When I was a kid and traveling with my parents, they used to drag me, kicking and screaming, to museum after museum so I could get some “culture.” I hated it! I hated them! My travels were filled with commands and threats like “Shhhh!” “No,” “Be quiet,” “Stop running,” and the all-too-familiar “Just you wait till we get you back to the hotel.”
Well, times have changed and now I am a parent. It always surprises me how I much I’ve morphed into my own parents with my kids. But things are not as bad as they were way back in the 70s, thanks to real men of genius like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and to companies like IBM. Today, even the stuffiest museums have incorporated interactive experiences into their exhibits. My own kids actually enjoy museum-hopping now that they serve up some technology with the pictures and dinosaur bones. While most museums now embrace technology, I feel these six do it best.
Innovation: Hand-held PDAs, touch screens and a digital audio guide
This gallery will satisfy almost any geek – in fact, it earned an innovation award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Its wireless data link beams information about the exhibits to your rented PDA (about $4) as you walk around. The PDA has different programs in several languages and there is a special one of interest to the smaller kids. The museum’s server can even send information to your mobile phone or e-mail address — so you literally can take it with you.
London SE1 9TG
Phone: 020 7887 8888
Innovation: The virtual conductor
Didn’t make the cut on “American Idol”? Then head over to Vienna and give it a go with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Yes, you can take the podium and conduct the orchestra virtually. There is even an “American Idol”-type panel of musicians that will tell you if you are way off key. You can compose your own Viennese waltz by playing the “Waltz Dice Game” and you can journey back in time to see biographies of some of Vienna’s great composers, including Brahms, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
Tel. ++43-1-516 48
Innovation: Wireless technology
You don’t have to be a geek to see that MoMA has its finger on the pulse of technology. Even its floors are iPod white. Working in conjunction with IBM, MoMA has installed a seamless wireless network that links to flat screens on the walls and hand-held pocket PCs that can display full-motion videos. The network is so sophisticated it is able to sync with smart phones, display exhibits in 3-D, and allow you to communicate with others in silence through instant messaging. No more fuddy-duddies “shushing” you!
11 W. 53rd St.
New York, N.Y. 10019-5497
Phone: (212) 708-9400
Innovation: Touch-screen index
ArtStart is a high-tech terminal system installed throughout the museum that lets visitors examine and download information on every one of the gallery’s 2,300 paintings via a high-resolution touch screen. It took more than three years to scan the works to the 100-megapixel standard (think about that for a minute the next time you take out your 10-megapixel camera). Now you can not only examine a Van Gogh painting in detail, but also zoom in to see individual brush strokes. Many of these features are also available online on the gallery’s Web site.
London WC2N 5DN
Phone: 020 7747 2885
Innovation: QBIC (Query by Image Content) technology
The Hermitage worked with IBM to develop a new digital collection that allows visitors to search for paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, furniture and archaeological artifacts using simple visual tools. Art lovers can access more than 8,000 masterpieces by such artists as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt; each piece has been scanned to be rendered in its full glory. The museum also has virtual exhibitions of ceramics and textiles, as well as 3-D animated films.
2 Dvortsovaya Square
190000, St. Petersburg
Phone: (812) 710-96-25
Ghosts? Yes, you read that right. A key part of the museum’s mission is to preserve the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president. In “Ghosts in the Library,” a life-size holographic image of Lincoln will appear out of thin air and interact with actors on the stage. Two permanent exhibits, “Journey One” and “Journey Two,” pull you into vignettes from Lincoln’s life both before and during his White House years. Don’t know how this happened — maybe a group of Disney’s Imagineers got lost in Springfield one day and loaned some expertise — but this museum is about as high-tech as you can get.
112 N. Sixth St.
Springfield, Ill. 62701
Phone: (217) 558-8844
Have you been to a museum that blew you away with technology or science? Send me an e-mail and let me know for a future column. My fave? As a single-parent traveler with kids ages 11-16, I would have to go with the Haus der Musik.