This is a great question for the museum sector and aside from the long list of stuff listed in wikipedia (songs, plays, bands, slogans) it is more than just the debate about the real object vs the digital one.
Of course, both of these are real to the person looking at them – whether on a computer or in the gallery, but I would suggest that the real ‘real thing’ for a cultural object (painting, relic, document, book or installation) is in fact the layers of different meanings, interpretations or significance that different users bring.
At the moment it seems that this layer is mostly a sandwich of curators. Sometimes it has an added layer of user focus, or specialist input but imagine how much deeper the layers would be if anyone could contribute?
I don’t just mean UGC, I mean the layers of meaning that come from different ways of working and looking at the world, that different people have. For example, if you are a small artist group, a national museum, a local authority library or an online archive, the way that you build meaning around your object varies greatly.
The impact of the new world of cross-sectoral partnerships that is being advocated (by some) at this year’s MA conference, is going to be a whole new thing for museums to deal with and are each the ‘real thing’ for someone.
A good topic for a future MA conference session I think?