This morning I woke to the sad news of David Bowie’s passing. As someone born into what Wikipedia calls Bowie’s New Wave and Pop Era (1984) and classified as Generation Y, I first heard the news via social media.
I didn’t really grow up on Bowie’s music and I’ve never seen Labyrinth, but I am aware of his wide-reaching impact and influence, and I knew most of songs my partner played in his memory, over breakfast. Consequently, the news for me did not come with the sorrow and sense of loss blatantly expressed by others.
For me, the extemporaneously curated narrative of Bowie’s life has been most inspiring. Curators and museum staff spend months and sometimes years developing exhibitions, yet my Facebook feed, which was almost exclusively Bowie, had many of the elements of a good exhibition.
The content spanned the duration of his life and career and it contained a range of mediums including film, sound, imagery, quotes and article links, as well as posts from other social media such as Twitter. It was informative, easy to navigate and had interactive features that allowed the user to delve deeper if they wished. Through passionate language and personal stories, the content was overwhelmingly successful in demonstrating how important and influential Bowie has been to artists and to pop culture over the last fifty years, making it both an emotive experience and relevant to me, through its impact on my immediate world and those around me.
The Facebook posts came from news outlets, musicians, politicians, journalists and individuals of all ages who felt Bowie’s music or film had left a mark on their lives. Most notably, many museums were also posting items from their collections and allowing people to see objects that might otherwise not be seen together in a more traditional exhibition.
Whilst a series of Facebook posts is no substitute for a museum nor does it make redundant the skills, expertise and experience of curators and other museum professionals (I’m sure this pales in comparison to the recent Bowie exhibition at ACMI and other places around the world) it does demonstrate the power of crowdsourcing museum content and the value, reach and potential impact of digital content, not as a replacement for the museum experience but as an enhancement or to improve access.