As one of our museum partners – the New York Hall of Science – is located within the footprint of the 1964 World’s Fair, I have been reading about this iconic American event and thinking about how it relates to our exploration of Museum Futures. Apparently the most memorable installation was GM’s Futurama II. An early prototype of the now ubiquitous Disney ride, the experience inside the Futurama II postulated how the world would look in 60 years (2024) which is not that far away for us to reasonably imagine. Among other things, Futurama II described a connected world of real-time information where we will have instantaneous weather information from Antarctic climate monitoring stations and remote sensors streaming data on what is happening in the ocean’s depths. In retrospect, it sounds a lot like the global proliferation of the microprocessor and the ubiquity of the internet.
I also discovered that Futurama II was in fact based on an earlier Futurama that was built by GM for the 1939-40 New York Fair at Bryant Park. This earlier version speculated on 20yrs (or 1960) and placed a great emphasis on a vision of a then non-existent nationwide infrastructure of highways and bridges, connecting urban and rural life. This would eventually take the form of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. This Act led to the construction of federal highways system, connecting audiences in the millions to a vast number of formerly remote towns, historic sites and national parks. In fact most of the 16,000 museums we have in America today are attributed to the realization of this transportation infrastructure.
Now with our renewed focus on infrastructure through the recent Stimulus and Reinvestment Act there is a call by Kazys Varnelis – editor of Networked Publics and founder of Columbia University’s Net Lab – to consider not only physical infrastructure but also digital networks and their potential to shape public spaces, architecture, cities and to empower communities of people. What effect will these networks have on museums in terms of energy, transportation, locality and place-based narratives? How will the now ubiquitous digital network change our ideas about identity, authority and authorship? How will the small museum and its local community continue to define its unique experience and identity as it inevitably becomes connected to a global network of available content?
Coming full circle, it turns out that New York Hall of Science has an interactive exhibition on networks called Connections: The Nature of Networks.