The Museum of Us: an introduction


Ella Shen

In 118 images, recordings of music and natural sounds, and greetings in 55 languages, scientists attempted to capture the whole of humanity.

Eva Shen, Editor in Chief

Dear reader,

In 1977, we launched a record of ourselves into space. 

The Voyager spacecraft carried a 12-inch, gold-plated phonograph record which would travel beyond our solar system. It would hold images and sounds and greetings. The Golden Record would be a message for extraterrestrial life– and a documentation of human existence. 

How do we distill our humanity into 118 images, 90 minutes of music, a selection of natural sounds, and greetings spoken in 55 languages?

Carl Sagan and a committee were tasked with filling the record. They put in images of human anatomy, rush hour traffic in Thailand, Jane Goodall and her chimps, a woman shopping at a supermarket. They put in the sounds of surf, wind, thunder, birds, and whales, trains and horse-drawn carts, classical music and chants and wedding songs. 

Wasn’t that naively hopeful of us? Wasn’t that such a funny little thing, combing through the world and picking out the pieces we wanted the aliens to see? 

It will take the Voyager 40,000 years to reach another planetary system. Once there, the chances of being discovered– by an “advanced spacefaring civilization” no less– are unimaginable.

I have an ambivalent relationship with the word humanity. It’s a worn-out stock image of a phrase– overused, with little feeling behind it. And yet it so fragilely, tenderly encapsulates our existence. Humanity: the state of being human; the quality of being compassionate and humane; the totality of human beings; the human race. We are humanity, through and through. 

What would remain in the museum of us? What would we put into the vacuum of our existence? What experiences, senses, sensations, places, things would we want to echo in the space we once occupied? If you took away our collective bodies, what would be left of us? What did we love most? How did we smile? Why?

Totality is a word I like. Nothing escapes it. But it is unachievable, especially when it comes to humans. 

I’d like to explore humanity a little more. I’m not looking to discover anything so much as realize what I already knew, to smile in my encounters, to widen my eyes a little more, to pen down my thoughts and hope it reaches some of you humans out there.

I suppose this could be seen as my own little Golden Record, an echo of my time here at DV pinned down in ink. I’m sending it out into the universe with the hopes that it’ll be read, maybe interpreted, maybe appreciated. You, dear reader, are an alien to me. But we’re both here, aren’t we? The totality of humanity eclipses us. It might even awe us.