New at National Museum of Singapore: A ‘time machine’ to explore Singapore’s technology of yesteryears
The second edition of the Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative will explore technology and its impact on Singaporeans’ lives from the 1970s to 2000s.

New at National Museum of Singapore: A ‘time machine’ to explore Singapore’s technology of yesteryears

Step into the National Museum of Singapore (NMS), and be teleported back to the nostalgic yesteryears from as early as the 1970s.

For an exhibition about technology, it is probably apt that the museum’s second edition of the Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative is a time machine in its own right. The first edition last year featured visual documentation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Off / On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s–2000s will give viewers a glimpse into the era before the sleek, slim, and swift gadgets that we now hold in our palms. It is on from 10 Jun to 30 Oct.

Through uniquely themed installations set in common spaces found in those years – there is a hair salon, a coffee shop, and office space – visitors will discover and interact with technological icons of that era, experiencing how they transformed our lives through the years.

Said Priscilla Chua, senior curator at NMS: “Through the Off / On showcase, we invite visitors to reconnect with these technologies, while inspiring conversations and curiosity among the younger generations unfamiliar with them.

“As we are more ‘switched on’ now than ever before, the indispensable role of technology continues to shape and change the way we live, work and play, and we hope visitors will share their unique stories and experiences with us.”

The showcase uses four themes to take visitors through the experience. Here’s what you can expect:

1. Work in Progress

Typewriters were commonplace in the office decades ago, and visitors will be able to experience them in Work in Progress.
Typewriters were commonplace in the office decades ago, and visitors will be able to experience them in Work in Progress.

Welcome to the office from the past. It might be buzzing like any workplace of today, but the sounds and sights are starkly different. In the Singaporean office between the 1970s and 1990s, one can hear the click-clacks of the typewriters, and see the bulky computers of early IBM and Apple models.

Bulky and heavy – they don’t make computers like these early models anymore.
Bulky and heavy – they don’t make computers like these early models anymore.

For the younger ones who may not be familiar with typewriters, they can try their hand at one and get a taste of what a day in the office was like decades ago.

2. Hello Mobile

The iconic orange payphone seen decades ago in Singapore can be found in Hello Mobile, set in a coffee shop of those years.
The iconic orange payphone seen decades ago in Singapore can be found in Hello Mobile, set in a coffee shop of those years.

Singapore is one of the most connected countries in the world today, but in the post-war years, it had a telephone density of just 1.6 telephones for every 100 people. In this section, visitors will go back to the 1980s to see how telephones and personal devices such as pagers were the geneses of Singapore’s connectivity.

Here, visitors can pick up payphones and listen to re-enacted conversations of life that would have taken place in a hair salon or coffee shop. They can also send personalised messages that will be displayed on LED bars.

3. The Art of Living

Home entertainment gadgets such as televisions and radio cassette players changed how Singaporeans engaged in entertainment and recreational activities.
Home entertainment gadgets such as televisions and radio cassette players changed how Singaporeans engaged in entertainment and recreational activities.

In this section, the role of consumer technology in transforming Singaporeans’ lifestyles is on full display. Television sets, radio cassette players, and cameras gave Singaporeans endless options in how and where they wanted to enjoy entertainment or recreational activities.

Visitors can take black-and-white photos in an old-school interactive photo studio, before stepping into a dark room to have them “developed”. Nostalgic local television programmes and commercials will also be on show, as well as re-created Teletext messages – remember those?

4. Game On

Game On illustrates how video games became more prevalent as a form of entertainment, especially in the 1980s.
Game On illustrates how video games became more prevalent as a form of entertainment, especially in the 1980s.

This section, which is inspired by the once-popular handheld series of games known as the Tomy Pocketeer, will likely be favoured by video game lovers.

Visitors can try their hand at digital games, competing with others for the prize: getting on the leader board.

All sections feature digital and gamification elements – there is a ‘Fastest Typist’ game and a pop quiz to decode pager messages – that visitors can access using a digital companion on their mobile devices.

After signing up for a digital companion, visitors will get a unique QR code which they then scan with their mobile devices to access games such as ‘Fastest Typist’.
After signing up for a digital companion, visitors will get a unique QR code which they then scan with their mobile devices to access games such as ‘Fastest Typist’.

After hours, Off / On transforms into an escape room. Deciphering clues will lead participants to a secret technological device that can avert a mass shutdown of the world’s technology.

Admission to the showcase is free for Singaporeans and Singapore permanent residents. Find out more about Off / On here.

(Photos: National Museum of Singapore)

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