Virtual Museums and Modern Technology: An Exploration of What Is and What Might Be
Museums have long been places of wonder and mystery. They are a place where youngsters can enter for a nominal fee, or for free at some locations, wander around, get lost, and generally enjoy exhibits that range from speculation about our most distant past through our potential future. Nearly every civilized community has some sort of commemorative museum, whether it is centered around a local celebrity, historical furnishings and equipment, or a local type of business.
Why Virtual Museums?
Visiting museums has become associated with being well-rounded and well-educated. But not every location has a museum, and not every person has the means or ability to travel to a museum – especially not to the big, famous museums such as the Louvre or the Smithsonian. Virtual technology might be changing all of that and making it possible for shut-ins, invalids and those with limited means to make a virtual visit to museums all over the world.
Even if all you have is a very basic Internet connection with a graphical display, it is currently possible to “visit” many world-famous museums without leaving the comfort of your own home. In fact, if you are viewing the museum on a cell phone, you can take a mini-tour of almost any virtual museum display from anywhere, thanks to wireless technology.
Here are three examples of museums that might not be available to everyone as a place to physically visit:
Three Brick and Mortar Museums that Have Virtual Tours
The Louvre – (https://www.louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne) Located in Paris, France, the Louvre currently offers three virtual tours: The Egyptian Room, Remains of the Louvre’s moat, and Galerie Apollon. They can be viewed on almost any mid-range computer but will require Flash to display. Rumor has it that much bigger and better virtual displays are in the making. As a virtual museum tour the current ones are very basic, but give the viewer a glimpse of the riches stored in that famous location.
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – (https://naturalhistory.si.edu/vt3/index.html) Located in Washington DC, the Smithsonian is a long road trip for many US citizens, let alone a lengthy journey for people from other countries. The Smithsonian offers a virtual tour of the permanent exhibits in the Natural History Museum. The interface is intuitive, using a system of arrows and maps to help the Internet visitor move from one location to another.
The British Museum – (https://www.britishmuseum.org/) Located in Covent Garden in London, England, the museum is free to anyone during hours of operation – which is almost every day. It is closed for Good Friday, January 1, and three days around Christmas time. So if you happen to be in London, this is a must-see. For those of use who can’t get there very easily, they are currently working with Google Maps to create virtual visits. You can see some things now, and it will be glorious when finished.
Stockholm 360 – (http://stockholm360.net/index.php) provides virtual tours of many, many famous museums around the world.
Sketchfab – (https://sketchfab.com/models) Three-dimensional models of just about anything, including interiors of museums
It would be a mistake to think of modern museums only in terms of brick and mortar buildings – although those can be amazing and wonderful. There are many archives on the Internet that could easily qualify as being “museums” since they contain replicas and records of things and events having to do with the Internet, its development, as well as virtual exhibits.
The Wayback Machine – (https://web.archive.org/) Want something that was published on the Internet a few years ago, or maybe even just yesterday? The Wayback Machine is an archive of yesterday’s Internet. While it might not have everything, it does have the performance of various websites on a given day or time, and it has such vignettes as a news report from NWCTV about a February 2017 performance of “The Mitten,” as well as texts from the Smithsonian. With thousands of items available, it is a fantastic research tool.
The Big Internet Museum – (http://symbolics.com/museum/) an online archive of famous and infamous moments online. The museum is divided into “wings” which includes history, audio/visual and more. Great place to find information to explain about the early days of the internet, look up obscure terms and locate items such as the “most liked” music video ever.
The really interesting thing about virtual museums is the way that we might be able to see them. It is already possible to view portions of many brick and mortar museums using VR (virtual reality) masks. Ranging in cost from $5.00 to several thousand dollars, some work exclusively with your smartphone, while others have a wired or wireless connection to your home computer. Instead of straining to see that little picture on the screen, you immerse yourself in the picture, and might even be able to interact with it.
Developing right along behind visual virtual reality are Tactile Gloves, shoes, and even full-body suits. So far, the gloves are the most promising since they give the opportunity to give commands through the interface without having to resort to dumbbells or other handheld controllers. Some include sensors that allow you to actively feel your environment. Shoes, which work on a principle similar to the gloves are a little farther behind. One tester commented that the shoes, possibly because the current models are a little clunky, actually pulled him out of the VR experience because of the way they felt. But it is early days yet in development.
3D Printers – View it, Hold it — Perhaps Even Cuddle It or Eat It?
Perhaps one of the most exciting possibilities is the 3D printer. Instead of shopping for a new picture for your wall, you can visit a picture gallery or a museum, and then order the pattern and the materials for your 3D-printer and print out a picture or object for your home. Although the printers are still a little pricey, the technology for simple objects is already available. In fact, even simple biological items can be printed, such as ear cartilage or replacement skin for severe injuries. Will we one day simply print out dinner? Or our own pet dinosaur?
But that is a long way away from museums. Or is it? Perhaps one day we will, indeed, be able to dine as did our Paleolithic ancestors. All we will need to do is browse the right wing of the correct museum. We just need to be careful when visiting Jurassic Park.