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2.1. The science centre as a tool

Building a brand new science centre in Europe is a very exciting thing to do, but in this case perhaps especially so. The Chinese ‹ in their bitter-wise irony ‹ sometimes wished their enemies: "may you live in interesting times". And whatever one may think of it, Europe is truly passing through a phase of very "interesting times". The iron curtain came down. New states are being formed and divided states merging again. Bitter feuds (as well as old friendships) are being revived, terrible civic conflicts and wars are being fought. And, sadly, radical nationalism also seems to be resurgent.

Against this background of major socio-political changes ‹ of European economic problems and new challenges from overseas, and of soaring unemployment figures (17 million people unemployed in the EU alone ‹ nevertheless, a major development is taking place in the field of public centres engaged in scientific and technological culture.

In Western Europe alone thirty new projects are in different stages of development. The European collaborative ECSITE (European Collaborative for Science, Industry and Technology Exhibitions) has been formed, representing 15 to 20 million visitors a year to science centres and museums. And in Middle and Eastern Europe, existing museums are making new plans for revival, renewal and extension.

Most of these initiatives are brought about by small teams or even by individuals, but support for them is growing within governments, major municipalities and larger industrial companies. In the Netherlands, the funding for the new national science centre has been provided: a third by government, a third by the municipality of Amsterdam, and a third by the private sector. This three-way funding offers an excellent model for other new projects in Europe.

The public-private partners' motives are almost always the same and belong to a set of new world visions that can be traced back to publications and discussions of the last five years. These visions acknowledge that the time of superpower geo-politics has been replaced by an era of geo-economics, in which successful regions compete world-wide. And, increasingly, it is stated that Science Centres should be actively present in these regions. It is also argued that knowledge, innovation, lifelong education and human resource management form the true basis of future prosperity in the most advanced areas of the world. And again Science Centres are looked upon by their public-private founders as important tools for reaching these goals.

It is recognised that the once-mighty multi-nationals no longer produce growth in employment or profit, and are breaking up into semi-independent international networks, requiring new skills of their workforce ‹ skills on which Science Centres have already been focusing for many years.

It is acknowledged that we are rapidly moving from an era of high-volume production to one of high-value tailor-made production.

In sum: we are changing from a society of producers and consumers into a society of job-holders and choosers. Sceptical, curious and creative ‹ features typical of the informal learning environment which Science Centres offer.

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2.2. From tool to independent actor

In December 1993 the European Union (EU) published its "White Paper: Growth, Competitiveness, Employment: the challenges and ways forward into the 21st century" and many of the visions and ideas mentioned above can be found there. Its publication is designed, primarily, to counter-balance the pessimism that swept through Europe with the disappointments that soon followed the fall of the iron curtain. It advocates: investing for the future, reorganising social security systems, enhancing the flexibility of the workforce and competitive strength, tempering great differences in income, evoking solidarity. The greatest emphasis is placed on the stimulation of knowledge, education and the implementation of new technologies.

Yet, while existing and developing Science Centres/Museums in Europe can and will participate in this socio-economic élan, we would do a poor job if we limited our role in European society to that of advocates of new economic policies.

Too long have Science Centres/Museums operated in the shadow of the other groups' preoccupations: of scientists, of formal educators, of politicians, of technicians and industrialists. The argument is not that we cannot render service to all these disciplines. We will certainly continue to do so, as we have done successfully in the past. The argument is rather that Science Centres/ Museums should never become mere derivatives of problems outside their direct influence. We cannot cure scientific illiteracy (whatever that may be) through a family visit of two-and-a-half hours. Nor can we solve the identity crisis within the formal educational system, comparing the 1,600 hours a child spends in school each year with perhaps five hours spent in a Science Centre.

But Science Centres/Museums can look back over 200 years of development and experience, as the hosts of large crowds and as media of communication. They have gained considerable expertise in the role of intermediary, interpreter, and as informal learning environments poised between science, technology and industry on the one hand, and the lay public and schools on the other hand. As the daily flood of information increases, Science Centres/Museums have developed innovative ways of compressing and processing data into wonderful and exciting activities, demonstrations, programs, theatres and exhibits for a great variety of target-groups. Tailor-made and highly successful.

Actually, this argument forms the main thesis of the discourse: Science Centres/Museums have gained an identity of their own and are extremely well equipped as public institutions to play an independent role in the era to come.

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2.3. The science centre as a forum for discussion

The next decades will be dominated by global issues: the environment, population growth and, perhaps most influentially, the globalisation of the economy.

With 12,000 new inhabitants per hour, nature will increasingly be displaced by culture and mankind will be forced to pick up the burden of planetary management. At the same time, a never-sleeping global city has been born, its 'neighbourhoods' situated in the most advanced regions of the world, between which billions ‹ in money and data ‹ are continuously exchanged.

Isolation is almost impossible. We are continuously informed about events everywhere, at every moment, in every detail. The security of stability is also gone. Two or three major technological revolutions occur within one lifetime. The accelerating pace of change creates opportunities, but also tensions: in the labour market, between different generations in one family, and within individuals trying to cope with the continuous rise in productivity. It pushes many into a non-active consumer role, sometimes temporarily, sometimes structurally.

These global changes, and along with them major shifts in types of employment and class distinctions, touch upon the basic conditions of mankind. Some philosophers point out that Western man has created a complete, new environment. They distinguish between the production of objects which are immediately consumed, and other objects that last much longer and therefore form a complete environment in which new individuals are continuously born. The second type includes computers, televisions, houses, cities, the vast man-made changes to our landscape, modern means of transport, and even Science Centres. These "objects" form a new "techno-tope" in which the majority of mankind lives, works and dies, and philosophers argue further that human consciousness is being conditioned by these "objects". Or more precisely, they argue that we are being conditioned by the processes these "objects" engender, in terms of a continuous, partly automated rise in productivity. We have become, they say, a society of labourers, entirely focused on the rise in productivity, which has become an end in itself.

They also argue that those who create these enduring "objects" ‹ the "toolmakers" of our society ‹ are thus conditioning mankind, despite the fact that the "toolmakers" are only guided by principles of utility and only value the "objects" they create in relation to the market price they might command. And further, that "toolmakers" tend to objectify everything: nature, animals, men are tools, and now even the earth itself is merely a launch-pad for the conquest of the universe.

The philosophers criticise this process of objectivation and state that man has lost all his, individually unique, humanity, which distinguished him from animals. They say that man, whether as worker or as toolmaker, has engaged himself in cyclical, almost "biological " processes, just as animals are solely engaged in the continuous fight for reproduction and survival.

I am always inclined to look sceptically at such theories, especially when these are propounded with a certain moral undertone. Nevertheless, I do believe that many of these philosophers very sincerely questioned the role of technology and science in our society ‹ which is very relevant. Our society, endlessly and very hectically engaged in the rise of productivity, lacks public places for contemplating the social impact of technology, science and industry. Churches once played that role in society, being not only places of worship, but also places for public discussion about scientific issues, and market places where the toolmakers of society would meet.

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2.4. The contextual framework for public discussions in science centres

Science Museums and Centres have always been children of their time. They reflected the modes of production, the ways in which we, the workforce, were organised and the educational system that went along with it. Some also tried to counterbalance the prevailing trends of their time, by setting out their own course and by defining themselves as agents of change within society.

If Science Centres and Museums want to engage themselves as agents of change in our present society, they should take active part in the current discussions about the social consequences of scientific, technological and economic developments over the last twenty years.

Many publications on both sides of the Atlantic argue that these developments have produced new socio-economic divisions in society. And new types of jobs and work and, along with them, great differences in income. And in people's perspectives on their lives. At the same time, it is noted that our cities are passing through a major crisis, as is our formal education system. And many authors state that all these changes and problems are very much inter-related. Chapter 2.5. discusses socio-economic changes, chapter 2.6 considers educational issues, and chapter 2.7. our cities. Chapter 2.8. addresses the context of the information age.

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2.5. Socio-economic context

In a long-term-scenario study the Dutch Central Planning Bureau pictured four possible scenarios of which Balanced Growth is the most optimistic. It shows that an annual growth rate of the world economy above 3.5 percent ‹ which is ecologically sustainable and embraces all the major regions of the world ‹ is still realistically possibile. A Global Crisis scenario shows progress towards widespread distress which could only be corrected at high cost. Global Shift and European Renaissance explore divergent developments with respect to North America and Western Europe. The message is that both blocs are vulnerable, albeit for different reasons. In all scenarios the rise of the Dynamic Asian Economies (DAE's) play an important role. Their future challenge is a second upgrading, but once successful they will become dominant and will start investing in less-developed countries able to offer labour at lower cost.

Setting these scenarios aside and examining the driving forces behind economic development, the authors of the study propose three human "types": the rational, the cooperative and the competitive. Each of these projected human beings suggests a different perspective and, in their conclusions, the authors state that economic failure is largely due to overemphasizing one of the perspectives. Overemphasizing the Coordination perspective could turn into a "Dirigiste perspective", resulting in an inflexible and inefficient economy (like in former Communist Eastern Europe and in former USSR). Overemphasizing the Free Market perspective could transform it into a "Jungle perspective", complete with wide income disparities, social tensions and absence of public spirit (like in Latin America). Japan's successful development combined elements of the Coordination (cooperative man) and the Equilibrium (rational man) perspectives while, at present, emphasis is also placed on introducing elements of the Free-market perspective (competitive man). The main conclusion is that much depend on so-called "social innovation". This refers to the ability and will of individuals, companies and governments to break free of existing habits, perceptions, institutions and task allocations, and to revise these in the light of constantly changing circumstances.

Not surprisingly, authors like Robert Reich, Ray Marshal and many others arrive at somewhat the same conclusions when they describe the impact of the globalisation of the world's economy and the accompanying rise of a new, intellectual elite within highly developed societies.

In a very innovative and clarifying study Robert Reich (see works consulted) describes the impact that the shift from high-volume to high-value has had on our methods of production, division of labour, income and ‹ in turn ‹ the impact on society. For example, the steel industry has changed from a group of national mammoths producing long runs of steel ingots, to a highly advanced set of mini-mills, producing all kinds of steel for a great variety of specific uses. The same pattern can be seen in the production of plastics, chemicals, chips, etc., and also in service industries such as telecommunications, logistics, banking, etc. Smaller and smarter methods of production, consumer orientation. In 1984, 80 percent of the cost of a computer was the hardware, 20 percent for software; by 1990, the proportions were just the reverse.

The distinction between "goods" and "services" has also become meaningless, because so much of the value supplied by a successful manufacturing enterprise entails services. Today, less than 3 percent of the price of a semi-conductor chip goes to the producers of raw materials and energy, 5 percent to those who own equipment and facilities and 6 percent to routine labour. More than 85 percent is for specialised design and engineering services, and for patents and copyrights on past discoveries. And this applies not only to high-tech industries, but also to traditional manufacturing industries.

"Owning" a company no longer means what it once did, since the true worth of enterprises is increasingly in the brains of their highly-skilled employees rather than in physical capital. And the relative value of intellectual capital is growing, making it the key asset of corporations.

Concerning "intellectual capital", Reich defines three types of professions, subdivided on the basis of the skills required. The first, he calls the problem-solving skills required to put things together in unique ways (be they alloys, molecules, semi-conductor chips, software codes, movie scripts, pension portfolios, or pieces of data). Next, are the skills required to help customers understand their needs and the way those needs can best be met with customised products. The key is to identify new problems and situations to which customised products might be applicable. The art of persuasion is replaced by the identification of opportunity. Third, are the skills needed to link problem-solvers with problem-identifiers. People in such roles must understand enough about specific technologies and markets to identify the potential for new products, raise whatever money is necessary to launch a development project, and assemble the right problem-solvers and -identifiers to carry it out. Rather than controlling organisations, founding businesses, or inventing things, such people are continuously engaged in managing ideas. They play the role of strategic brokers.

Problem-solvers, problem-identifiers and brokers, solve, identify and broker problems by manipulating symbols. They simplify reality into abstract images that can be rearranged, juggled, experimented with, communicated to other specialists and then, eventually, transformed back into reality. The manipulations are done with analytic tools, sharpened by experience. The tools may be mathematical algorithms, legal arguments, financial gimmicks, scientific principles, psychological insights into ways to persuade or to amuse, systems of induction or deduction, or any other set of techniques for solving conceptual puzzles. Collectively, Reich calls them symbolic analysts.

At present these symbolic analysts hold 20% of the jobs in Western countries, and their incomes have risen tremendously over the last decade. At the same time, the incomes of other groups have stayed the same or fallen. In 1989 (Reich), Americans had about 3.500 billion dollars to spend, after paying taxes. The lower four-fifths of the population disposed of a little under half this sum (about 1.745 billion dollars). The top fifth, mostly comprising symbolic analysts, received the rest (about 1.755 billion dollars) ‹ more than the other four-fifths of the population combined. Although sharp differences in income are still less marked in Europe than in the USA, the same pattern is emerging. In the EU at least 50 million people are already considered to be poor (White Paper).

To sum up: Intellectual capital continues to grow relative to physical capital, as the key asset in our economy. A split in society is foreseen: people who form society's intellectual capital will increasingly be the winners, those engaged in routine production and in personal-service jobs will increasingly lag behind or lose. The winners (symbolic analysts) belong to a footloose, global network, increasingly segregated from local economies. Their incomes have risen enormously. Day by day they enhance by their work the very asset which sets them apart from the rest of society: their intellectual skills, training and experience.

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2.6. The educational context

Although our competitiveness and economic prosperity depend on intellectual capital, not everyone can become a symbolic analyst. Nevertheless, the same opportunities should be available to as many people as possible. And so it is argued, on both sides of the Atlantic, that educational provision should be greatly increased (with authors often pointing to the other side of the Atlantic, where everything is assumed to be better).

In the EU White Paper, special attention is directed towards the non-material aspects of the economy: lifelong education, and enhancing people's skills with respect to new technologies. And Ray Marshall (see works consulted) calls for a complete change in the basis upon which the American educational system is built. On both sides of the Atlantic, the formal education system is severely criticised. The criticism is on many counts, and is sometimes contradictory. Those who work in schools have been also contradictory in their, mainly defensive, replies.

Schools are first of all criticised for not teaching pupils the basic skills of reading, writing properly and calculating. Neither do they turn out knowledgeable pupils: many people today are considered scientifically illiterate because they do not know basic scientific facts. Yet schools are also criticised for hammering away too much at facts and figures (high-volume oriented education), for failing to encourage creativity, failing to foster young people's interest and enthusiasm for science and technology, and failing to develop their intellectual skills (necessary to a high-value economy). Secondly, schools are overwhelmed with all sorts of society-oriented programs. They are required to touch upon ethical issues, cultivate civic culture, repair the crisis within the family or the neighbourhood, make people more politically aware, stimulate career awareness, etc. Yet, at the same time, many critics accuse schools of having lost their prime position as places for the transfer of knowledge, and the development of insight. Of course, it is argued, schools will never become outdated. Primary schools in particular will always be needed as places where children learn to master basic skills. But secondary schools are beginning to look "endangered".

Many point out that rising individualism and the enormous increase in personal freedom, have created tensions between the formal culture of school and today's youth sub-cultures. Schools have become less and less relevant to youngsters, faced daily by increasing numbers of choices in an increasingly complex society. Secondary schools in the EU have a 30% drop-out rate (White Paper) and many of the youngsters later become long-term unemployed.

The pervasiveness of information technology in our society seems to have accelerated this process, with its promise of visual attractiveness and alternative learning routes. Many educational programs are now available on television. Many (semi) private institutions offer adults and returning drop-outs "virtual" training, complete with explanatory feedback, repetition and tests. As a part of the EU educational action plan, it is suggested that 3 billion ECU be spent on stimulating tele-teaching (White Paper). Further, all kinds of situations can be simulated in computer animation and this type of "virtual learning" has only just begun. To these "threats" should be added the enormous increase in scientific and technical knowledge and information available to us. I return to this issue later, but the increase faces schools (and Science Centres, for that matter) with a great challenge. How can teachers, lacking opportunities for sabbatical leave, keep up?

Last but not least, the increasing need for continuing, life-long education is changing the structure of knowledge transfer within society, from a pyramidal form to a lozenge shape, with corresponding budgetary tensions between different types of schools ‹ especially when the same (or even a lower) total budget must be divided between more participants.

Schools have reacted differently to these challenges and threats. Some are very much on the defensive, stating that schools have so far been able to cope quite well and will continue to do so in the future. They tend to ignore many of the developments mentioned above or to belittle them. Others have reacted more aggressively, redefining the "core-business" of schools, stating that society should stop burdening them unreasonably: schools are no "total institutes", and their primary role is to transfer basic skills, knowledge and data. Still others, alarmed by the rising number of drop-outs and the lack of interest in science and technology (other than as "consumers" of the latest gadgets), have opened their doors and tried to form strategic alliances with informal learning institutions to broaden their programs and enhance their scopes.

Whatever the outcome of this identity-crisis within the formal educational system, one thing ‹ at least to me ‹ seems clear. The necessary increase in educational provision is so vast that schools cannot cope alone. Secondary schools, in particular, must face the fact that training will become much more flexible than it has been till now. They will have to learn to cooperate with other institutions, whether public, semi-public or private ‹ as, for example, in the dual systems by which companies share their in-service training with public schools on a part-time basis. At present there is a real shortage of educational opportunities in our society, and the gap must rapidly be filled (W. Leeuwenburgh - see list of works consulted).

Already, sadly enough, differences can be seen between the quality of schools in rich and poor neighbourhoods. The differences are not only within the formal educational system. Much more serious are the increasing differences in children's upbringings. As parents, the privileged take their children to museums and cultural events, expose them to foreign travel, and organise music lessons. At home their children have books, educational toys, educational videotapes, microscopes, telescopes and personal computers (objects, in many cases bought in our science shops). This last aspect is decisive. Reich points out that because people learn through practice, the value of what they do usually increases as they gain experience. This system is not self-correcting, in the sense that those who first gain experience eventually lose whatever premium they command in the market when others catch up with them. On the contrary, people fortunate enough to have had an excellent education followed by on-the-job experience doing complex tasks become steadily more valuable over time, making it difficult for others ever to catch up. In fact, their increasing advantage may extend beyond a single generation, as their extra earnings are invested in their children's education and training. Such widening divergences may be endemic to a global economy premised on high-value skills rather than on routine work or capital.

To sum up: the increasing need for intellectual capital is not being matched by increasing educational opportunities. The formal educational system has been severely criticised, in sometimes contradictory ways, to which schools have reacted, also in contradictory ways. One may speak of an identity crisis, especially within secondary education. Schools have lost their primacy as places for the transfer of knowledge, information and insight, and must now learn to cooperate with other (informal) educational institutions. There is a danger that the gap between those who belong to the intellectual-capital class, and those who don't, will be extended to future generations and will become a structural aspect of our society. Science Centres, if they want to play the role of social agents, must a develop a strategy to respond to this.

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2.7. The city around the science centre

Five years ago, a Japanese architect proposed building a floating global capital, which would be towed by tugboats to any place on earth where economic activity might spring up ‹ the concept of the ultimate footloose global economy.

The architect could propose such a thing because the most advanced regions in the world have come to look so much alike. Pay a visit to the sun- and snow-belt of the USA, to South-Eastern Japan, to Singapore, to Seoul, to South-Eastern Australia, North-Western and South-Eastern France, South-Eastern England, the "Rim-City" of the Netherlands, Middle and Southern Germany, Northern Italy, etc. and you see the same features.

These regions have the most modern infrastructure. They harbour major cities in which personal service industries flourish, as well as a high-class leisure business and fashionable malls. Surrounding the "down-town" areas, high-tech industries are located, and in the suburbs live the symbolic analysts. On the outskirts of the cities themselves, a new infrastructure of knowledge has been built, comprising private R&D functions, university laboratories and knowledge-based enterprises in green science parks. And Science Centres are mostly to be found here, close to the suburban enclaves where the symbolic-analysts live.

Outside these enclaves, however, life is far less pleasant and interesting. In some ways we have lost our cities, mostly to cars. Spreading suburbs make the more well-to-do leave the down-town areas, and cities world-wide face severe financial crises. In Europe the situation is perhaps less severe than in the USA, but cities in Europe have suffered too, despite major city-renewal plans carried out in the seventies and eighties.

This "loss" of our cities is having a far greater impact on society, than we often like to acknowledge. In the literature about learning, a distinction is made (W. Leeuwenburgh) between learning under guidance (mostly done within the formal educational system), "do-it-yourself" learning (at home, for example, with a computer-based training course) and "spontaneous" learning.

Spontaneous learning occurs continuously, throughout life. It is the way we learn unintentionally when we encounter people, visit new environments (including Science Centres), go for holidays, talk to strangers, sit on a bench in the park and watch people go by, listen to the car radio, watch television instead of doing our homework from school, read brochures or magazines at the dentist, etc. Call it life-experience. Its influence, together with that of "do-it-yourself" learning, is increasing (some say that 80% of our learning nowadays comes in these two ways).

Cities have always played an enormously important role in "spontaneous" learning, for the good and the bad. In our present (and especially inner-) cities, many terrible lessons can be learned: people's indifference to one and another, the noise of continuous streams of traffic, the stink, the vandalism, the aggression and violence, the beggars on the streets, the prostitution, the drug and alcohol abuse, and people freezing to death.

However, since the origin of cities as functional political entities (from the 12th century onwards), they have also been the places to learn the best lessons of Western culture. Freedom of speech, religion and thought were born here. Cosmopolitanism, free trade, tolerance, respect for individuals, and the continuous exchange of ideas, have always been typical aspects of city life. In the cities, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were conceived as wells of civic culture and liberal democracy. In many ways, the marketplaces, parks, squares, cafés and streets of our cities are the framework that shaped our civilisation.

To sum up: The advanced regions have come to look much alike and within them segregated enclaves have developed, where the privileged members of our society live. These enclaves are in closer contact with the global capital than they are with their surrounding, local communities. Cities world-wide face financial crisis, largely due to suburbanisation; and our inner cities have lost much of the "public quality" they used to have.

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2.8. The information-age context

Some state that we are entering the silicon age, after the stone, bronze and iron ages (see F. Saris - works consulted). They are referring to the chip ‹ that small piece of silicon on which we are now able to produce several million integrated circuits within a few square millimetres. In the next decade we will be able, through the use of the submicron technology to produce a completely new generation of computers, incomparably more powerful than those today.

At the dawn of the information revolution, information technology created its own industrial and economic structure. But since computers have penetrated almost every field of work, any new technological development diffuses rapidly. Similarly, next century biotechnology will revolutionise every field with a biological basis (pharmacology, health, agriculture, food processing, chemistry, environmental technologies). Actually, the fusion between these two "mega" technologies can already be seen (in biometric decoding, for example, to automate passports or replace pin codes), accelerating one another. And perhaps we will have to think seriously about such crazy ideas as bio-computers, built from artificial bio-matter into which liquid software is poured, as images "stream" into our own neural networks through our eyes and senses.

Sub-micron technology will play a major role in stimulating optical- and micro-electronics: it will greatly increase the amount of information stored on tapes and CDs, as well as the amount of data transmitted through optical fibres (intelligent highways). The new generation of computers is also expected to expand opportunities in computer simulation, by creating "Virtual Environments" (VE). At the moment, most applications are in the area of flight and driving simulations, but the scope will be greatly extended.

Saris shows how computers can help to visualise "Gedankenexperimenten", for example, meaning experiments which are conceived and solved on a purely theoretical level. As long as these experiments are relatively simple, the brain can simulate them. But computers can help enormously to simulate much more complex problems and can even lead to new discoveries, as was the case with experiments on the behaviour of liquid crystals: computer simulations led to the discovery that to obtain a certain order in a liquid, molecules need not attract one another, but can repel one another predictably.

At the turn of the 17th/18th century, Leibniz already viewed science as an "enterprise" that would continue producing knowledge, and not only knowledge about existing or assumed phenomena but also knowledge about knowledge itself, and this process seems endless (P. Rademaker - see works consulted).

Looking for other mega-trends, apart from information technology and bio-technology, that will accelerate our present technological revolution, consider also the developments in the field of micro-mechanics, the use of super-strong fibres (in spite of the present commercial failure) and the introduction of mobile telecommunications on a global scale.

Add to these mega-trends the 24-hour real-time global consciousness, mentioned before, and the revolution in our intellectual tools, and one starts to wonder: how can we keep up?

Comparing the amount of new information brought to us daily between, let's say, 1850 and 1900, and between 1950 and 2000, the increase is breath-taking. Rademaker already applies the concept of half-life to the knowledge of someone who has just completed his studies, and this again stresses the absolute need for continuous up-dating and lifelong education.

Further, as world-wide mobility continues to increase, we will move more of our urban infrastructure underground to keep our cities moving. Technology is also becoming "invisible", hidden away in privately owned laboratories, or packaged for home use in mysterious softly-humming boxes.

The problem then seems to be threefold: increasing specialisation, the (increasing) amount of information itself, and the invisibility of the processes that lead to our scientific and technological end products.

To sum up: Comparing the amount of new information available daily between 1850 and 1900, and 1950 and 2000, the increase is breathtaking and this can only accelerate. The problem seems to be threefold: increasing specialisation, the (increasing) amount of information daily poured over us, and the invisibility of processes behind the scientific and technological scenes.

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2.9. The challange from within the science-centre community

Last but not least, Science Centres are being challenged by their own success. In the last two decades many new Science Centres have opened their doors and if one walks through them, one often encounters the same themes, the same type of exhibitry, all over the world. Sally Duensing (see works consulted) of the Exploratorium expresses these concerns as follows: "I frequently meet with people who say that they want to start a "hands-on" museum or add a wing of "hands-on exhibits". When I ask what subjects they intend to present, they say something like, "Oh, you know, the kind of hands-on exhibits you have at the Exploratorium." Hands-on becomes a goal in itself, rather than a means of communicating or teaching about a particular idea."

The concepts of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, of Le Palais de la Découverte in Paris and of the Exploratorium in San Francisco were magnificent and deserve their enduring influence. We still can learn a lot from them and their concepts are rich enough to inspire us in the next decades ‹ to innovate, though, not to replicate ‹ as we have done throughout the history of scientific and technological culture.

In sum: These rich science-centre concepts are too magnificent to be turned into stereotypes.

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