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Museum reinvents itself to communicate

A combined television, wireless and gramophone set was new technology in 1953

(swissinfo.ch)

The Museum of Communication in Bern has reinvented itself by shifting the emphasis of its permanent exhibition away from technology to communication between people.

The new focus of the exhibition is the social and cultural effects of communications technology on the people using it.

Visitors begin their tour by entering a dark tunnel, from the sides of which come a weird assortment of voices and sounds - a kind of acoustic landscape.

It leads to a section dealing with communication at its most basic level by examining the vocabulary of body language. The visitor is invited to respond to silhouettes, projected on the walls, of people speaking in gestures.

Virtual dialogue

This section also includes an interactive installation offering the opportunity to communicate with a "virtual" person. At the press of a button, a video image of this person starts talking to you and initiates a dialogue.

The more sensitive and intelligent your questions, the more intelligent are the answers. Says museum director Thomas Meier: "You can get to know this virtual person better while at the same time learning about yourself."

What follows this highly original introduction is a voyage through the history of communication, both interpersonal and over distances. "Not for nothing have we called our exhibition 'the adventure of communication'," Meier told swissinfo.

The next step is into the 19th century and the advent of more efficient postal services, the invention of the electric telegraph and in 1876 the invention by Alexander Graham Bell of the telephone.

Exhibits include the horse-drawn coach, built in 1894, which until its replacement by a motorized vehicle in 1920 carried mail to and from alpine regions in the Bernese Oberland.

Evolution of technology

"We have set out to show how technology in communications evolved," said Meier, pointing to the first Swiss mobile telephone, made in 1978. Carried in a suitcase, it is considerably bigger and heavier than today's ultra-light models.

Younger visitors will also be bemused to see the 1930s radios - known then as "wireless sets" - and 1950s televisions which paved the way for transforming the world into a global village.

What makes this section special is that the radios and televisions are not merely presented behind glass screens but are in living rooms furnished in period décor.

Youngsters will wonder why the crackly sounds and grainy images - from audio and video recordings - emitting from them held their listeners and viewers in thrall long before the arrival of the sophisticated stereos and wide-screen colour televisions we now take for granted.

A visit to the new permanent exhibition ends with the Internet and a safe forecast from the museum that from a 2003 perspective, constant updating of this - and other - sections can be expected in the world of communications.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

In brief

The Museum of Communication began life as a postal museum in 1907.

Formerly technology-based, the permanent exhibition now reflects the social and cultural impact of communications and what the latest technology means for people using it.

The exhibition begins with the vocabulary of body language then takes visitors through sections on postal services, the telephone, radio and television and the Internet.

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