The Human Longing for Connection
How do information and communication networks function? How do they impact our everyday lives? And why do we want to be in contact with one another anyway? This exhibition shows how we pursue our desire for human connection. The many exhibits include table telephones from Ballhaus Resi in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, the first transatlantic cable, which in 1858 opened up telegraphic communication between the USA and Europe, and the modem used by activists to circumvent the state’s blockade of the Internet during the “Arab Spring.”
People and their ideas are the drivers of network technology – from the telegraph to the telephone, from BTX to the Internet. We build information and communication networks, but we are also part of them. The exhibition “The Network”, which opened in 2015 in the Ladestraße, a historic freight depot on the museum grounds, illustrates the history of modern network technology with over 500 exhibits drawn from the museum’s various collections.
“The Network” has three Main Themes:
- “CONNECT: Alive in Networks.” We do business, we communicate, and we stay in touch with one another. CONNECT traces our motivation for creating networks and provides answers to important questions. Who participates in communication networks, and what barriers keep people out? What information do we disclose on the Internet, and how can we protect ourselves? How does the fact that we are always connected change our behavior – for better and for worse?
- “BACKBONE: The Technology.” Without technological infrastructure, we could neither order pizza from a mobile phone nor follow its progress to our front door. BACKBONE explains the unseen technology on which our networks run, such as how an email makes its way through the Internet, and how the Internet is constructed in the first place.
- “INFORMATION: Knowledge in Networks.” For over 2,000 years, libraries have been our nodal points for sharing knowledge. Nowadays, the Internet not only connects us to libraries but also provides each one of us with data, information, and knowledge – from the latest scientific article to the cutest cat video of the week. INFORMATION exhibits the technology used to generate knowledge and raises questions about its consequences for society. Who does information belong to? How can we maintain control over our own data? How great is the tension between privacy protection and big data?
The Networked Life: Homing Pigeons, Modem Wars, and Toilet Seats
The exhibition contains many hands-on stations, where you can explore for yourself how network technology works and how we use it. The historical background to today’s technology is also a major focus, from the smart toilet seat to the online game Modem Wars. We also ask who creates and controls knowledge, what kind of data octopuses are hungry for our data, and how network technology changes our perception of the body. And would you have guessed that a military drone with GPS is a distant relative of the good old homing pigeon? The exhibition’s 1,600 square meters are divided into thematic units devoted to BODY, OFFICE, HOME, and SHOPPING, highlighting the way technology has made its way into just about every aspect our lives. Those who want to delve even deeper into network technology can take a tour of the most important exhibits with Tim, our mobile museum robot.
“New in The Network!”
In our “New in the Network” display case, we are currently exhibiting a transceiver and a WiFi access point made by Huawei. Both already work with 5G. But what are the advantages and drawbacks of this new cellular standard?
Further information can be found here.
Otto the Data Octopus
Otto the Data Octopus is a creation of Berlin artist and activist Peter Ehrentraut. The octopus symbolizes the efforts of intelligence services, other state institutions, and companies to collect data on citizens and customers. Since 2008, Otto has been a mainstay of demonstrations and protest actions carried out by the privacy and digital-rights organization Digitalcourage.
Peter Ehrentraut, 2008, gift of Digitalcourage e.V.
The first transatlantic telegraph cable was constructed as follows: seven thin copper wires, covered in three coats of the rubbery substance gutta-percha, then wound with jute thread soaked in oil, pitch, talc, and tar, and finally encased in a sheath of 18 strands composed of seven iron wires each. More than 3,000 kilometers of the cable were constructed and laid by the Atlantic Telegraph Company of London. The project began in 1856. The first telegram from America reached Europe on August 10, 1858.
Atlantic Telegraph Company, Tiffany & Co., 1858
Modem Wars (computer game)
The goal of the 1988 strategy game Modem Wars is to destroy the opponent’s command center. Modem Wars was one of the first games that allowed two players to connect via a modem (and thus over a telephone line). It was developed for the Commodore 64, a very popular home computer of the day, and its successor, the Commodore 128.
Electronic Arts, 1988
Enigma I cipher machine
The Enigma I looks very similar to a typewriter. Yet it contains a powerful encoding system that the German Wehrmacht used to encrypt radio communications in the Second World War. The cipher machine was invented in 1918 by Arthur Scherbius, an electrical engineer in Berlin. After the Nazis came to power, the Berlin-based company Heimsoeth & Rinke mass-produced the Enigma. In total, about 40,000 Enigmas of various design were built.
Chiffriermaschinen A.G., 1939
The exhibition and the extension of the Ladestraße were supported by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRE) and the Berlin LOTTO Foundation.