27 november 2014, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
A small group of high school students were sitting on the benches in front of Rembrandt's Nightwatch. Almost all of them were either looking at their own smartphones or their classmates’. I thought it was a curious sight and took a photograph. That same evening, I posted the photo on Facebook (‘This afternoon at the Rijksmuseum’) where, to my utter surprise, within a few days it was shared almost 9,500 times. The image was also reposted by others and shared on Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit. It went viral, with people often adding rather dispirited captions: today’s youth is more interested in Whatsapp than they are in Rembrandt. On the other hand there were people who warned not to be misled by the image: they asserted that the students were in fact attentive to the art works, using the museum’s freely downloadable multimedia tour. That seems a plausible explanation. However, I think a well-designed museum app should continuously direct the attention of the user from the phone to the actual objects on display. The children in the photograph didn’t look up, they just kept staring at their phones. Frans Banning Cocq, the prominent nightwatcher in the background, seemed equally perplexed by it.