked on the link that led to the blog, and there it was in all its glory. The author had looked over one Facebook page, The Art Museum Partnership’s page, upon which they do the scrivnin’ of who becomes a director at museums. Big surprise, seventy eight percent of their postings were about some man or another who made it to be a museum director. It was admittedly unscientific, and the author challenged readers to contribute their thoughts about what might be up with that. I resisted the urge to type the obvious. I have been in this business long enough to know a thing or two, yet something about the man in me told me it’d be making myself a big target to speak my mind in the comment section, re-tweet that shit with some kind of snark, or put it on my wall with something witty and smart that only a few of my friends would have appreciated.

People are people, even on the internet, and the path of least resistance works there just like it does anywhere else. Pages like the Art Museum Partnership are full of news that was widely and easily shared. News gathering for a field like museum work is a simple thing, and I do this exact thing for Pennsylvania’s statewide museum association. It’s a big part of my working day to find enough content to share on Facebook, Twitter, and the central tool of my organization, its website. I have saved searches. I have lots of them. I search like a human museum-bot every day for museum jobs in Pennsylvania, museum press releases, and museum trend topics. I have learned this one thing: small museums suck at getting the word out about anything. The Art Museum Partnership, short of accusing whoever is in my shoes behind that page of laziness, tends to take a broader look at the museum landscape. They are looking at bigger searches, and that is sure to yield information from bigger institutions.

What I’m trying to say is that there may be an unusual number of male directors at larger institutions just like there are many, many more men at the heads of for profit corporations, and as the organizations get smaller and the pay scale drops, there will be lots more women than men in the Big Chair. When you get into the more passion/less prestige range of organizations, the volunteer ones with no staff whatsoever, it would probably be 78% women. It could be even more because the median age of these types of organizations is blue haired and widowed. These women make it happen for nothing, the cow and the milk for free, just like their fathers warned them about in 1922.

The education level is also at play here, and the men who run the bigger organizations today are at an advantage over the women who may be in competition for the jobs. Most men don’t have gaps in their experience from caring for children or long periods of under-employment (jobbing down for more time with kids). Sometimes I think the Baby Boomer women should hate the Baby Boomer men more, but they can all go out together as far as I’m concerned. This generation now in the Big Chair is not leaving, not soon enough, and when one leaves, the Trustees are looking for another one just like the last one. This will go on for a while, but it will stop someday. Someday it will have to stop. You can’t have incontinence, rambling alzheimers, and physical inability all over your workplace forever. Dead men can’t run museums, can they?

When it comes to commenting on gender gap, do you know who is the least reliable source? The least reliable source is the person with an ax to grind about the opposite sex. The least reliable source is the one that comes in with an agenda and without an ear to anything beyond that agenda. I didn’t want to comment on the blog. I’m a man. I wouldn’t want to comment publicly on race and museum directorship as a white man, either. There are far too few qualified black candidates for museum work, and too many African American museums have struggled with poor directorship, management, and white shackled resources. The African American community in most places has low expectations of its museums and museum experiences, and rightly so given history’s disappointments. There are people who will bait you on both of these issues, gender and race, and sometimes it’s best just to be a good listener.

Rewrite the tweet: Have what it takes to be a museum director? Evidently be a Baby Boomer.

In ten years, I will still have a B.A. and about twenty years of experience in arts, culture, and museums. I will probably not be a museum director again in my lifetime, and it was odd that I ever was. It was an unusual circumstance. I may be able to work in museums, and it will be a very different world in ten years. My boss will have about twelve or fifteen years of museum experience. She will have an advanced degree in the field, and she will have done some hard time in the trenches. She will have snuck out behind the dumpsters by the loading dock to get high before continuing the endless task of digitalizing all five million pictures in the collection. She will be Gen Y, and she will be a good thing. She might have a management degree, but the degree she got for the thing she really loved will be there to talk about. She will be a good manager, and she will listen politely when I talk about how much the Baby Boomers sucked. She might be black, and I won’t even think twice about it.

Has Youth Culture Really Changed Much Since the 80’s?

love this infographic about pop culture changes. fascinating differences between kids those days and kids these days!

Here and There...

Whenever teens and adults talk about culture, you’ll undoubtedly hear the phrase “back in the day” or “when I was a teenager.”  Today’s youth can sometimes think they’re in a foreign world that no one knows anything about, and our ‘retro’ teens often feel they’re the only ones that lived through truly coming-of-age times.  Both generations grew up around some cool innovations and advancements, as well as endured some of the darker days of their generations.  Neither seems all too aware that there’s many more dots to connect between their respective teen years than they would think, and both often think the other doesn’t have a clue!

They may be right, at times, but is today’s Millennials and generation Z really so far unplugged from the teen Gen X‘ers of the 80’s?  Is there really such a deep chasm between the pressures, anxieties and conflicts teens faced…

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Things Gen Xers Don’t Remember

Things Gen Xers Don’t Remember.

Fascinating list from GenXSandwich of the difference between Boomers / Gen X and Gen Y. What would you add? What rings true for you? For me, War was Iraq 1 – I remember putting it down on my wall calendar “WAR!” because it seemed so big and scary. And then of course, it was over so quickly and didn’t really affect the homefront, as it were. But Iraq 2 and Afghanistan may not have been fought on US soil, but certainly have had major effects here – on the soldiers, on the economy, on politics. And that is how this stuff affects museums.

Culture Comparison- 3 Generations
Categoy Gen X Missed or Was Too Young to Remember:pre 1970Era of Baby Boomers Gen X Saw Growing Up: born: 1965-1976 Gen Y Have Seen So Far Growing Up: born: 1977-1994?
Economy GI Bill,Booming Economy, Suburbia Gas Shortages, Savings & Loan Crisis, Dot Com Boom, Dot Com Bust, Real Estate Bust
War Korea and Viet Nam Afghanistan I Iraq and Afghanistan II
Disaster JFK’s asassination Oklahoma City Bombing 9/11
Musicians The Beatles / Elvis Madonna / Michael Jackson Backstreet Boys / Britney Spears
Game Changer Civil Rights Acts AIDS Columbine HS Massacre
World Event Cuban Missle Crisis Berlin Wall Falling Rwanda and Bosnian Genocides
Toys Board Games Legos, GI Joe, Barbie Console Video Games, GameBoy
Sports Hero Muhammad Ali Walter Payton Michael Jordon
Drug Acid (Turn In, Tune On, Drop Out) Speed and Coke (Living 24 Hours a Day) Ecstasy and Meth (Take a Chill Pill)
Group Party Woodstock We Are The World and Farm Aid Million Man March
Technology Man on the Moon The PC and Cell Phones World Wide Web, eBay, Yahoo!
Politics Nixon / Watergate Reagan / Iran Contra Clinton and Lewinsky
Mass Communication Black and White TV MTV / Cable CDs and MP3s
Late Night Johnny Carson David Letterman Conan O’Brien
The Fourth Turning’s Generation Type* Prophet (known for vision, values, religion) Nomad (known for liberty, survival, honor) Hero (known for community, affluence, technology)

Meetup for Drinking About Museums

Some of the museum tech folks in Boston, Denver and Washington DC do regular meetups under the hashtag #DrinkingAboutMuseums – which sounds like a pretty good time to me.

Peekaboo Palace by Patrick Dougherty

Peekaboo Palace by Patrick Dougherty

So, if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you’d like to come hang out and talk social media or GenX or museums or anything like that, please join me on Thursday, May 31 at 4 p.m. at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. We’ll take an after-hours tour, check out our new Patrick Dougherty willow sculpture, then head over to the Presidio Yacht Club for a tasty beverage or two with a view (don’t worry – it’s more dive bar than yacht club).

Let me know @ZeitgeistMama if you’re planning on coming so I can meet you – the Museum closes at 4pm so this is a private tour!