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The past and future of communications

The Museum of Communication in Berne is inviting the public to explore the "imaginary worlds of communication". That's the title of an exhibition on the dreams and reality of communication between 1850 and 2050.

The focus of the exhibition in the city's Kornhaus is not on technology but on the imagination of people as communicators, often far in advance of technological capability.

Visitors to the exhibition begin their journey through five so-called "time islands" at an airport check-in desk, and then advance further into the future as they move from island to island.

First stop is the middle of the 19th century, when the advent of the railway and the telegraph marked the start of the concept of the world as "a global village".

It was a time of breathtaking innovation, with journeys reduced to a matter of hours rather than days and - thanks to the telegraph - instant communication across great distances.

Other sections deal with the birth of the telephone, radio, television, the automobile and so on, before the visitor arrives in the future - on the 2000 island. This is a world dominated by the computer, where all the various media merge to form one "mega medium".

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey not all of which is serious. Each island has a space devoted to fantasy, with pseudo-inventions created by graduates of the Lucerne Design School.

"We leave people to decide for themselves whether what they are seeing is a fake invention," says one of the organisers, Rolf Wolfensberger. "For example a speech machine invented in 1900 which is like a talking robot."

The "robot" is in fact a set of false teeth programmed to emit sound. Another spoof is a time machine consisting of a suit which can take its wearer into the future or the past.

Or there's the box containing rubber covers for the tongue, each stamped with a national flag. This is aimed at frequent travellers, who can communicate in the local language wherever they are simply by donning the appropriate rubber tongue.

If that invention ever becomes a reality, foreign words difficult to pronounce will remain a mouthful (literally) but at least the locals will understand them.

by Richard Dawson


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