Gil Sperling

video, stage and music

Future Museum of Now

February 26, 2020 by gilsperling

It’s 2120. Write a detailed review/description of a historic house/ place museum about the way we live now. Think of the Tenement Museum and other historical places you have seen. Be clear on the experience—the wayfinding, the media, the content, what are the stories, how does the audience experience it.

What was it like to live the life of a 21st century New Yorker?

The Museum of Commute attempts to provide answers to us, who live in 2120, by taking us on a New Yorker’s daily ride.

Travel for work, entertainment, and professional services has mostly been replaced by tele-presence technologies and VR in the energy-impoverished 22nd century. But New Yorkers in the 2010’s spent an average of 70 minutes a day on a roundtrip journey to work in a variety of transportation means, and spent almost 4 whole days out of a year in congested traffic.

Being in transit was a defining experience of a New Yorker’s life.

The museum of commute is a travelling experience about travel.  The museum, which is entirely mobile, travels between neighborhoods so that residents within walking distance can visit it.

It is shaped like a giant wheel laid flat, with concentric circles representing the different modes of transportation in the past.

Once inside, visitors are directed to one of four experiences. Each experience has them follow the travel route of a specific New Yorker, using a specific means of transportation. They are:

  1. (MTA subway) – Francisco Gonzales, a 48 year old construction worker, traveling to work from his apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, to a construction site on the new Columbia University campus in Harlem. He has a 1:05 hour commute spanning two MTA subway lines.
  2. (Uber) – Nick Harrington, a 36 year old investment banker who travels from his home on the upper west side to Wall St. He takes a 45-minute Uber ride, driven by Abdullah Mobarak, a 25-year old from Newark.
  3. (City Bus) – Letitia Johnson, a 71 year old African American retiree, who travels from her apartment in East New York to a checkup at Kings County Hospital. Her ride consists of two buses and take an hour and 15 minutes.
  4. (bicycle) – Kelly Morgan, a 20 year old college student who travels from her apartment in East Williamsburg to the NYU campus in downtown Manhattan. Her commute is a 30-minute bike ride.

Once the visitor has been assigned to one of the experiences, they receive a customized cellular phone which contains the digital presence of the person whose trip they are taking. They can look at the person’s photos, text messages, and social media accounts as they travel in their shoes. The phone also comes equipped with an audio guide that provides more information on the New York life seen through the different travel modes, and also contains a playlist of the rider’s favorite music.


The subway ride is shaped as an authentic late 20th century MTA train car. When visitors (~10 at a time) embark there are already about 30 performers on board, so that some visitors have to stand while others might find an empty seat. As the simulated train ride proceeds the car sways, starts and stops abruptly, features loud incoherent announcements, potent smells, and uncomfortable temperature changes to provide an authentic feeling of how it was to ride the train.

But beyond the physical discomfort this ride offers a great way to explore the diverse human population of NYC. If you look at any train ride performer for more than a few seconds, you will begin to hear them speaking in your audio guide, introducing their life story in a monologue. If you make eye contact with the performer, you will hear them asking if you would like them to come over and have a “real talk”. If you nod for approval, the performer will approach you, and you may ask them further questions about their lives. You can, however, choose to disconnect from the other passengers and dive into the cellphone content of the person whose path you are following.
The visitor is, for the most part, static – the crowdedness of the car prevents you from moving too much, although you can shift positions throughout the hour-long journey.


During the ride through Manhattan’s busy streets and expressways, you are seated in the back seat of the Uber car. The car is equipped with video screens on all windows that simulate the views seen from inside the travelling car. They combine digital reconstructions of early 21st century New York, actual archival video footage and Google Streetview images. As a wall street executive, your phone is streaming in e-mails, texts and push notifications from financial news apps that are telling the story of an evolving financial crash such as the one that hit in 2008 and those of the 2020’s that ultimately brought down the American capitalist economy. The data visualizations, such as stock market graphs, can also be displayed on the car’s video windows and the small back seat LCD screen.
Your driver, however, is also trying to engage you in a conversation about his life as a muslim immigrant, as well as acting as a tour guide to the views seen from the car windows, including such long-gone sights as the Times Square district and the New York/New Jersey water’s edge piers. The slow traffic provides ample time to observe and listen.


The meandering bus route takes you through the outer neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The bus ride is shared by performers representing the local residents. Many of them know Letitia, the pivot character, from their many shared rides. Through their conversations we learn about her life and family, the history of her illness and struggles with the health care system. In this section, so as to encourage conversation, the phones are disabled and information is displayed on the bus windows – photos and video of Letitia’s family members, medical records and correspondence with health insurance providers.


The bike ride is a full VR experience. Riding a stationary bike and wearing a VR headset, the visitor can pedal and steer to move the bike along the prescribed route from Kelly’s home to campus. While they can’t veer off track, the visitor does need to steer the bike through traffic and can control the speed of the bike. Sound and visuals provide an experience ranging from a pastoral crossing of the Williamsburg bridge to a tense and risky ride through traffic in downtown Manhattan. As you ride, you are listening to podcasts recorded by Kelly documenting her experience in New York, and speaking her mind about the uncertain future, issues around gender identity, relationships, and college life. At the end of the ride it is revealed that the last podcast was recorded on the night before Kelly was killed in a traffic accident, when a car door opened into the bike lane, knocking her onto traffic.

The different rides can be experienced consecutively, but it is recommended to allow at least two days to go through all of them. After completing all rides, the visitors can access the central hall of the museum, inside the concentric rings. The hall contains only five objects, in glass cases:
Francisco’s tool belt, Nick’s Apple watch and Abdullah’s prayer rug, Letitia’s walker, and Kelly’s bike helmet.
There is no text near the objects, but when the visitor stands near an object they hear a replay of the audio pertaining to the object’s owner.

Posted in Spring '20 - Cabinets of Wonder |

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