Museums around the world have been exploring the integration of digital technology and museum practices to bring visitors online to offset the sudden loss of physical visitors in the face of COVID-19.
According to a report released by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the International Council of Museums, museums have been significantly affected by the pandemic, with nearly 90 percent, or more than 85,000 institutions, having closed their doors. More than 10 percent may be permanently closed.
In countries where digital technology is relatively advanced, most museums have sought to stay connected with their audiences by extensive digitization of museum exhibitions and activities. For example, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, provides an online interactive tour that encourages visitors to download exhibits and make them into phone cases. The Cleveland Art Museum in the United States uses augmented reality technology to help visitors understand the collection.
In some underdeveloped countries and regions, the backwardness of digital technology has caused museums to face an existential crisis. In these places, the way to survive is the way to cross the digital divide.
The UNESCO report shows that large museums such as the Louvre in France invested in the digitalization of exhibits and social media before the pandemic outbreak. During the lockdown, the Louvre successfully diverted offline visitors online and the number of visitors reached 10 times the usual. However, only 5 percent of museums in Africa and Small Island Developing States were able to propose online content. Some 41.2 percent of museums had to permanently close in Africa.
The UNESCO experts confirm that the high cost of IT infrastructure and the lack of sufficiently stable Internet access have prevented museums in underdeveloped areas from effectively digitalizing their collections, causing their unique cultural advantages to gradually disappear in the tide of digitalization.
The digital economy is the future development direction of the world. The digital divide must be addressed to promote the healthy development of the global digital economy. Museums provide people a platform for education, inspiration and dialogue among civilizations. Even during the pandemic lockdown, people are still willing to meet history in museums and to find motivation for progress in the heritage of civilization. All sides should work together to enhance the accessibility of the digital economy, decrease the digital divide and allow countries and regions at different stages of development to share the fruits of digital economic development.
(Compiled by Yang Jiaqi)