Back to the future! Experience technology that changed our lives from 70s to 00s at the National Museum of Singapore!

We live in a modern technologically advanced, internet and social media connected world today, filled with a number of technology gadgets that accompanied our daily work and living. From an array of smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, laptops, desktops, digital cameras, smart home living that are part of our life right now, have you asked yourself or have your experienced yourself what life was like before all these modern technology came into your life? Let’s go Back to the future! Experience technology that changed our lives from 70s to 00s at the National Museum of Singapore latest experiential showcase, Off / On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s.

Off / On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s is the second edition of the Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative that is aimed at growing the museum’s contemporary collection to better reflect Singapore’s ever-evolving national identity. From 1970s onwards, Singapore experienced rapid transformation and economic growth, technology plays a big part in transforming not just how we work, also how we live as well, paving the way for the modern technological driven and gadgets galore life we are living today.

Chung May Khuen, Director of the National Museum of Singapore, said, “We were heartened by the encouraging response from our first edition of the Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative on documenting COVID-19 in Singapore, which saw contributions of diverse stories and objects from residents here. We are returning with the second edition of the initiative – focusing on the theme of technology – to continue engaging the public in contributing and co-creating with the National Museum. As technology evolves rapidly through the years, and with the pandemic further highlighting the significant role of technology in our daily lives, we hope to broaden and update our collection in this area which would enrich our documentation of the lived experiences of the people of Singapore.”

Priscilla Chua, Senior Curator, National Museum of Singapore added, “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.”

Are you ready to go back in time to Singapore from 1970s to 2000s? For the younger generation, you can enter and immerse into the everyday technology world that your parents and grandparents lived in,  learn and experience them before returning back to the future (today). For the young at heart (older) adults, this will be a nostalgia journey back in time to the good old days as some might coined it.

Let’s start to go back in time by entering into this “time machine” zone!

Room 1: Work In Progress

The workforce of today talks about hybrid working, co-working spaces, what was the office like in those days? Enter into the Work In Progress section, where typewriters and bulky computers were the tools of the workplace, a reminiscent of an office from the past. 

Have you ever used a typewriter before? Why not give it a go and type away on the typewriter? Have you seen the early computer models by IBM and Apple? How does it compare to the modern desktops and laptops of today?

Room 2: Hello Mobile

“Hello, siang ka pager?”, an iconic local phrase that only some will know, heard and used it regularly. The younger generation would probably feel weird and amused by this. If you owned a pager before, you would know what I am talking about. Using today’s lingo, IYKYK. 

Most of us in today’s world owned a smartphone like an everyday essential, we are kind of glued to the modern smartphone everyday, have you ever wonder what was life back then without smartphones? 

 

Post-war Singapore had a telephone density of just 1.6 telephones for every hundred individuals. In the late 1980s, telephones and other personal devices such as pagers became more accessible, allowing Singaporeans to contact one another more conveniently. Who remembered waiting line at the payphone to return a call?

For the young at heart adults, do you still remember those land line telephones, the payphone at the kopitiam (a.k.a. coffeeshop) or telephone inside a hair salon, making a phone call or receiving a phone call inside those locations? The younger generation might be thinking, “What is that old thing? I have never seen it before!”

 

How about trying out, engaging with larger-than-life interactive that is modelled after a handphone or pager, sending personalised messages that will be displayed on running LED bars?

Room 3: The Art of Living 

Entering this room might invoke a lot of nostalgic memories for the young at heart adults, as for the younger generation, welcome to the art of living, your maiden experience of life in Singapore from 70s onwards till late 90s and early 00s.

How has consumer technology transform the lifestyle of Singaporeans over the decades? Do you remember your first home entertainment gadgets such as colour television sets and radio cassette players? How about the first film camera?

As you stepped back into your home again, do you feel the warmth and familiarity? What do you see inside there? Which old school consumer technology products did you grow up with? 

 

Moving on to the next section inside this room, step into an old-school interactive photo studio to interact with a TLR camera replica that allows you to take black-and-white photos against a backdrop with various props that help to create the preferred ambience. Once your photo has been taken, you can enter into the adjacent dark room and observe your photos being “Developed”. 

Next up, is television time! Do you remember the old Teletext messages? Do you still remember the local television programmes, commercials? Now is the time to reminisce nostalgic memories by toggling and viewing them again on those old television sets. 

Which TV commercial of those days is your favourite? Myojo mee? Or Duracell bunny batteries?

Room 4: Game On

If you are into e-sports, online gaming or mobile gaming, what was the gaming world like before that? 

Video games became increasingly popular especially in the 1980s. They were a great source of entertainment for teenagers and young adults of that era. The once-popular handheld series of games such as the Tomy Pocketeer, where players are required to guide a ball bearing in and around obstacles, provides the inspiration to this digital game that will pit you against one another for a chance to be featured on the leader board.

Have fun and play games through a digital companion

When you visit Off / On, you can have fun and play games through a digital companion on your mobile devices. You can visit https://go.gov.sg/offon to find out how they can sign up for an account and generate a unique QR code, which they then scan with their personal mobile devices.

Activities include exclusive digital games such as the ‘Fastest Typist’ game, as well as a pop quiz that challenges players to decode numerical pager messages. Visitors can also access bonus educational content that is unique to the digital companion, which will complement their learning experience at the showcase. 

Players who successfully complete all the assigned activities in the digital companion can stand a chance to win prizes through a lucky draw that will be conducted at the end of the showcase period. Details on the draw and the list of prizes to be won will be announced soon.

Keen on an Escape Room adventure? 

Anyone keen on a Night at the Museum fun adventure? Off / On also transforms into an escape room at night. Visitors can pre-register in groups of minimally 3 and up to 10 participants each time, to

explore the showcase space through the popular and interactive format of an escape room game. Participants will “journey” through time in the gallery to decipher clues that will help uncover a secret technological device that can help prevent a mass shutdown of the world’s technology. 

Public call for contributions of technological objects and related stories

Off / On featured contributions not only from the National Museum’s collection, they also feature contributions and loans of technological objects from individuals and corporate organisations. 

This includes homegrown company Creative Technologies, which has loaned the museum its revolutionary Sound Blaster 1.0, launched in 1989, as well as the 2004 edition of the Zen Micro. The Sound Blaster 1.0 was the world’s first sound card ever made that significantly improved the audio quality of personal computers. Creative Technologies was also a pioneer producer of MP3 players, and the 2004 edition of the Zen Micro displayed in this showcase, is among its most popular models of MP3 players. 

In addition, local contributors, Professor Tan Tiong Gie, loaned an Apple IIe personal computer, while Gerald Tan, from local gaming collective, Retro DNA, loaned a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld gaming console.

In line with Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative, the National Museum of Singapore is inviting residents in Singapore to share their technology gadgets/objects from the 2000s onwards up to the present day, along with your related experiences and stories of the objects that have shaped their lives in the areas of work, communications, home living and play. 

All these contributions would help to enrich the National’s Museum collection in the area of technology as they seek to broaden the scope of its contemporary collection. The public can visit https://go.gov.sg/ccstechopencall to submit stories and photos of the objects. The public call runs until 31 December 2022.

Personal Thoughts 

It’s very nostalgic experiencing this experiential showcase at the National Museum of Singapore, it brought back so much memories for me, from using film SLR camera, using a pager, the TV commercials that were catchy in tune and style. 

I highly and strongly encourage you to visit Off / On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s. This is excellent for parents with young children to visit and check out together, grandparents should join along, they would be able to share so much more stories to the younger generation. 

A wonderful exhibition that connects with us on a personal basis, our very own Contemporary Singapore culture in both tangible and intangible aspects. For the young at heart adults (we are not old, ok!), you might shed tears of joy, or smile happily at those days that you once lived through when technology was very different from today’s technologically advanced, highly connected internet and social media world. For the younger generation, you might feel and think, what kind of world was that, did you really live through that era?

Those were the good old days, some might say. Having said that, we also need to look forward into the future too, while preserving our very own unique Contemporary Singapore culture and heritage.

I realised I wrote quite a lengthy story on this experiential showcase “Off / On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s”. The exhibitions that I attended at the National Museum of Singapore and wrote about them had always been interesting, informative and engaging. This particular Off / On is special, has huge significance for me and it has invoked a lot of personal nostalgic memories inside me, growing up in this period of Everyday Technology that Changed My life. 

Such nostalgic memories are priceless, intangible and unforgettable, as they formed the foundations for transforming me into a photographer and tech geek I am today.

For the record, I am not old, I am just young at heart. 

Visitor information and ticketing details 

Off / On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s–2000s

10 June – 30 October 2022

Exhibition Gallery, Basement Level

Opening Hours: 10am–7pm daily*

Last admission is at 6.30pm

*The gallery will be closed at 6pm for the escape room game on selected dates, with the last admission at 5.30pm. Please refer to the National Museum’s website for the list of dates where early closure of the showcase is expected.

Admission

Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents and Children 6 years and below (any nationality) will enjoy free admission to the showcase.

Tourists & Foreign Residents

Standard Adult – $18

Concession [Senior (60 years and above), student and special access] – $14

Admission to the escape room experience*

The escape room experience is available on selected Friday and Saturday evenings from 17th June 2022. Participants will be given 30 minutes to complete the game. Please refer to the National Museum’s website for the list of dates where the escape room experience will take place.

** Information courtesy of the National Museum of Singapore and Tate Anzur **

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