Vintage tech on display at the National Museum of Singapore

·5-min read
A picture of multiple vintage telephones in RGB backlit compartments at the National Museum of Singapore.(Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
There are a lot of vintage telephones on display at On/Off at the National Museum of Singapore. (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Have you ever had that itch to show your children what it was like using a phone that could only send SMS-es and had Snake as its only playable game?

Do you miss the times where you had to run to a red room to develop your film from your trusty Kodak camera, only to realise you messed up your picture framing?

Have you ever wondered what it was like living prior to the 2000s without laptops and smartphones?

The National Museum of Singapore aims to recreate these moments in their new exhibition, Off/On: Everyday Technology that Changed Our Lives, 1970s–2000s.

Being the second showcase of the museum's Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative (the first focused on COVID-19), Off/On looks to reconnect Singaporeans with the technology of the past, and to give a glimpse of these devices to the young who might be unfamiliar with them.

Divided into four sections, this exhibition showcases the technology that was used in Singapore from the 1970s till the 2000s for offices, telecommunications, home entertainment and play.

The names of the different sections of a National Museum of Singapore technology exhibit.(Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
The multiple sections of the exhibition. (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

In these sections, guests and visitors are encouraged to sit down at designated places to try these devices that are on display to get a feel of what it was like using them, and create conversations while doing so.

But while the past is on display here, we are still currently living in pandemic times, and it would be understandable to have concerns about exhibits meant for visitors to physically interact with.

When asked by Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore on measures to ensure the cleanliness of these devices throughout the exhibition's lifetime, the National Museum of Singapore mentioned that "the installations are applied with self-disinfecting coating and cleaned regularly".

A vintage orange public telephone from Singapore on a wooden platform at a museum exhibition. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
You had to put coins into the payphones to use them. (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

As a tech nerd, I found so many things that were major throwbacks to my time living with these devices.

Without spoiling too much of the experience (it is really a good exhibition in the first three sections), Off/On successfully recreates the spaces that you would commonly find these devices in, and how they function in those environments.

A replica of an office in the 1970s with desks and typewriters, having yellow floor and green walls. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
Replace the typewriters with laptops and you realise that the office spaces are not so different back then. (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

For example, there is an office environment where you can try to type on the grandfather of mechanical keyboards, the typewriter.

You can also experience what it was like using a payphone at a coffee shop (yes, the bright orange one), or even attempt to send a text message using only the number pad on phones like the Nokia 3310.

If you are a photography nerd, there is also a simulated red room (for film development) that you can spend your time in. If you don't know what film is, you're definitely young and also lucky enough to not live through what it was like being limited to 24 to 36 shots per roll of film (they were very expensive).

A picture of a Nokia 3310 in a glass box against a blue wall. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
How is the Nokia 3310 a museum exhibit already? (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Each section of the exhibition is also equipped with a little QR code scanner that allows you to do various things, depending on the theme of the section.

The only major disappointment of the exhibition (and for a gamer, it is really quite a disappointment), is that the last section, titled "Game On", only had a giant replica of a Tomy Pocketeer game.

A picture of Nintendo's Family Computer in a museum exhibit in a glass box. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
The Famicom, Japan's version of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

While entertaining in its own right (the Tomy Pocketeer series was first launched in the mid-70s), not featuring playable versions of the other more influential games devices in the 80s and 90s like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) or the Gameboy seems like a missed opportunity, especially when they have have functioning Cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions at the exhibition as well.

That said, I'm glad that at least the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Family Computer (Famicom) was on display.

Besides that little hiccup, the other three sections are really good, especially when you consider that the exhibition is free for locals and Singapore residents.

A picture of a replica of a Singaporean coffeeshop and salon at a museum exhibition, with vintage chairs and tables, including vintage Singaporean floor tiles. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
Off/On recreates a hair salon and coffeeshop environment to showcase what it was like in the 80s and 90s. (Image: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

Singaporeans, Permanent Residents and children under 6 of all nationalities get free access to the exhibit, while tourists and foreign residents will need to pay S$18 for a standard adult ticket, or S$14 if you are a student or above 60 years old.

Entry is ticketed however, so do make sure pre-book your tickets before heading off to the exhibition.

On/Off is on exhibit from 10 June till 30 October 2022 at the Exhibition Gallery in the basement level of the National Museum of Singapore.

The exhibition opens daily from 10am to 7pm, with last admissions at 6.30pm.

However, there will also be a special escape room experience for the exhibit on select Fridays and Saturdays of the exhibition.

The showcase will close earlier at 6pm on these days.

Dominic loves tech and games. When he is not busy getting headshotted in VALORANT or watercooling anything he sees, he does some pro wrestling.

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