Technology has played a vital role at the 9/11 Memorial Museum since it opened in New York last May. Interactive exhibits, designed by Jake Barton of Local Projects, not only recount the events from that day, but also encourage visitors to share their own stories.
For the 13th anniversary of 9/11, Not Impossible Now spoke with 9/11 Memorial Museum Director Alice M. Greenwald about how technology has enabled visitors to be a part of “living history.” (This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Q: How have visitors been responding to the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s interactive installations?
Greenwald: Tremendously, because it is such an integral part of the experience of being in the museum. As I often like to say, we use technology in the service of story telling. It’s not there in it of itself. It’s there because it’s helping us to tell the story we want to tell.
Q: What are some the ways that visitors can contribute to the experience at the museum?
Greenwald: We have recording booths that visitors can go in and tell their own 9/11 stories. If they knew someone personally, they can leave a recorded remembrance of that person, which then not only gets integrated into our archive, but can actually be selected for the memorial exhibition.
Visitors can also participate in something called “Reflecting on 9/11,” which is an installation in the same space as the recording studio. Visitors can answer the same questions that some of our political leaders, journalists, historians and people very knowledgeable in 9/11 history and the aftermath have responded to, so it becomes a broader conversation.
Q: Why was it important to allow visitors to share their own stories?
Greenwald: We have always operated from the idea that nearly 2 billion people watched the events happen on that day. In some sense, all of us are experts in this history. We’ve lived it. Therefore, our contributions to that dialogue are just as valuable and just as relevant as the people that we normally turn to as the experts.
We’ve been getting some extraordinarily thoughtful and articulate responses. I think about myself sitting in a recording booth and I’ve got 60 seconds to answer a tough question, I’d be fumbling! But our visitors are just incredible — the poise, the articulateness of what they say. More importantly, the intelligence and the thoughtfulness of what they contribute have been really striking.
Q: As people add their voices to the interactive installations, it seems that the museum experience must always be evolving.
Greenwald: Particularly in “Reflecting on 9/11,” we have four new compilations of visitor responses that are playing, and we’re going to be changing and adding to them on a regular basis going forward.
I think the message to visitors is that we all have a voice. This is a museum about an event that touched everyone. And the museum is saying, “This is about us. We’re all in this together.” This isn’t just something that you’re going to read about in a history book. This is living history.
When our visitors share their perspective, it causes other people to think, “Do I think that?” It allows for a deeper level of reflection, and that’s what this museum is very much about. We’re a museum maybe not so much about answers, but about questions.