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Make Bell Labs an internet museum

I have written an op-ed for NJ.com and the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, proposing that the soon-to-be-vacant Bell Labs be repurposed as a Museum and School of the Internet. As the Labs’ latest owners prepare to move to a more modern location in New Brunswick, it is important to preserve this historic site and utilize it for a greater purpose.

I suggest that Bell Labs be opened to the public as a museum and school dedicated to the internet. The internet as we know it would not exist without the groundbreaking technologies developed at Bell Labs, such as the transistor, the laser, and information theory. Other notable inventions include Unix, communications satellites, fiber optics, and advancements in chip design, cellular phones, compression, microphones, talkies, digital art, and artificial intelligence. The precursor to our modern-day devices, the Picturephone, was also displayed as a futuristic concept at the 1964 World’s Fair.

Currently, there is no museum solely dedicated to the internet. While Silicon Valley has its Computer History Museum and New York has museums for television and the moving image, there is no institution that allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in and study the impact of the internet on society. As the birthplace of Bell Labs and the former headquarters of AT&T, known as “Ma Bell,” New Jersey is the perfect location for such a museum.

I have a personal connection to Bell Labs, as I visited the facility in 1995 while working as an executive for NJ.com’s parent company, Advance. At the time, we felt that we were at the forefront of the future by bringing news online. We saw a kinship with the groundbreaking work being done at Bell Labs and arranged a visit to the impressive building designed by Stephen F. Voorhees and opened in 1941. The labs were filled with genius and history, and it would be a shame to lose that legacy.

In addition to preserving the history of Bell Labs and its contributions to the internet, we must also not overlook the current impact of the internet on our lives. In my research for my book, “The Gutenberg Parenthesis: The Age of Print and its Lessons for the Age of the Internet,” I was surprised to find that there was no discipline dedicated to studying the history and influence of print and the book until Elizabeth Eisenstein’s groundbreaking work in 1979, over 500 years after Gutenberg’s invention. We cannot afford to wait that long to preserve memories and study the importance of the internet in our lives.

The old Bell Labs has the potential to be more than just a museum. It could also serve as a school, educating visitors on the advancements that led to the internet and its current impact on society. As someone who left Advance in 2006 to become a journalist, I understand the importance of staying up-to-date with the ever-changing landscape of the internet. A school at Bell Labs could offer courses on topics such as search engine optimization and other relevant skills.

In conclusion, I urge the preservation and repurposing of Bell Labs as a Museum and School of the Internet. Let us not lose the history and significance of this iconic institution, and let us continue to learn and evolve with the internet as it shapes our present and future. 

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