POTSDAM — If you’ve ever wondered how much technology your smartphone has made obsolete, the Potsdam Museum will be giving visitors that opportunity during its Dec. 8 open house with a new exhibit, “Can You Hear Me Now: A History of Telecommunications.”
Museum Curator and Director Mimi Van Deusen said the concept started with a table they set up at the Potsdam Summerfest in July.
“And we were trying to think, what would we take to the summer festival to get people interested in history and to come to our booth and I had this orange (rotary) telephone and I said why don’t we take the orange telephone and do something about communication or something and we can take an old typewriter, an old telephone,” Ms. Van Deusen said. “So we got this idea about what has your cellphone replaced?”
Another museum employee, Selena Patterson, asked if she could be at the booth and bring some things from her 1990s childhood, including old cellphones, a Nintendo Game Boy and Walkmans.
“And the people who would stand in line, we never had people stand in line to come up and look at our booth,“ Ms. Van Deusen said. “Three times kids would come back (and use the rotary phone) and their parents would say, ‘they like the Potsdam Summer Festival, but this orange phone is their favorite part of the Summer Festival, just to come and dial it and pick it up.’
The reaction from the crowd was an inspiration, seeing how so many young people looked at technology from just the past few decades and treated it like it was an object that existed before electricity, Ms. Van Deusen said.
“It was just so fascinating to watch this whole thing unfold about how recent technology is so historical and important, because technology is changing so quickly in our lifetimes,” she said.
And once museum staff started putting together the inventory of things that the cell phone has replaced, or what is becoming obsolete because of cellphones, Ms. Van Deusen realized they could fill the museum with the different technologies of the past.
Among those items is a 1982 Z-100 Zenith computer on loan from Clarkson University, one of the first computers that the students on campus had to have.
There is an iMac G4, from 1982-1984, old radios, phonographs, telephones, calculators, cameras and typewriters; there are a variety of lamps, flashlights and lanterns, including a lava lamp, and maps, because, you know, your phone has GPS.
“So we have some early phones that only have one button that you call the operator with and ask her to connect you to a certain person,“ Ms. Van Deusen said. “So we have some of those here, too.“
Throughout the Dec. 8 Open House, museum researcher Hunter Crary will be playing music on a Victrola belonging to his grandfather, William Crary, which is also on display and filled with albums.
The holiday open house will run from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 8 at the museum, 2 Park St.