The National Museum of Singapore may want to consider renaming itself the “Nostalgia Machine of Singapore”. The on-going “OFF/ON” exhibition on everyday technology that changed everyday life in Singapore between the 1970s to 2000s is really a gallery of stage sets for reliving yesteryear.
Youths banged furiously on typewriters older than them while Tiktoking away. Families queued up for portraits to be reproduced in a “dark room” that was just a digital simulation. As I overhead yet another adult squealing “I remember that!”, I wondered if the exhibition was actually about how wonderful technology was in recreating the past.
I get it that the museum wants to offer interactive experiences to entertain—which they undoubtedly achieved. But so do theme parks! Despite the rich histories of the everyday technologies on display—typewriters, pagers, computers, cameras, video games etc—I emerged (escaped) hardly learning anything. The curatorial wall texts were light on details, and a challenge to spot. It’s as if the museum feared any suggestion of education might disrupt the Instagrammable tableau?
Unlike the technology showcased in the exhibition, this nostalgia machine cannot simply be turned OFF/ON. So if you fancy a blast from the past, you will get more than that. Don’t forget to come with fully charged phones.