sabato 19 settembre 2015

Is photo sharing real communication?

An analysis of the Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) phenomenon ahead of the conference “Digital Think-In. The digital voice of museums”

On  the coming November the 4th, the conference  “DigitalThink-In. The digitalvoice of museums” will take place in Rome, organized by MAXXI, which announces itself as the “first digital culture event for museums in Italy”.

Among the participants at the conference, for whom also a #DITcall for presentation of case studies related to the topic at hand is open, there will be James Davis, Program Manager of Google Art Project (London), Antonella Di Lazzaro, Director Media Twitter Italy (Milan), Conxa Rodà, Head of Strategy and Communication - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Barcelona), Group MUD Museo Digitale, MiBACT (Rome) and Prisca Cupellini, Comunicazione Online e Progetti Digitali, MAXXI (Rome), Francesco Russo , Web Consultant and blogger, Marianna Marcucci, Cofounder of Invasioni Digitali and Alessandro Bollo, Cofounder and Head of Research of the Fondazione Fitzcarraldo.

The InvasioniDigitali (Digital Invasions) movement, therefore, is once again present at a conference discussing about digital communication, but the Invasions phenomenon has not yet been thoroughly analyzed by the experts. Are we really facing a digital communication model? I will try to argue my personal opinion in  this regard.

Traditional media and digital media

Compared to traditional communication media, in the digital form the transition from linear to reticular connection takes place; the message can be conveyed through various digital environments (Web site, virtual communities), but the most important aspect of digital communication - and that differentiate it different from the traditional one - is primarily the presence of an interactive dialogue between users, based on sharing and participation. If this condition does not occur, it's not possible to perceive any real difference between the two forms of communication.

If we analyze the latest Digital Invasion more in detail, from the point of view of the social communication you can notice a few interactions actually focused on content and just a large number of images (especially the posters that advertise the events and photos of the "Accomplished Invasion" ): so Invasions really took place, but they haven't been sufficiently related during their course. During some not so declaredly “digital” special events (although still having a significant spread on social and other media) such as the European Heritage Days or other similar activities, museums have always promoted some interesting initiatives with great success in terms of audience; from what should then Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) stand out compared to these special events?

Consistency would call for greater “social” participation to the event: this is, in fact, the determining factor in an event that is self-defined as “digital”. In very simple terms, each of the participants should be the eyes and ears of those who are not present at the event, but who will be involved as if they were; they should put online their feelings, expressing the emotions and thoughts that emerge from his/her cultural experience and share it with other people, building a dialogue with them. If communication instead consists of a simple information about the place, date and time related to the event, of some brief describing note, of a large number of images with little comment, finally, of the notification of "Invasion accomplished", you can't speak of a true digital communication. In most cases, in fact, as noted, the interaction was not significant, especially in terms of content and not live storytelling (a few cases) nor other forms of participatory communication have . "Telling" events, therefore, is what should make a difference [1]. Tomaso Montanari writes that “Heritage is a great repertoire, just like theater or music: if no one follows it - that is, if no one tells it, by raising it - it remains inert, dead, lost”.

Furthermore, the same overproduction of images produces adverse effects because it makes the audience less sensitive and attentive to details.

Along with the loss of attention to the pictures and the subjects of the pictures, you risk to trivialize and to disperse into the excess of images even the "wallpapers"  of these selfies, which are the museums and other places of historical and monumental interest. Therefore, pictures and even more selfies, cannot be considered as real content if inadequately captionised and commented, unless they don't own the visual eloquence of the works by great photographers such as Robert Capa. But for most of us, this isn't the case. One of the most famous Italian photographers, Ferdinando Scianna, reminds us that "no one follows with interest who is constantly posing."

A context that does not produce content, not because the initiatives that it advertises are not valid, but because the commitment to find adequate forms of information transfer that go beyond the photo-sharing lacked, won't bring any kind of benefit even to the cultural subject that it was supposed to promote.

To this purpose, Valentina Vacca writes:

For #InvasioniDigitali (DigitalInvasion) the audience  is no longer such, but it «participates to the cultural offer. » In their manifesto they profess to believe, «in a new relationship between the museum and the visitor based on the participation of this latter to the production, creation and promotion of culture through the sharing of data and images. We believe in simplifying the rules to get access and reuse the data of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to encourage the digitization. We believe in new forms of conversation and spreading of the artistic heritage which are no longer authoritarian, conservative, but open, free, comfortable and innovative». To translate these words, it is enough to explore the website dedicated to the #InvasioniDigitali (DigitalInvasions): inside it you can find a series of selfies shot inside museums and cultural sites having visitors as subjects. It's like if "invading" -as they themselves define the visit by the audience - the museums, monuments and cultural places in general, and then upload a photo on the internet, is tantamount to automatically transmitting the knowledge. As if digitizing the culture coincides with the mere, simplistic as trivial process of sharing images of works of art, of performances, of real estate. Is it maybe just as Baudrillard (1995) said, namely that "the silent majority looks for the image and not for the meaning».

The fact that the appearance, the volume of participation are more prevailing than the content, was somehow shown to me at the recent Social Media Week, by a community manager of a museum, who, in response to my observation about the fact that the Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) are not a true instrument of cultural spread, replied that “for them it was enough to see the people get inside the museum": this is equivalent to declaring that the only purpose that you want to pursue is to “count” the number of visitors. I am convinced that this thought is not what distinguishes all the museums that have joined Digital Invasions in recent years, but in any case it is indicative about the fact that this initiative has been able to generate in some people this kind of reasoning, supported by the incorrect concept, which is too often endorsed by the media, that it's more important to quantify the entrances rather than measuring the effectiveness of the cultural proposals offered by the museums. It is fundamental, then, that museums take on the role of mediators between the manufacturers of the  digital communication and society, but to do so, they must not get themselves trapped by the logic of the “Viral Style” and by any form of extremism in digital communication; they must open themselves, however, to more reasoned and original forms of content sharing and cultural participation, even through the Web 2.0.

The communication strategy of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions)

Initially Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasion) had focused much of their attention on the problem related to the prohibition on photographing in museums, which was then overtaken by the Decree Law of 31 May 2014, n. 83. A manifesto was created,  joining different ideas relating to the relationship between the museum and the visitor, to the use of social media for cultural communication, to the free circulation of ideas and so on. Carefully reading this manifesto you have the impression that it has handled too many subjects, sometimes in a repetitive and unconnected, even contradictory way: for example, institutions are required to be “open platforms for the spreading, exchange and production of value, allowing  an active communication with their audience”, which implies also having a role of coordination and content control, and at the same time we demand "non-authoritarians forms of conversation and spreading of artistic heritage" reducing, therefore, the leading role of the museum, determined by its scientific authority that we cannot disregard. There is no evidence of a personal processing of the concepts displayed in the manifesto, which are only listed but not developed and commented on.

Furthermore, in the manifesto of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) it is not clarified how “the Internet can trigger new ways of management, conservation, protection, communication and exploitation of our resources”, as if the Internet was in itself capable of producing these changes, more than television  did sixty years ago, for example, culturally unifying Italy and fighting illiteracy. The emphasis of the Web 2.0 communication is not useful to demonstrate its effectiveness in the cultural fields. In fact, the media - whether they are of old or new generation - are valid only based on the way they are used, as Pier Cesare Rivoltella and Chiara Marazzi rightly point out, according to whom “there are no first class and second class media[2]” because the communication of the digital age will necessarily include them all. Some changes are taking place, we are gradually getting used to them and we can see the old and new media integrate themselves to the point that we can speak of “mediamorphosis, remediation, of age of complementarity”[3]. 

It 'also true that the access to the Internet gives us the most simple and immediate means of individual expression, but we maybe do not emphasize enough that there are still limitations to its use, that can be identified with economic, cultural, anagraphical, or social reasons as well as there are ideological positions that determine the rejection of the use of social networks. Those involved in communication strategies, should therefore consider the digital environment with proper balance, not enhancing it but without neglecting it, because “not being connected” does not mean “not existing” and therefore we must aim at reaching even those who are outside the digital world.

However, when you read in the manifesto of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions):“We believe that the Internet and social media are a great opportunity for cultural communication, a way to involve new players, break down all kinds of barriers, and further promote the creation, sharing , spreading and enhancement of our artistic heritage”, this describes in a simplistic way a situation that has, as already said, more complex aspects.

The main strategy of Invasions Digital can then rather be equalized to the implementation of a Brand Identification System in which you mainly emphasizes the participation to the event and at the same time you try to give the set the value of a “movement of thought” but with no kind of theoretical research. Participants are always considered as a unitary body, without emphasizing the specific personalities and individualities that constitute it: it is not the message of individual participants to prevail, but the “brand”, almost as if it were "viral marketing." While still bearing in mind the confrontation with the strategies of advertising marketing, you notice, for example, a great use of slogans ("We love this game", "We come in peace", etc.,) that, together with the constant exposure of the Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) logo, are designed to promote the brand engagement. In addition, amongst the guidelines for the participants of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) it is recommended to follow some predetermined actions: I am not referring to the rules of thumb that are necessary in any event that results in an application process by the public, but at the request to carry out precise actions during their own events, producing, thus, an excessive standardization and decrease of the space for the creativity of individuals. It is required, in fact, to use the sign "Invasion accomplished" in which the logo of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) must stand out and, in addition, to print from the website of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) a predetermined "mask", that the Invaders will have to wear or otherwise show in their selfies. These requirements help to "depersonalize" the initiatives, increasing the "brand" value to the detriment of the messages that the promoters and participants to individual events could themselves convey in a more original and subjective way. The idea of the mask seems to me, in this regard, all the more emblematic: a mask, the symbol of Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions), superimposes itself to the face of the "Invader" and to the monument itself, occupying a leading position with respect to one another.

Because I wanted to experience the first two Invasioni Digitali (Digital Invasions) I can say with full knowledge of the facts that the feeling I had was the one of having turned into an instrument at the service of a movement that left me little room for action with my own manners. Photographing yourself with a sign in your hand bearing the logo of the organization is not really an exhilarating action from the intellectual point of view.
But it is perhaps inevitable that in the cultural field these phenomena take place whereas Erich Fromm, forty years ago already prophesied a society levelled and dominated by the models of advertising [4]. The risk, though, is that you can lose "the profound meaning of what we do because we are not doing it ourselves; our behavior is not an expression of our true personality but is determined by the dictates of the mass to which "we have to" listen and to which we must sacrifice ourselves, being continuously exposed to it [5]. "

Up to two years ago, we were still in a phase where the museums were largely distrustful and reluctant to use means of digital communication, especially social networks; after the first edition of the Museum Week [6], in March 2014, we have assisted to a considerable increase of institutional accounts of the museums, so now we have entered a second stage where the enthusiasm for a new way of relating with the audience seems to prevail. This can certainly be a good thing but the impression is that a distorted image of the mission of the museum is rising, which looks like if it should build its "modernization" only with the help of these new forms of communication, while the real modern museum is especially the one that is able to recognizes the needs of its community, and that is able to analyze the problems of our ages, offering to everybody a place for the sharing and dialogue, without any kind of barrier.

The hope is that it will be possible to conjugate in a fair and balanced way the use of the tools of digital communication with the principles laid down by our humanistic conscience, the one that "acts as a sentinel, call, signal, guiding compass, guide, guardian of our true being, of our universal human nature and of the subjectivity of the Self [7]".


[1] In a post dated April the 30th 2015 of my blog Museums Newspaper, I cited  UrbanExperience as an excellent and evolved example of participatory spreading of the culture using the tools of the Web 2.0

[2] Rivoltella P. C., Marazzi C., “Le professioni della media education”, Roma 2001, p. 22

[3] Totaro A., “Dinamiche di interrelazione tra blogosfera e mediasfera” in C.I.R.S.D.I.G, Centro Interuniversitario per le ricerche sulla Sociologia del Diritto e delle Istituzioni Giuridiche, Quaderni della Sezione: Diritto e Comunicazioni Sociali, Working Paper n. 29, Dipartimento di Economia, Statistica, Matematica e Sociologia “Pareto”, Facoltà di Scienze Politiche, Università di Messina, 2008, p. 5

[4] Cerracchio C., “La manipolazione. Bernays e gli psicomarchettari”, Società & Psiche, 9 novembre 2012,

[5] Lattanzi P., “La società malata. L’umanesimo di Erich Fromm tra Marx e Freud”, e-book, 2015, p. 137

[6] The Museum Week was first launched in March 2014 by twelve French National Museums in collaboration with Twitter France. Later the social initiative has spread throughout Europe, with the participation of many museums, not only in Europe. The goal of the event is to accede though Twitter to the cultural contents offered by museums to then interact with the editors.

[7] Risari G., “Coscienza umanistica, identità, ‘produttività’ e biofilia” in Erich Fromm, Publication of the International Erich Fromm Society, Italian-English conference “Death and the Love for Life in Psychoanalysis. In Memoriam Romano Biancoli“ on June 5-6, Ravenna 201

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