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By National Science and Media Museum on

Life Online continued…

We explore the legacy of our Life Online gallery, which told the story of the cultural, social, and technological impact of the internet.

As the museum undergoes a once-in-a-generation transformation as part of the Sound and Vision project, a major area of change will be the museum’s entrance foyer, which we’re opening up to create a more accessible and versatile space for visitors to enjoy.

As part of this project, teams from across the museum have been hard at work decanting the Life Online gallery, which currently lives in the foyer area and many visitors will be familiar with.

While the Life Online gallery as we know it will be changing in time for our reopening in 2024, many of its stories and themes will form part of the new Sound and Vision Galleries for visitors to explore in exciting new ways.

Four museum staff use straps to lift a computer up from an under-floor display.
Staff at the National Science and Media Museum work on the decant of Life Online.

Before we say goodbye to Life Online in its current form, we wanted to walk through the history of the gallery and reflect on how much our lives online have changed over the past decade.

Opening in spring 2012, Life Online told the story of the cultural, social and technological impact of the internet. At the time of its launch, apps like Instagram and FaceTime were still in their infancy, and Twitter had just celebrated its 6th birthday, boasting 140 million users, a figure which has almost tripled today.

An overhead view of the museum foyer, with hoardings up where the gallery was being installed.
Life Online under construction in 2012.

Fast forward a decade and our use of the web continues to grow exponentially, with apps like TikTok taking centre stage and debates around the benefits and dangers of AI coming to the fore. The potential of the internet to both bring us together and divide us is ever-present in our lives.

Two people looking at a screen, next to a wall covered in a photo montage
Visitors to Life Online in 2012.

Life Online told the story of the beginnings of the internet, exploring the key innovators who developed the first computer networks, as well as uncovering the early days of social networking and email.

It also touched upon internet privacy and what the future could hold. The gallery included digital artworks, such as a pixelated portrait of Sir Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web as an open and shared platform. The portrait was composed of live webcam images updating in real-time on a regular basis.

So, what next for Life Online? The internet has progressed in ways we could not have predicted even a decade ago. As we look towards Sound and Vision, many of the stories of the origin of the internet and how it continues to impact our lives will be interwoven into the new galleries. As we reflect on the past, present and future of sound and vision technologies, this leaves us to ponder—what will the internet be capable of in another decade?

An underfloor display of computers from the 1980s
Part of the history of computers display in Life Online

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