The Information Age Gallery at the Science Museum is not simply a museum gallery. It is a powerful testament to the world we have created through our growing understanding of what information is and how it can be communicated. By bringing together hundreds of concrete objects it demonstrates the power that comes from applying an understanding of information technology to the development of those same technologies; by arranging them in a particular way it brings clarity to the story of information and speaks to us all.
It is a cathedral, a secular temple built to honour what we have wrought through our grasp of science, mathematics and technic, and the team at the Science Museum are its architects and its priestly caste.
It does not profess to be an oracle. It does not attempt to predict a future, but like Delphi it can be read as a set of signs that we may interpret if we wish. In its overlapping narratives we see not one view of the past but many, and while the line of successful innovation is clear – and must be clear in such a setting – the paths not taken and the insights that proved to be unworkable are also expressed, from Baird’s electromechanical television to Minitel, via the telegraph, the VCR and the PDA.
For some of us it is a very personal story. My intellectual history, my career and my life are on display here. I owned several of the artefacts here, and I’ve used a surprisingly large number of them since school – right back to the mirror galvanometer and the Wheatstone bridge. I live in the space they define, a fully-fledged inhabitant of the Information Age. But the artefacts have touched every one of us, from the Newton-owning gadget freak to the refugee relying on GPS to find a way to safety.
I’m honoured to have had a small part to play, as a member of the Advisory Panel, in shaping the new gallery. I’m proud to know the curatorial team behind it, and have seen their care, dedication and persistence over the last three years (my email archive tells me the first meeting was on March 1st 2011). And I look forward to visiting the gallery many times in the years to come to remember my past and see what clues we can derive as we try to build a future in which these tools are used in the service of all of us.
Come, visit, learn. Don’t worship, but do take inspiration. This is what we can achieve.