Life Online collection makes a buzz at the National Media Museum

Dancing badgers, talking dogs and grumpy cats; these are just a few of the hilarious treasures the Internet offers to users. What started out as an experiment in the 1960s was finally made into a reality in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and has now evolved into an incredible, and sometimes wacky world.

Vint Cerf, one of the ‘Fathers of the Internet’, opened the Life Online collection at the National Media Museum in March 2012. It is collaboration between Future Everything, an award winning festival and innovation lab, and the museum. Tom Woolley, curator of new media at the National Media Museum and lead curator of Life Online in 2012, said: “No other gallery in the world is dedicated to exploring how the internet’s ever-evolving history links to the impact it has on our lives”. This new collection offers the 600,000 annual visitors to the museum the chance to witness history in the making.

Life Online takes pride of place on the ground floor of the museum. Walls filled with questions invite you in to take a peek. Turning the corner into the collection, the words ‘Life Online’ scream at you in white and fluorescent pink, following questions such as ‘How was the Internet built?’ and, ‘What is the future of the internet?’.


All of these questions are answered on your way into the exhibit. Turn right and you find glass cabinets holding pioneering technology that made everything we have today possible. The first ever projectors and vinyl players sit on the edges of the collection, posters bursting with information for those of us who maybe take modern technology for granted. Turn left and you discover social networking and Internet humour. The white walls of the collection are filled with computer code and famous faces such as Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Zukcerberg is pictured surrounded by just some of the millions of faces he has connected together on the World Wide Web, a powerful image that reflects the social networking world we live in.

Banks of bright touch screens are situated opposite this wall of fame, offering fun games and trivia. Quizzes on technology, old and new, test your knowledge of the modern world. Did you know that it only takes Google 0.1 seconds to search the entire Internet? Were you aware that in 2011, the number of people playing Farmville on Facebook equaled the entire population of China?

If trivia isn’t your thing, then other information kiosks offer histories about the founders and pioneers of the internet. Names such as Larry Roberts, creator of the very first network in 1965, are given the rightful amount of credit that they deserve. Ben Matthews, an undergraduate studying Computing Science, said: “It’s been really interesting learning about all the people who founded the research into modern technology”.


Additional kiosks provide some fun. Mini games that put all eyes on you, your face appearing on the screen in front of you like Big Brother, and in order to switch off the cameras you must answer questions on internet security. Other games show a basic method to shutting down networks by swiping your fingers across the connections.  These games bring life to an otherwise complex subject matter, and encourage those of a younger generation to interact in a fun and exciting way.

A final set of LCD screens allows you to customize your own webpage in HTML, the coding language for the internet, and then send it to yourself via email. Each step allows you to choose fonts, colours and background images, reflecting each and every change in HTML code in a screen above.

Large TVs showcase the funny side of the internet as viral videos play in unison. These distract your attention and entice you to giggle uncontrollably at clips such as PSYs international hit single, Gangnam Style, which boasts the most YouTube hits of all time.

As you wipe away tears of laughter, you notice something out of the corner of your eye; there are relics of the digital age on the floor. Not content with glass cabinets on the walls, beneath your feet are the very first personal home computers, as well as a trio of Apple’s revolutionary products that have revolutionized the way people interact with technology. Starting in the 1960s, and ending in 2010, this collection allows you to walk across half a century of technological advancement. Sadique Ahmed, IT Technician and self-confessed technology geek, visited the museum and said: “Seeing old and new technology together in one place has been a great experience”.


Finishing your tour of the Life Online collection is like reaching the end of a chapter in a novel. New chapters are written every time a new piece of technology is discovered, and a collection like this is always being expanded for future generations.


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