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Remarks	
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October	
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The Tortoise and the Hare, Netherlands Museum Congres

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Remarks to the Netherlands Museum Congress, October 3, 2013 plenary session keynote. Footnotes and citations are coming later, in an edited version, but let me know if you need sources/links. - - Mike

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Transcript of "The Tortoise and the Hare, Netherlands Museum Congres"

  1. 1. The  Tortoise  and  the  Hare   Remarks  to  the   Netherlands  Museum  Congress,   October  3,  2013  plenary  session   —Michael  Edson             This  is  kind  of  surreal.     When  I  took  off  in  my  airplane  Monday  evening  in  Washington,  we  had  a   government  and  I  had  a  job.  And  when  I  arrived  at  Schiphol  airport  on  Tuesday   morning  we  didn’t  have  a  government  and  I  didn’t  have  a  job.       Since  I’ve  been  in  the  Netherlands  I’ve  had  one  offer  of  political  asylum,  two  job   offers,  and  one  marriage  proposal.    And  the  guys  who  play  pan  flute  out  on  the  plaza   asked  me  to  join  them.  Maybe  I  can  earn  enough  money  to  buy  a  plane  ticket  home.     I  can’t  give  a  my  keynote  here  today,  because  of  the  government  shutdown,  but  I  feel   comfortable  saying  a  few  words  from  my  heart  -­‐  -­‐  even  more  so  since  I’ve  met  so   many  of  you  and  heard  what’s  on  your  minds  and  observed  your  work.       *  *  *          *  *  *          *  *  *     In  thinking  about  today  and  thinking  about  this  moment,  I’ve  realized  that  I’m   haunted.  .  .  despite  all  the  expertise  in  this  room  and  the  majesty  of  your  museums   and  your  museum  sector  and  the  brilliance  of  yourselves…  I’m  haunted  by  the  
  2. 2. suspicion  that  you’re  not  getting  enough  done.  And  I’m  energized  by  the  belief,  the   conviction,  that  you  can  get  more  done.     As  I  was  worrying  about  the  government  shutdown  last  week,  and  thinking  about   my  keynote,  I  decided  to  clean  out  a  shelf  in  my  daughter’s  room,  and  I  found  some   old  storybooks  -­‐  -­‐  “board  books”  we  call  them,  they’ve  got  very  thick  pages,  suitable   for  young  hands  -­‐  -­‐  and  I  found  a  board  book  of  Aesop’s  fable  of  the  Tortoise  and   the  Hare.  It’s  a  very  familiar  fable:  everyone  in  the  world  knows  this  story  of  a   brash,  speedy  rabbit  who  is  humbled  by  a  slow  and  patient,  plodding,  turtle.  And   that’s  the  lesson  I  was  taught  when  I  was  young.  It’s  the  lesson  that  you’ve  taught   your  children.       It’s  been  the  lesson  for  thousands  of  years,  that  slow,  patient,  humble  work  towards   a  goal  is  the  way  to  succeed  in  your  personal  life,  and  in  society:  slow  and  steady   wins  the  race.     And  while  elements  of  that  are  still  true,  I  think  it’s  only  true  to  the  extent  that   you  know  what  race  you’re  running  in,  and  the  finish  line  isn’t  moving  away   from  you  faster  than  you  can  run.       And  I  think  that  is  the  moment  we’re  in  now.       Two  years  ago  I  was  in  the  Netherlands,  in  Rotterdam,  to  give  the  closing  keynote   for  the  DISH  conference.  Two  years—a  couple  of  hundred  days:  it’s  nothing,  really.   But  in  the  two  years  since  DISH,  the  population  of  the  world  has  grown  by  140   million  people.  That’s  not  just  births,  that’s  the  net  growth.  About  200,000  people  a     2  
  3. 3. day:  each  with  the  right  to  be  educated,  each  with  the  right  to  participate  in  and   shape  their  culture.     In  those  two  years,  the  population  of  the  Internet  has  grown  by  476  million  people.       In  the  last  two  years,  872  million  more  people  have  become  new  mobile  phone   subscribers.  That’s  more  people  than  the  populations  of  the  European  Union   nations,  Canada,  and  the  United  States  combined.       40,000  people  just  took  Introduction  to  Sociology,  free  and  online,  from  Princeton   University.  Those  people  came  from  113  different  countries.  The  professor  said  that   in  two  weeks  of  teaching  that  class  online  he  learned  more  from  his  students  than  he   had  learned  in  a  career  of  teaching  it  in  the  classroom.       The  art  historians  Beth  Harris  and  Stephen  Zucker  reach  200  students  a  semester  in   their  classrooms:  last  semester  they  reached  750,000  learners—from  200   countries—through  their  art  history  video  site  Smarthistory.       Wikipedia.  As  of  this  morning,  people  from  every  country  on  earth  have  made   1,982,665,048  edits  to  Wikipedia  and  the  Wikimedia  projects  that  support  it.  Users   have  translated  the  Mona  Lisa’s  Wikipedia  page  into  86  languages.       TED  has  served  a  billion  videos.     Iceland  is  crowdsourcing  a  new  constitution.       3  
  4. 4. 2.4  billion  people,  34%  of  humanity,  is  now  online  and  connected  to  the  same   Internet  you  and  I  use,  every  day.  And  even  in  the  poorest  parts  of  the  world,  it  is   not  uncommon  to  see  street  vendors,  taxi  drivers,  and  even  beggars  using  cell   phones.       Everywhere  I  look,  I  see  the  old  rules  about  who  has  a  voice,  who  does  the  work,  and   who  gets  to  benefit  being  rewritten  on  a  global  scale.  It  is  amazing,  but  what   surprises  me  the  most  is  that  we  find  it  surprising  at  all:  we  have  wanted  this  since   the  enlightenment.  Our  institutions  are  founded  on  the  principle  that  we  will  be  a   stronger,  wiser,  more  resilient  society  if  we  understand  our  past,  if  we  understand   science,  if  we  interact,  communicate,  share,  create,  do.  We  believe  that  culture  isn’t   something  frozen  in  amber:  culture  only  has  meaning  when  it  is  alive  in  our  minds,   reworked  by  our  hands,  and  loved  in  our  hearts.       We  are  among  the  most  trusted  institutions  on  earth.       I  was  talking  recently  with  an  institution  that  you  all  would  be  familiar  with.  A   collecting  institution  with  a  museum,  library,  archive,  and  performance  space.  The   leaders  of  this  institution  spoke  of  their  pride  in  being  a  global  brand,  a  global   leader.  They  were  particularly  proud  of  their  work  training  educators.  I  asked  them   how  many  educators  they  train  every  year,  and  they  told  me:  24.         We  are  the  most  trusted  institutions  on  earth,  but  if  that  trust  can’t  be  used  as   capital  to  accomplish  immensely  important  work  in  society,  then  that  trust  is  like  a   check  that  you  can  never  cash.  It  is  useless.       4  
  5. 5. The  future  is  ready  for  us.  It  is  craving  our  resources.  It  is  hungry  for  our  expertise.   It  is  listening  for  what  we  have  to  say.  And  it  is  our  obligation—our  privilege—to   respond  and  serve.  A  few  brave  institutions  lead  the  way,  but  with  the  course  of  the   race  so  unclear,  and  the  finish  line  moving  away  from  us  so  quickly,  even  they   struggle  to  keep  up.       And  when  we’re  in  committees,  biding  our  time,  deciding  what  to  do…  Outside  the   committee  room,  down  the  hall,  past  the  galleries,  the  education  classrooms,  the   collections,  the  administrative  offices,  a  new  challenge  is  looming:  It  isn’t  what  do  we   do  now  that  there  are  2.4  billion  of  us  online?    -­‐  -­‐  It’s,  what  do  we  do  for  when  the  next   5  billion  people  join  us?     Thank  you.         [Note:  portions  of  this  these  remarks  are  derived  from  a  draft  essay  for  Merete  Sanderhoff’s   Sharing  is  Caring  anthology,  to  be  published  by  the  National  Gallery  of  Denmark  in  2014.]         5  

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