When I was a kid, growing up in the 50's I was always fascinated by future technological changes. I still am. I think it all started one night in 1956 when I saw a TV show projecting future developments twenty years in the future. Predictions ranged from cars that would steer themselves down a cable imbedded in the highway (so much for that idea) to our present day heat pumps we use to both heat and cool our homes. There was no mention of computers OR the Internet but color TV and solar power got big play along with bubble roofs on cars. Well, 1976 came and went. No bubble roofs, no self-steering cars, but color TV arrived right on schedule. Twenty years after that, computers were becoming commonplace in homes and the Internet was just starting to take off.
Today, I came across some news stories regarding the way museums were starting to utilize state-of-the art video, laser, and computer capabilities. The next big thing in computers? Wearable computers, pocket size, with headphones, and small video devices that may be attached to you glasses, not unlike the flip-down sunglasses some people use. Displays in these museums would "sense" your presence, decide if your unit had "been there, done that" and tailor it's 3-D holographic laser presentation for your edification. I guess you might call it the next step up from those little tape recorders art museums have used for years to guide you through their maze of displays and help you find the bathroom. Some people love them, some people hate them. Frankly, I've never even tried one. Guess I need to check'em out before they become obsolete.
Okay, here's my "In the Future" tour of your favorite art museum. First of all, think about all you HATE in going to art museums. Your feet ache, you get tired, no place to sit down, getting lost, the hollow, empty quality...or the opposite, crowds ten deep around what you really came to see, poor lighting, bathrooms anywhere but where YOU are, architecture more impressive than the contents, mediocre dining, and overpriced postcards. Alright, the last two no one can do much about. It wouldn't be a museum without those two displeasures.
In the future, in visiting an art museum, upon entering the establishment, you'd find your way to an empty theater-type seat before a computer terminal situated in a very long hall--hundreds of them, back to back, a few feet apart, facing the "walls." No, you'll not be seeing your art work projected on the wall, (unless that's the way the artist intended it to be seen). The computer terminal would allow you to choose what you want to see, one painting, one era, one style, one artist, one DOZEN artists, TEN dozen artists, or the whole history of Western civilization. Once you've chosen from the menu (replete with thumbnail images if you like), then the monitor slides slightly to one side. Now the fun begins!
Instead of YOU going to the art somewhere within the bowels of the massive cultural palace, the artwork comes to YOU. It's kind of like you're in the middle of a huge, computerized database. Each painting or drawing in the museum would be mounted on a movable panel that can be shunted about throughout the building like railroad cars in an enormous rail yard, locked into position before your eyes, perfectly lit with natural or artificial light (depending on the time of day or night) and held for your viewing pleasure for as long as you like (within reason). You could even direct that your seat be moved nearer for closer inspection, or adjusted for height (within limits of course). And when you're done, the next work would be waiting to slide into place. Accompanying each piece would be an audiovisual presentation regarding it, suited to the level of involvement you've previously indicated. You could kick off your shoes if you like, pause for a bathroom break, (just a few steps down the hall and to your left), return with some popcorn and a soft drink, or press an icon on the monitor for your own personal printout of either the art or the commentary, or both.
And when you're done, just to stretch your legs, you might amble down to the special exhibits in the "old fashioned" gallery or check out the overpriced books and refrigerator magnets in the gift shop. You could spend an hour, two hours, or twelve hours and return home no more fatigued than from a trip to the movies. The cost (if there was one) would be based upon the amount of time you spent viewing the art (your monitor would keep a running tab) and upon any other museum services you may have utilized.
A pipe dream? Not necessarily. Although converting existing museums to such a system would be expensive, and even with totally NEW facilities, the initial investment in hardware quite sizable, this system would have the advantage of being able to present much more art in a much smaller space in that the art itself usually occupies less than ten percent of any given museum. The rest is allocated for human movement, which would be minimized in such a reconfigured facility. Work could be moved, unseen and untouched by human presence on levels above and below those designed for viewing in an environment protected from light, dirt, and possible vandalism. Security would be improved, fewer guards would be needed, and in general, the human staffing could be reduced. Also on the plus side, educational programs would be much more interesting and effective. And tired feet would be eliminated. Okay, maybe we could even improve the food.