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Life On _ Line Review

Cart: Life Online
Cab: The Internet
Coin: National Media Museum

Bradford’s free and rather amazing National Media Museum claims to house the world’s first exhibition dedicated to exploring the social, technological and cultural impact of the Internet. The somewhat unimaginatively titled Life Online exhibition spans two areas in the museum: one permanent and compact exhibition housed in the museum’s light and vast atrium and another temporary exhibition space on the relatively claustrophobic and office-like seventh level.


Whilst the temporary exhibitions tend to be somewhat art-house and leftfield in their nature (in other words: pretty but largely superficial; and I say this as an art graduate), it’s the permanent exhibition that attempts to catalogue and quantify the growth, evolution and impact of the Internet.

From an architectural perspective, it’s a fantastically pleasant space that’s incredibly well-lit by natural light from the large, glass front of the museum that it lives immediately next to. Feeling very much like a walled garden, the exhibition is enclosed by high, white walls that are all slightly off perpendicular with the whole space having a calm and contemporary atmosphere.

The graphic design is as flawless as the interior design and the exhibition is finely balanced between negative space and densely packed imagery and text. Almost every display technology you can imagine is employed from LCD to touch-screen and projection with floating cubes above key points having four different images projected onto each of their internal surfaces.

To cap-off the exquisite level of finish, the centre-piece of the exhibition is arguably the chronological collection of internet ready devices ranging from Dreamcasts to DSs that are housed beneath your feet below thick, re-enforced glass. Walking over them is both irreverent and exciting in equal measure and a genuinely unique feature in an already impressive space.

So far, so good: but what of the actual factual content?


Like almost every contemporary exhibition that I’ve seen, once you scratch beneath the surface of the visual impact, what you’re left with is rather shallow and brief. Granted, I may be somewhat biased as a bit of a well-informed geek, but beyond some interesting historical narrative, what you’re presented with is a combination of general knowledge and common sense with huge swathes of space offering you little if anything at all beyond a pleasant aesthetic.

Rather like the Internet itself, you might say.

Whilst it’s pleasing to see such an exhibition, then, I for one left feeling a little bit undernourished. And I couldn’t help but notice the fact that so many of my fellow visitors were buried in their smartphones almost as much as they were the exhibition.

Which begs the question: if almost all of the visitors to an exhibition about Life Online are going to bring in an online enabled device, why not purposefully work said devices into the experience?

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  1. Seems like a bit of a missed oportunity

  2. Indeed. I sense that they were so eager to be ‘first’ that they didn’t really consider how it could be a bit more ‘out of the box’. Yet another humdrum factual trawl wrapped up in lovely visuals.

  3. Good points, been meaning to go to that museum for years… I really should.

  4. It’s a great place. The IMAX cinema screen is awesome, as is its much smaller cinema, Pictureville, that shows a mixture of new and old but always great films. Oh and they’re got an original Dalek!

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