Go back to article: Information age? The challenges of displaying information and communication technologies


Claude Shannon’s analysis of information ruthlessly sacrificed the meaning of the message in information, seeing the concept of information as a purely mathematical entity that could be quantified and transferred without regard to the human significance of each binary digit. In developing the Information Age gallery, the Science Museum has taken a polar opposite approach. We have shown that information and communication technologies, and the signals and messages they carry, reflect the culture and societies that use them. The gallery embraces narrative and storytelling to explore the cultural significance of information and communication technologies at particular moments in history. It focuses on a range of users of the technologies, not just their moment of invention. And it strives to look at the media that was transferred through the technology, as well as displaying the consumer devices and back-end infrastructure of information networks.

By placing the concept of information within this rich historical and cultural context, we have re-wrapped the term within its original layers of meaning (as well as adding some new museological ones) and shown that information is a generous concept through which we can explore not just the forms and social structures of the past, but the way information and communication technologies disrupt and support our lives today. Shannon may have shown that the semantics of information play no role in its mathematical theory, but as a museum we are better placed to explore and display the social, historical and cultural dimensions of information than its abstract and numerical features.

Ultimately the Information Age gallery will be successful if the objects and narratives we have chosen enable visitors to engage with this important and complex part of human history. As well as unique personal stories, the gallery contains over eight hundred objects from our collections, many on display to the public for the first time. In the first four months since opening, over 300,000 people visited, making it the museum’s most popular gallery to date. Further evaluation currently being conducted will tell us more about visitors' experiences and the meaning they make from the gallery. We hope the Information Age will continue to grow as a place where audiences can share and reflect on the long history of information and communication networks, whilst considering the dimensions of an information age. 

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/150303/006