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The Analog Past vs. The Digital Future

We were up in Fort Worth this Thanksgiving to spend time with my family. In order to work off some of the massive amount of calories we had ingested the day before, on Friday we decided to take the girls to the Fort Worth Science and History Museum. The girls enjoyed the trip but I came away a little disoriented.

The museum played an important role in my childhood. It was THE museum we would go to as it was only about a half-hour from our house. My brother and I attended "Museum School" there during the summer and we both have fond memories of exploring its vast and sometimes creepy collection of artifacts. The diorama of a neolithic trepanning was especially memorable / frightening: it featured 3/4 scale cave men holding down and cutting into the head skull of one of their comrades.

Good, clean family fun.

The museum underwent a major renovation in 2007. The resulting building is almost entirely new and is completely unrecognizable from the one I knew as a kid. The physical reality of the museum has no connection to its former self. The exhibits have changed significantly as well. It's now much more of a interactive "children's" museum than the "natural history" museum that I knew it to be. The museum I knew exists only in the nostalgic "Hidden Treasures: Celebrating 75 Years" exhibit on the second floor.  More interactive museums are clearly where the money is these days - there and in the oil and gas industry. The largest and most impressive exhibit was dedicated to telling the magical story of hydraulic fracking to the next generation of young Texans. 

While we were at the museum we also watched a show at the Noble Planetarium. Like many other planetariums, it has switched from an analog to a digital method of presentation (Fort Worth has a dual system that has both digital and analog capabilities, but the attendant I spoke to says they only use the newer technology). In other words, rather than seeing a field of stars projected mechanically through a "star ball" with holes cut for individual stars, several computerized LCD projectors are deployed to cast an animated image of the universe onto the planetarium dome. 

There are certainly advantages to this approach. LCD technologies have the advantage of allowing video to be projected rather than just stars. The show we watched featured Big Bird and Elmo explaining how to find the North Star. That would have been impossible in the planetarium that existed when I was a kid.

Then again, the resolution and dynamic range of LCD projects is less than their analog predecessors. Or at least I think they are. The show we watched on Friday was muddy and blurry. The shows I remember going to as a kid were bright and crisp. Or at least I remember them being that way. My memory could be flawed.

It is hard to compare what is now with what was many years ago. We tend to remember things being bigger when we were smaller. We also remember things being more impressive when our world of experiences were more limited. It can be disorienting trying to rectify these past memories with current realities. The past will always be clearer because we know how it all turned out. The future will always be muddier and blurrier because we do not.