Dark Matter in a New Light

The blog “Dark Matter” by Michael Peter Edson, compares the 90% of the Internet’s capability that are not being utilized by museums and other cultural institutions to the dark matter which comprises 90% of the mass of the universe. You may ask “what is dark matter?”   Well, according Edson, evidence of dark matter in the universe was discovered in 1967 by Vera Rubin, a junior astronomer fresh out of graduate school. And, the existence of dark matter has been proven in every measurement of over a thousand galaxies that Rubin or any other astronomer has taken since. Rubin said:

“We became astronomers thinking we were studying the universe, and now we learn that we are just studying the 5 or 10 percent that is luminous.”

In comparison, Edson believes that like the dark matter in the universe, 90% of the Internet’s capabilities to accomplish the missions of museums and other cultural institutions has not been explored. Edson states:

“Dark matter—whatever it is—seems to comprise 90% the mass of the universe—hard to see, but so forceful that it seems to move every star, planet, and galaxy in the cosmos. And 90% of the Internet is made up of dark matter too—hard for institutions to see, but so forceful that it seems to move humanity itself.”

“Despite the best efforts of some of our most visionary and talented colleagues, we’ve been building, investing, and focusing on only a small part of what the Internet can do to help us accomplish our missions.”

Edson also uses the success of the John and Hank Green’s Brotherhood 2.0 videos as an example of the types of Internet dark matter that appears to have been overlooked or perhaps rejected by museums and other cultural institutions. Edson writes:

“Hank and John Green are working in, and they’re part of, a kind of Internet production—a kind of interaction—that is difficult for institutions to think of as legitimate, sufficiently respectable, educational, scholarly, or erudite.“

“If you announced to your museum director or boss that you intended to hire Hank and John Green to make a series of charming and nerdy videos about literature, art, global warming, politics, travel, music, or any of the other things that Hank and John make videos about you would be thrown out of whatever office you were sitting in and probably be asked to find another job.”

However, it appears that the public agrees with John and Hank’s unconventional use of the Internet’s capabilities, because according to Edson:

“In seven years, the two lovable nerds used YouTube and their own creativity to build what amounts to a vast educational content community that any museum or cultural institution on the planet would be proud to call their own. They’ve got millions of avid followers, they’ve helped give millions of dollars to charity, they’ve elevated and sustained a discourse about culture, science, thought, suffering, and existence—and they’re having a blast and making people happy.”

Another common theme between the discovery of dark matter in the universe and John and Hank Green’s discovery of new creative uses for the Internet is that these discoveries were made in ways you would not expect, and by people whom you would not expect. The Dark matter in the universe was discovered by Vera Rubin a junior astronomer fresh out of graduate school on her first night of her first job, rather than by a credentialed astronomy scholar. And the dark matter of the Internet was discovered by the Greens, two nerds utilizing YouTube videos, rather than by credentialed institution professionals.

Both Rubin and the Greens gained credibility by their discoveries and accomplishments and not as a result of scholarly or professional credentials, which supports my position on the subject of credibility and how it is gained, which was discussed during the 28 January 2016 UMSL Museums and History in the Digital Age class. In fact, there are many examples of people who lived extraordinary lives and made incredible accomplishments and discoveries, yet few people had ever heard of them prior to their accomplishments.

This is especially true for many African Americans like George Washington Carver.   According the article by Dave Meyer “Honoring A Godly Hero,” Dr. Carver developed over 418 inventions through his experiments with peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans, including cosmetics face powder, lotion, cold cream, shaving cream, salad oil, flour, rubbing alcohol, instant coffee, printers ink, leather stains, paints and nontoxic colors from which crayons were eventually created, to name a few. He also made a number of medical contributions such as Phenol and a cure for infantile paralysis. Interestingly, Dr. Carver named his laboratory Gods Little Workshop. He never took any scientific text books into it. He simply went in, locked the door behind him and asked God how to perform his experiments. During one of his lectures, he told an assembly, God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. The things I am to do and the ways of doing it are revealed to me. I never have to grope for methods. The method is revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.”

Dr. Carver’s practical yet profound insights not only enlightened minds but also touched the hearts of people from all walks of life. Dr. Carver was visited by Vice President Calvin Coolidge and by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He became a close friend and adviser to leaders and scientist from around the world, ranging from Thomas Edison to Mahatma Ghandi. Henry Ford also became a personal friend of Dr. Carver. Ford was fascinated with Dr. Carver’s method of making rubber from milkweed. He tried many times to get Dr. Carver to join him in business, but Carver never accepted. He remained steadfast and committed to helping his people in the south. In 1921 he accepted an invitation to address the United States Senate Ways and Means Committee in Washington D. C., regarding the potential use of peanuts and other new crops to improve the economy of the South. Carver was given 10 minutes to speak, but once the committee became captivated by his words and delivery, the chairman granted carver unlimited time. At the end of his address, which lasted for an hour and 45 minutes, the committee chairman asked Dr. Carver how he had learned all the things he had spoken about. Dr. Carver answered: “from and old book.” “What book?” asked the Senator. Carver replied, “The Bible.” The senator inquired, “Does the Bible tell about peanuts?” “No, Sir” Dr. Carver replied, “But it tells about the God who made the peanut. I asked him to show me what to do with the peanut, and he did.”1 The most interesting part of this example is that Dr. Carver, an accomplished scholar himself, attributes his discoveries to his faith in God rather than scholarly endeavors. And like power of dark matter and the Internet, Carver discovered that the power of his faith, was waiting to be fully explored.

In conclusion, accepting the following paradigms will help us to “see the light” in dark matter:

  • The decision making processes of museums and other cultural institutions may need to place a higher priority on “social acceptance” and serving communities to accomplish their missions, which are becoming less about the exclusivity, academic scholarship, institutional professionalism or accreditations, and more about relevancy and giving people what they want or need to succeed.
  • Although academic scholarship and professional credentials have merit, we must be careful that in the quest for credible sources, that we don’t overlook, discourage or exclude the 90% of dark matter that is not considered scholarly or professional, because it may contain the missing ingredients that are needed to accomplish our goals.


Notes and Links

Michael Peter Edson, “Dark Matter: The Dark Matter of the Internet is Open, Social, Peer-to-Peer and Read/Write—And It’s the Future of Museums, May 19,2014.  https://medium.com/tedx-experience/dark-matter-a6c7430d84d1#.n7rbitvn9

Dave Meyer, “Honoring a Godly Hero,” Enjoying Everyday Life January 2006

Wiliam J. Federer, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (St. Louis: Ameriseach, Inc. 2000) See note 2, p. 96.




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