They could be two kids in a candy store, but they’re two grown men in the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. The analogy holds, though. Edwin Schlossberg and Guy Leibler have designed the Nineties total fantasy environment for kids, a four-floor interactive museum of state-of-the-art technology that’s going to floor adults, too.
Welcome to the Brave New World, courtesy of Sony. One afternoon early last week, Schlossberg and Leibler conducted a tour of Sony’s new crowning glory. The free museum, at Sony Plaza in midtown Manhattan, will be open to the public after Tuesday night’s gala for 700 guests hosted by Sony heavyweights Mickey Schulhof, Peter Guber and Tommy Mottola.
“It starts like this,” says Schlossberg on the fourth floor of the new user-friendly museum, at a big bank of computers. “You log in on the computers and a card records your voice and picture — it’s the Sony Wonder Card.” A computer captures his image and asks him to answer the question, “What would you do if you won a million dollars?”
“I’d buy a lot of books and go off and read somewhere,” Schlossberg answers. That’s unlikely. He’s one of New York’s most sought-after designers of communications for museums, corporations and retail stores.
He and Leibler, who is president and general manager of Sony Plaza, take a group down the Communications Bridge, where banks of monitors display the history of communications, from 1840s daguerrotype to the telephone of the 1890s, the early radios of the Thirties, all the way up to high-definition television. At each monitor, you can “swipe” your Wonder Card through and hear how your voice would have been carried at that time or how your picture would come across. It’s almost like virtual reality. “It’s virtuous,” Schlossberg comments, “but I don’t know if it’s virtual. It doesn’t simulate an environment you’re not a part of.”
The tour winds down to the third-floor Technology Workshop. Here, computer stations give crash courses on the latest audio and video equipment and image-making. There is also a 72-seat High Definition Theater for screenings of high definition films — when someone gets around to making them.
Further down the hall is a real recording studio where one can mix Celine Dion’s tracks together, and a rock video studio to mix Billy Joel performances to make your own MTV-style clip. Or one can log on in the robotics area to control robots crossing a faux Martian landscape. “It’s like going to Sony University,” Leibler smiles. Sure enough, when you leave, a computer gives you a printout of a diploma. The entire project took about three years to execute, and over 1,000 designers and technicians were involved. Oddly, little about it promotes Sony product. “I may be a supposedly esthetic designer of environments, but these are the new tools,” says Schlossberg. “To not use them would be anachronistic. This equipment brings out the kid in everybody. It’s like going to a fashion show every season — when you see the new designs, suddenly everything else seems old.
“I’m hooked on technology now,” adds Schlossberg, who designed the the Children’s Museum in Omaha and is an artist and author himself. “I consider it what I do.”
Suddenly, Schlossberg’s walkie-talkie crackles with the news that Tommy Mottola, chief executive officer of Sony Music, wants his own walk-through.
“I think even the technologically sophisticated can learn from this place,” Schlossberg says. “Technology’s no longer exclusively for them. I think they’ll be thrilled that now even the non-pioneers have access. That’s what technology can offer.”
“After all,” offers Leibler, “everyone’s potentially in the Sony universe.”