November 2018

Learning to Consume Difficult Media

Seema Rao. Photo: Twitter, @artlust

The Journal of Museum Education’s recent issue Woman/Trans/Femme in the Museum brought together some of the most important thinkers in the museum field (as well as my illustrations). Collectively, the authors are working to make museums more diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive. Their hard work and thoughtfulness show in every essay.

Yet, in reading the journal, I was struck by my own feelings of inadequacy. How can one person make our culture better? How can I help improve the field and our society when inequity is imbued throughout our culture? How can I undo so many problems?

Reading the news can be exhausting. Social media is not much better. Despite their erudite language and nuanced arguments, academic journals often deliver similar messages about the challenges in our society. This media onslaught can cause feelings of helplessness. This inadequacy can impact our ability to absorb messages, even those as well-written as in the JME.

What are ways to counteract the feeling of being overwhelmed so that we can act to improve society?

  1. Illustration: Seema Rao, JME 43.3 (p 193).

    Put yourself on a media diet: Gluttony is not good in any form, and our contemporary society has made us information gluttons. All of these inputs are not equally useful or truthful, yet they all compete for our attention. Make the effort to stem the tide of low-quality information. For example, put yourself on a Facebook diet, or mute friends who post low-quality information.

  2. Transform your media diet: Seek articles and sources that feel useful. The act of seeking answers will ensure that you feel empowered by reading the article.
  3. Pace yourself: Mostly, remember information will not evaporate. Take your time. When you feel overwhelmed, step away. It took me months to finish the Woman/ Trans/ Femme in the Museum issue despite being a contributor. I wanted to feel empowered and active as I read each article, rather than overwhelmed.Overall, everyone can make change in our society, but only if they feel capable of doing so. Information needs to be consumed in constructive ways. A little self-preservation can go a long way in helping everyone take what they need from media sources. Informed–rather than overwhelmed–readers make better change-makers.

Seema Rao has worked in museums for nearly 20 years at the interstices of visitor experience, education, and technology. She heads Brilliant Idea Studio, a firm that helps museums develop the best experiences for all their visitors.