The biggest threat to Canadian culture…

Today I would like to share with you what I consider to be one of the biggest threats facing Canadian culture.

What is this threat? Digital irrelevance. How can we avert it? By throwing everything we can dream up at the digital world, seeing what sticks, and doing it all over again.

Why is it so important that we do this right now, and not after fine-tuning feasibility studies for months and years to make sure we get it right? Because by the time feasibility studies get done, the digital world will change, and our projects will be obsolete. Anyone involved in something as simple as a corporate Web site redesign knows the day after they’re done, the boss wishes they’d have included the new feature that is all the rage right now, but that feature wasn’t even considered in development stages, because it simply didn’t even exist a few weeks, or months, ago when the redesign was planned…

Think up an idea. Implement it now. Ask questions later. If it fails, that’s a great lesson in itself. If it succeeds: great. It’s time to move on to the next idea you had. Keep repeating the process until you have a winner, an idea that allows you to expose Canadian culture in pride of place on the world stage, like we just did with the Ace Academy app at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum: It has showcased our rich First World War aircraft collection to tens of thousands of users in over 131 countries by now. Oh yeah: then it’s time to start over again with another idea.

Why is failure to do this – and cranking up the output volume a hundred, a thousand, a million fold – such a threat to Canadian culture? Because the digital world is vast. Every day, the amount of content generated on the Internet measured in bytes represents more creative expression than every word said by humans since the first meaningful grunt of our distant primordial ancestor. If your area of Canadian culture isn’t making, and occupying, its place digitally, if it’s not there the next time someone in, say, Moroccoor Cambodia, is looking for information on, say, Alexander Graham Bell or Bombardier on their smartphone, someone else will be telling your story. It might be the BBC, or it might be Le Figaro, but in any case, it’s a safe bet their take on those stories won’t be the story we have to tell, and that those stories won’t be told in the way we would tell them, with our own voice.

The world is changing, and we have to adapt to it. If I look at my own kids, I see that if they don’t hear about something on twitter, or facebook, or YouTube, then they don’t hear about it at all, and that “something” might just as well not exist for all they know or care. Consider how many people under 30 today get their all their information, all their entertainment entirely on the Internet and through social media. Project them 10 years into the future, and there’s a good chance their children won’t be heading to the neighbourhood library to research their school project. Keep projecting yourself a few decades further, and you’ll see that if you’re not throwing everything you have at the digital world now, you may very well not exist then either…

This is why we are so committed to digitising our Museums’ contents in different ways: we’ve already launched one mobile app, Ace Academy, for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and we are planning two more for the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum. We’ve shared our collection’s dataset on the Government of Canada’s open data portal. We’re actively looking into the uses we could make of 3D printing. And that’s just the beginning…