New exhibition at National Museum of Singapore features technology from 1970s to 2000s

The exhibition is the second showcase held by the National Museum of Singapore under the Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative.

Muhd Zahin Ilmi

Sports enthusiast and expert overthinker.

Published: 14 June 2022, 9:52 AM

From sleek laptops to artificial intelligence-equipped smartphones, technology has continuously evolved through the years and become an indispensable part of our daily lives.

However, have you ever wondered about the technological devices that predate the gadgets we have today, and how people in the past lived and worked with them?

As part of its Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative, the National Museum of Singapore has launched a new exhibition that aims to explore the socio-historical impact of technology from the past on the lives of Singaporeans.

Titled Off/On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s, the exhibition features gadgets and telecommunication and entertainment devices from the 1970s to 2000s, and will run from Jun 10 to Oct 30.

The various devices are displayed in several interactive and immersive sections throughout the exhibition that are designed to portray nostalgic and local settings, including a hair salon and an office set in the 1970s to 1990s.

Throughout the exhibition, visitors can interact with some of the installations through the digital companion. They can also participate in games and quizzes at selected parts of the exhibition.


Visitors have to scan the unique QR code on selected displays around the exhibition to gain access to additional digital materials such as quizzes and games. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


The Off/On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s exhibition is split into four main sections.

Work in Progress

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are transported back to the past as they are greeted by an office set complete with desks, stationeries and even old-school productivity posters.

Titled Work in Progress, the first section of the exhibition explores the various devices used at workplaces in the past such as typewriters and boxy computers.


To add to the experience, the office is also filled with sounds such as the ringing phones and the clicking of typewriters to mimic the ambience of an office. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


As opposed to the usual museum etiquette where touching of the artefacts are prohibited, visitors are actually encouraged to take a seat at the work stations in the office and get a touch and feel of the typewriters.

The Work in Progress section of the exhibition also consists of a room displaying a set of boxy computers.


The computers on display include the IBM and Apple IIe personal computer from the 70s to the 80s. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


The computer screens display personal anecdotes from past users of the technological devices.

Hello Mobile

Aptly named Hello Mobile, the second section of the exhibition explores the use of telecommunications tools from the past.

The first part of this section features a wall of retro telephones that come in various shapes, sizes and colours. Some of the phones on display date as far back as from the 1970s.


Similar to the typewriters in the previous section, visitors also get to hold the phones and play around with its buttons.


As visitors walk past the telephone display wall, they will see the second installation of the Hello Mobile section – a hair salon and a coffee shop that looks straight out of the 70s.

Apart from the vintage flooring patterns and the retro posters on the wall, the room is also complete with props such as spray bottles and coffee mugs to replicate the old school look and feel.


Visitors can interact with some of the props in both of the rooms and can even sit on the chairs to take pictures or have a chat. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


The two themed rooms also display several telephone sets, including a Coinafon public phone from the 80s in the coffee shop and a payphone in the hair salon.


Visitors can dial certain numbers on the telephone to listen in on conversations often heard in hair salons or coffee shops, such as weekend plans and kopitiam get-togethers. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


Next to the hair salon and coffee shop set is a segment centred around personal communication devices.


The room’s main attraction is an interactive display where visitors can type out a message using the keyboard of an old Nokia phone or pager and have it shown on a life-sized replica of a pager. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


In this segment, visitors can learn more about how people in the past communicated using devices such as the Motorola numeric display pager and the iconic Nokia 3310 mobile phone.

The Art of Living

Titled The Art of Living, this section of the exhibition explores how consumer technology transformed the lifestyles of Singaporeans.

The first segment showcases the old technology behind photography. It includes two parts: an old school interactive photo studio and a dark room.

Visitors can make use of the photo studio to take black and white portraits of themselves using a camera replica. They simply have to press a button to start a timer and get into position to strike a pose for the picture before the timer ends.


Visitors can also use the props in the studio and send their pictures to themselves via email or by scanning their unique QR code on the companion site on the reader. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


After taking the photo, they can enter a dark room to see their photographs being “developed”. Apart from its characteristic red hue, the dark room is also filled with props such as photo washing trays that were used in the past.


The dark room also displays the Olympus-Pen camera which originates from the 70s. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


Following the dark room is an interactive display of the Philips colour television set from the 90s.


There are 10 televisions on display which visitors can interact with. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


The televisions can be controlled through the touch-screen panels to display a selection of nostalgic local television programmes, commercials and re-created Teletext messages.

The fourth and final segment of the Art of Living section comes in the form of a typical living room setting from the 70s to the 90s. 

The room features a handful of technological objects from the past used for entertainment purposes, such as the Philips colour television set, Orion video cassette recorder, Fuji video cassette tape and the Sanyo portable radio.


national-museum-on-off-living room
The room also has a cassette player replica which visitors can touch and interact with using some of its buttons. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


Gaming devices, including the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) game console and the Tomy Pocketeer handheld game, are also on display in the living room.

Game On

This section focuses on gaming devices from the past.

The design of the section takes inspiration from the vintage handheld games known as the Tomy Pocketeer, which requires players to guide a ball bearing in and around obstacles.


Visitors can play a digital version of the Tomy Pocketeer game and compete with each other in the display room. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE


Visitors can also save their high scores by scanning the digital companion on the game’s reader. Through the digital companion, they can key in their names on the leaderboard.

Off/On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s-2000s will be open from Monday to Sunday from 10am to 7pm, and is located at the basement level of the Exhibition Gallery at the National Museum of Singapore.

Singaporean citizens, permanent residents and children aged six years and below are allowed to enter the exhibition for free.

However, tickets will cost $18 for adult tourists and foreign residents. Students, seniors above the age of 60 and those who require special access however can enjoy a slightly cheaper concession price of $14.

Off / On also transforms into an escape room on Friday and Saturday nights from Jun 17 onwards, where visitors can pre-register in groups of minimally three and up to 10 participants. 

The entrance fee costs $15 per person for groups of three to six participants, and $12 per person for groups with seven to 10 participants.

Visitors can find the specific dates for the escape room and book their tickets on the National Museum of Singapore website.

As part of its Collecting Contemporary Singapore Initiative to broaden the museum’s contemporary collection, the National Museum of Singapore also invites residents to submit their stories, photos or objects from the 2000s onwards up to the present day. 

The public can submit their collateral from now till Dec 31.

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