The previous blog (June 27th) showed a fifty year old electron microscope sitting in a museum and being treated more like a work of art than a busily productive piece of scientific kit. Another ageing piece of hardware is reaching the end of its useful life but won’t be put into a museum. NASA’s Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 just three months after the first Star Wars movie. Since then it has been travelling at 38,000 miles an hour and is now 11.5 billion miles away, close to the edge of the solar system. Any day now it’s going to be lost in the Milky Way.
Back on Earth, the post office in India is still transmitting telegrams from a machine made of brass.
But telegrams can’t compete with the internet and the telegraphy service is scheduled to close later in the year.
And in London, the mayor Boris Johnson is proudly guarding one of the hundred year old pillar boxes made of cast iron and painted red with a black bottom. Their days of efficient use may also be numbered.
My comparisons of these four different pieces of functional equipment, all close to the end of their useful life but built like tanks, does raise a question of how objects of art originate. Did their makers intend them eventually to be seen as icons of their age of use, or do they just happen to survive by accident? There is nothing new that they can achieve effectively. Science is transitional, and moves on.
On the other hand, do works of art ever become useless? Are any secretly taken from storage or display to be destroyed? If not, maybe some of them should be. But who is to decide?