London Science Museum – International Week for Science and Peace
To mark the UN’s International Week for Science and Peace (first observed as part of the Year for International Science and Peace in 1986) we’ve been looking back at our past projects – in particular, the London Science Museum’s ‘Information Age’ exhibition. We installed our contribution to this project back in 2014, and it made us wonder about the role of Science and Technology as a force for good in modern society, especially whether advances in communications technology have been for the better.
All in all, we’d say: yes. Connected digital devices have made us faster and more efficient as a society; we’ve made good use of the endless information at our fingertips; and, as technology brings global integration, it brings us closer to a global civilisation. At first, tying this exhibition into Science for Peace seemed a bit of a reach but, after taking the time to explore the exhibition and its stories, I found that the whole place is about bridging the gaps in communication between countries and continents. That’s quite literally the case with the story of transatlantic cable-laying, an attempt to connect America and the United Kingdom.
The Exhibition tells a winning tale of the ambition, audacity and ingenuity of inventors and inventions. Each of its six zones represents a different technology network: The Cable, The Telephone Exchange, Broadcast, The Constellation, The Cell and The Web. The gallery explores the key events that shaped the development of these networks, from the growth of the worldwide telegraph network in the 19th century to the influence of mobile phones on our lives today. Each section takes an engaging approach to a facet of the “Information Age”, presenting both an overview of its own contents and part of a grand, overarching narrative – a fascinating take on the socio-cultural history of technology from the 1840’s onward.
Most of the challenges we faced on this project came from translating abstract ideas (like the theories published in Alan Turing’s 1936 paper ‘On Computable Numbers’ – a stepping stone to later technologies to be found in the exhibit) into a family-friendly, physical exhibition. The interactive pods and matching app, with its tasks and games based on the gallery’s content, are specifically designed to engage a family audience. Without this approach, I personally believe the exhibition would be lost on younger visitors. Indeed, at first, the sentimentality and nostalgia of this vast exhibition might seem aimed at an older audience – but once you delve in to the content, nostalgia is replaced by inspiration. It’s a pleasure to lose yourself in the stories of the pioneering men and women who created the communication technology we now take for granted.