February 3, 1999
SPENCER MICHELS: Inside San Jose's new, much- heralded Tech Museum of Innovation, visitors can get their hands on some of the wizardry emanating from California's Silicon Valley.
CHILD: I want it to go over there, and then back up.
SPENCER MICHELS: They can play scientist with high-tech items, like a remote- controlled vehicle, or R.O.V., that explores the ocean floor.
CHILD: What would happen if you plugged this into there?
SPENCER MICHELS: And they can ask questions of volunteers like retired rocket scientist Bob Dietz.
BOB DIETZ, Volunteer: It's a difficult thing to make these interactive science museums work. It's hard to get a level where the children are willing to come in and take the time to read the instructions.
SPENCER MICHELS: "The Tech," as it's called, was built for $96 million. Its purposes: To excite children about computer technology, to give the adult world a glimpse of what goes on behind the closed doors in this high-tech valley, and to help ensure that San Jose gets credit as the center of the cyber revolution. Even though "The Tech" calls itself a museum, President Peter Giles says he has made a conscious decision not to dwell on the past, but rather to focus on the present and the future.
PETER GILES, President, "The Tech" Museum: If this museum slips into a retrospective, we will be missing the point of the whole reason why we exist. I think the audience we're trying to reach and connect with is not an audience that relates and engages strongly in the past.
SPENCER MICHELS: Giles uses as an example of what works "The Tech" roller coaster, where visitors use a multimedia computer program to design a virtual roller coaster ride.
PETER GILES: The way it's set up is to let you learn something about physics, of gravity, and, you know, speed and different things.
SPENCER MICHELS: So a kid comes in, and he does this. Is he really getting some science and some inspiration out of this, or is he just getting another ride?
PETER GILES: I think what kids are getting out of this is, "hey, this is cool. I'd like to -- I like this stuff." And it's very subtle.
SPENCER MICHELS: "The Tech's" decision to practically ignore history bothers Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future, a high-tech think tank.
PAUL SAFFO, Institute for the Future: I think they've made a mistake with the new Tech museum by not being more explicit about acknowledging history, because the simple fact is, everything that came into that museum has a history behind it, and giving the context out of which those things emerged would help people understand better what lies ahead behind the devices they see.
SPENCER MICHELS: Saffo is more enthusiastic about a little-known computer museum a few miles away from "The Tech". The Computer Museum History Center has 2,000 artifacts-- mostly old computers-- only 5 percent of which are on display. The rest are in storage. Among those available for viewing is this early Sage computer, used in the 50's to track enemy missiles or bombers. This embryonic museum also collects films and videotapes that help explain the hardware, films like "In Your Defense," about the Sage.
SPOKESMAN: The computer, in a few seconds, gives a complete picture of the attack, and then guides manned interceptors or missiles to the target.
SPENCER MICHELS: While that computer is today obsolete, its role as part of the computer revolution shouldn't be ignored, according to Saffo.
PAUL SAFFO: The essence of this revolution is an extraordinary dynamism. The only constant in Silicon Valley is hyper change. And if you want to understand the change happening in the present moment, and especially if you want to understand what lies down the road, you better look back as far as you're looking forward.
SPENCER MICHELS: In the history museum, you can look back as far as 1945 at the Eniac, or to a 1953 one-of- a-kind handmade computer. But ongoing studies indicate that the denizens of Silicon Valley-- adults as well as children-- regard such history as quaint, and aren't particularly interested in what came before. Jan English Lueck is an anthropologist at San Jose State University who is examining the culture of the valley.
JAN ENGLISH LUECK, San Jose State Anthropologist: People are not very interested in the past because they're oriented to the future. That's where they live. They're making the future. They do the work because it's thrilling, it's creative, it's exciting.
SPENCER MICHELS: But some critics fault the fast-paced, product-oriented culture of Silicon Valley, as well as the new Tech Museum, for not acknowledging the values that led to the area's great boom. One of those values is the freedom to fail, a concept not much in evidence at "The Tech", with its emphasis on success. Annalee Saxenian, a professor of regional planning at the University of California at Berkeley, has studied Silicon Valley companies.
ANNALEE SAXENIAN: The way that failure is critical to Silicon Valley is that it's okay -- it has been okay to fail, and that really does go back to the early days, when people failed, and they just picked up and started again. And because they were isolated out here, they invested in one another, they gave each other advice, they learned from their mistakes. And so much of the system of Silicon Valley is about learning from failure, and then trying again.
DOUGLAS ENGLEBART, Computer Mouse Inventor: I'm thinking the wheel movement is the whole thing.
SPENCER MICHELS: One early pioneer, Douglas Englebart, invented the mouse and built a wooden model of his design in 1964. He says that the museum and the industry often fail to acknowledge the social implications of the future being created.
DOUGLAS ENGLEBART: I think it would be absolutely critical to try to project reasonable scenarios of what this technology is going to be able to do. But without that, and just, you know, beating your chest about turning out more and faster technology is just missing the whole picture terribly.
CHILDREN: (shouting) Go, go, go, go, go!
SPENCER MICHELS: But at "The Tech", the theory is that faster, newer, wow technology is what will bring in and turn on future high-tech users and designers.
PETER GILES: We're trying to inspire, to awaken their interest. I call it -- it's like a mountaintop experience. When you climb to the top of the mountain, you can see for hundreds of miles, and when you come down from the mountain, you haven't changed, and what's down there hasn't changed, but you have a different perspective about what's out there and what's possible.
SPENCER MICHELS: For these youngsters, the theory seems to work.
CHILD: I love interactive stuff. That's just the bottom line.
CHILD: I'd rather come here than go to any other museum.
SPOKESPERSON: As soon as you make a good connection between the satellite dish and the satellite on the ceiling, she can do her live news report.
CHILD: There's been a lot of tough competition tonight, but -
SPENCER MICHELS: "The Tech" intends to stick to its format, a showcase of the future, which means it has to keep changing. The Computer Museum History Center sees its role as complementing "The Tech" by gaining support, and eventually putting its huge collection of computer antiques on public display.