Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Cultural Preservation through Live Streaming: Singapore’s Heritage Online

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Culture is often equated with opulent artifacts produced by prosperous societies. However, artistic creations are merely the results of a long sequence of evolving traditions. It is the living culture nurtured by groups of people, which is vital, personal and always in a state of becoming. Living culture is a people’s efforts to make sense of their existence, to infuse their environment with meaning and to inculcate their children with a set of values that guide them through life. It is a system of beliefs and attitudes, customs and rituals, artifacts and arts, which is passed from one generation to the next. These are culture’s main tools for ensuring that the sum of experience and wisdom are passed on. The primary means of cultural expression involve language, symbols, customs, and the arts. It is through these tools that humanity has come thus far, only through them can we continue to move forward. Because culture is such a dynamic changing entity that is constantly evolving it is necessary to document the existing artifacts so that they are not lost in the waves of time. This is an extremely important part, as artifacts are symbols of culture which encapsulate a certain value, belief and tradition of a particular community. Recorded in an artifact is the mood and experience of a society, frozen at a particular point in history. This is valuable for understanding the past and where the society has come from. Artifacts also preserve local knowledge. They aid in the solving of problems confronting society. This is because specific information exists within the context of the culture that generated it. To lose the cultural context is to lose the information. For example, traditional medicinal practices are often times the most efficacious in the context which they were developed. Through cultural documentation these practices can be preserved and understood.

Importance of Cultural Preservation

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage play a part in promoting cultural preservation. They assist state parties in identifying and defining their intangible cultural heritage and help them establish measures suited for the safeguarding of this heritage. The convention and Singapore’s efforts in preserving their cultural heritage fit the convention’s aims and objectives perfectly. Measures for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, such as research, inventory-making, documentation, promotion, awareness-raising, resource development, and training, have established a need for technology as a new and powerful tool for this age-old issue of cultural preservation.

Cultural preservation is normally a product of local initiative, where community members take pride in their past and express this in their willingness to look after their heritage. They seek assistance from the authorities to safeguard their cultural heritage for the future. An example would be the Singapore Chinese community declaring the renovation of Chinatown in 2002. The project aimed to safeguard the rich heritage and customs of Chinatown and preserve them in a location which Chinese in Singapore since the founding days of modern Singapore can recall, document, and consider their own. This allows for the retrieval of information and understanding of their cultural identity.

Singapore, an island city-state, prides itself on a common belief that the preservation of cultural heritage is vital. It defines their cultural identities, provides a sense of root and continuity in life, and forms a distinctive aspect of their past, present, and future. Singapore’s society treasures ensure that, with the fast-changing world and technological advancements, they will still be closely connected to their roots. They exhibit an understanding of their ancestors’ period of life, their rituals, beliefs, and customs. Cultural heritage is key to providing this knowledge and link to the past. Culture, being a main part of a society’s identity and providing a link to the past, naturally leads to a desire to preserve it and keep it alive for the next generation.

Role of Live Streaming in Cultural Preservation

In order to reach a younger and broader audience, HDB encourages the respective groups to consider repackaging the same memories and life accounts in digital formats and to share them through various internet media such as websites, social media, online publications, and others. The hope is that by doing so, younger generations will have an interest in these past traditions and come to better understand the identity and culture of present-day Singapore. This will also fulfill HDB’s role of making the past come alive and creating a more lively and enriching home for Singaporeans.

For Singapore, live streaming has become an important tool for preserving the country’s culture and heritage. With the rapid modernisation of the country, the government has set up several initiatives and guidelines aimed at promoting the use of live streaming Singapore in order to save sectors of traditional Singaporean culture which are deemed to be dying out. An example of one such initiative would be a project known as “Remembering Our Nostalgic Days” by the HDB. This project aimed to capture the old street performances and folk songs of the 1950s to 1970s era through memories or life accounts of the period shared by senior citizens. These sessions were then documented in audio or written form and were later transformed into live products such as theatrical performances and public concerts.

Live streaming Singapore is a real-time transmission of multimedia content from a sender to a receiver over the internet. The sender could be a person with a camera providing a live account of an event, a computer user sharing their desktop, or users broadcasting events using a webcam. “Live streaming of multimedia is unique in the sense that it allows a single user to reach potentially millions of users worldwide”. This characteristic has made it an attractive platform for cultural institutions who seek to share their culture with a global audience. By using live video, users are able to provide virtual tours and share events with an online audience, allowing users to witness events in real time even though they are miles away.

Singapore’s Heritage

Singapore’s vibrant multicultural background sets it apart from other nations. It has a rich cultural history, the distinct result of centuries of immigration from different parts of the world, and interaction of various religious and cultural traditions. The earliest traces of the country’s history can be traced back to the 3rd century AD when a significant trading settlement was established. It was known by various names in the past, including “Sea Town” (Kota) or “Fishing Village” (Tumasek) in the Javanese annals, and also Pu Luo Chung (榜鹿嶂) in the Chinese historical sources. The name “Singapura” (Lion City) is first recorded in the 14th century, and may have been a different retelling of the tale of Sang Nila Utama. It was a critical point on the busy trade route. With the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, modern Singapore history commenced. After having acquired the island as an East India Company trading post, Raffles managed to negotiate a treaty under which Johor allowed the EIC to establish a new settlement. Logging on to a new era of development, the process of modernization began and the shape of present day Singapore started to take form. A series of treaties with the Sultan and the Temenggong followed, in which the entire island was ceded to the British. Under direct British colonial rule, many new immigrants from China and India were attracted by the prospects of work. This set off an unprecedented era of economic development in a land which was still primarily a low-tech port and agricultural entrepot. Although marred by the events surrounding the Japanese occupation, many migrants saw this as the dawn of a new era in a place of opportunity and relative harmony. This has undoubtedly shaped both the recent demographics, and also the culture and nature of the modern inhabitants. Measures are being taken to better understand the roots and contributing the various ethnic cultural groups that have shaped modern day Singapore. An example would be recent archeological excavations in Singapore that have shed some light as to earlier periods in the island’s history, before the arrival of Raffles.

Rich Cultural History of Singapore

By 1911, the population had exceeded 350,000, with only about 100,000 of this number being of Chinese descent. The rest of the people consisted of Malays, Indians, Eurasians, and others.

During the same period of time, the Malay population, including chiefs and sultans from the nearby Riau Islands and the Malay Peninsula, had ruled in Singapore. Much of the Malays’ former grandeur has been enshrined by the colonial British through the conservation of historical sites such as the Sultan Mosque and the Istana. These various groups of people often lived in close proximity and created a “kampong” lifestyle where different races shared the same villages, interacted with one another, and even borrowed each other’s cultures and customs. All of these intricate exchanges between cultures have helped shape the Singapore we see today.

Singapore has a rich cultural history with Chinese, Indians, Malays, and other Southeast Asians, including Arab traders and early British settlements, all making an impact on the makeup of the nation. It had a mainly male transient society, which was made up of foreign workers who came without their families, with the majority coming from India and China. When the workers returned to their homelands, many found that they had not accumulated enough funds and were thus stranded in Singapore. Forced to make the best of their new situation, single men went on to marry locals, and out of these interracial marriages arose a group of people whose unique heritage, culture, and identity continues to this day.

Significance of Singapore’s Heritage

The effects on the global order and economy in a knowledge-driven society have pushed for greater cooperation in education and cultural exchange. In preserving heritage that links to other countries, there is potential to collaborate and share resources in research and preservation techniques.

At the international level, heritage has often been the point of reference in cultural diplomacy. Culture has become an integral part of diplomatic strategies in building ties and fostering relations between countries. A country’s heritage is often used to distinguish itself from others, and also as a tool in global marketing. The conservation and presentation of heritage can bring soft power and influence when negotiating issues on the international platform.

Singaporeans are now more educated and affluent, and the demand for higher living standards will increase. Measures of progress and development and the relentless pursuit of economic growth may result in a fast-changing society with little link to the past. If heritage is about selecting what we wish to preserve for future generations, the time to decide is now.

The significance of Singapore’s heritage to building the identity of a global city in the 21st century can’t be underestimated. As the nation progresses and the landscape changes, it’s important that Singaporeans don’t forget their past. The past or heritage in this sense could be an anchor in nation-building and give a sense of rootedness for Singaporeans and future generations.

The significance of Singapore’s heritage can be looked at from the economic and sociocultural perspectives. It touches on a part of home and identity among Singaporeans. Revitalizing and reusing heritage places could also extend the growth of tourism. The significance of Singapore’s heritage is not only about retaining the past, but about building a sustainable future and identity for Singaporeans. It is therefore important to debate and reflect on the types of heritage worthy of preservation, keeping in mind the economic, social, and future factors that will dictate the needs of an ever-changing society.

Challenges in Preserving Singapore’s Heritage

Singapore’s heritage is not without its fair share of challenges. Cultural practices, traditions, and customs are constantly changing. For instance, Western influence has made an impact on what people consider traditional Malay weddings and Chinese customs. Younger generations are more likely to shake off what they consider as old-fashioned customs for a modern way of life. Globalization and the Western emphasis on individualism, materialism, and the idea of progress have also put the very survival of Asian cultural heritage to the test. Economic development in Singapore has also resulted in the removal of many important historical sites and structures to make way for urbanization and modern infrastructure. The fast pace of development today means that Singapore’s historical landscape is changing very quickly. This places heritage sites in a precarious position as they struggle to find a proper place in the fast-changing environment. In the midst of rapid change, many heritage sites are at risk of being forgotten and lost in the confines of history books. These are just some examples of the issues at hand regarding preserving Singapore’s heritage. At the rate issues are going, it is very likely that Singapore might lose a significant part of its heritage. With a society that pushes forward and rarely looks back, one might even ask if it is important to preserve Singapore’s heritage.

Live Streaming of Singapore’s Heritage

To date, few studies have been done on the effectiveness of live streaming for the preservation of cultural heritage. However, it is widely used in the journalism industry as a means of delivering news as it happens and has become an increasingly popular form of social media. A reason for this is the general public’s preference for visual content and seeing events unfold. Live streaming provides just this through real-time audio and visual content, allowing the user to experience an event from the comfort of their homes. This was recognized by the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments division, Mr. Jean Wee, at the live streaming workshop, who stated that it will enable the audience to get a look at the actual site or artifact, and this sense of immediacy is crucial in engaging the audience.

Live streaming, as defined by Gonsalves, J., is an emerging media in which the digital broadcast of real-time audio, video, and text messages to viewers can be accessed via the internet. Live streaming works in real time and thus allows direct interaction between the streamer and the user, in the form of questions being asked as the session is occurring. He explains that cultural heritage is identity in a material form and it is a human right to access it. Yet a significant amount becomes inaccessible within museums, due to the lack of resources and little audience awareness of exhibitions and events. Live streaming may provide the sought-after means of creating awareness and accessibility through its real-time interface and minimal cost.

With the advancement of technology in the age of globalization, traditional cultural practices have subsequently been dismissed by the younger generations and are in danger of dissipation. Live streaming has been identified as a potential tool for cultural preservation; it is believed to be a flexible and affordable means of engaging the masses. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the National Heritage Board recognize that cultural preservation is a vital way to build a confident national identity and sense of belonging, as stated in Singapore’s 2010 National Heritage Plan. This can be done through the continual maintenance of heritage and culture.

Advantages of Live Streaming for Cultural Preservation

Secondly, live streaming is a digital form of performing arts. A large part of Singapore’s cultural heritage is in the form of dance, drama, and music, which are often showcased at cultural festivals and events. While these events are still taking place locally, live streaming provides an opportunity for Singapore’s performing arts groups to showcase their talents to a global audience. This was an advantage that was seized upon by the Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA) and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) during the inaugural Singapore 2000 IT Fest. During the festival, local performing arts groups conducted live internet broadcasts of their performances through the use of webcams, reaching a worldwide audience. An experience that would likely have been impossible with such cost effectiveness using traditional festival marketing and media campaigns.

The advantages of live streaming are immense in terms of cultural preservation. First, the multimedia capability of the internet provides artists with an inexpensive way to display their talents to a global audience. With the use of a camera, artists can broadcast a live feed of their work as it happens, giving them a global platform to display their art. This is especially amazing for traditional artists who practice dying art forms. This is especially relevant for Singapore, as a burgeoning global arts hub where local artists are developing international followings. Live streaming provides a means for these artists to display their talents to a global audience, creating international awareness and interest in Singapore’s culture.

Examples of Successful Live Streaming Initiatives

CyArk’s partnership with Iron Mountain and the Singapore Philatelic Museum’s event were successful in a number of ways. They engaged a relevant audience, which includes potential sponsors and donors who are interested in cultural preservation. Both events also showcased how live streaming a preservation project can be a unique and educational form of content that is worth watching and supporting.

Another initiative came from the Singapore Philatelic Museum of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and the National Heritage Board as the kick-off to a series of online storytelling sessions featuring interesting postal histories in Singapore Philately. This initiative demonstrates an alternative way to present cultural heritage, where interactive sessions with storytelling are complemented with various visuals over live streaming.

Despite live museums’ vast potential for cultural preservation, only a few attempts have been made in the field of broadcasting live from heritage sites. One of the first and most successful of such projects was the brainchild of CyArk, a non-profit organization based in California. CyArk’s objective was to digitally document and preserve the world’s most significant cultural heritage sites before they are lost to the ravages of time, natural disaster, or human aggression. In 2013, CyArk partnered with Iron Mountain, a leader in storage and information management services, to stream the digital preservation of Mount Rushmore, one of America’s most iconic monuments. The event not only allowed a global audience to view the preservation in action, but more importantly, it raised awareness and funding from corporate sponsors and donors to support CyArk’s efforts.

Impact of Live Streaming on Audience Engagement

Fgo was launched in 2019 as part of the National Library’s efforts to reach out to a wider audience by bringing the library’s valuable content to them in their homes. The first edition of Fgo featured 5 partners and attracted a total of over 60,000 views over the 3-day period. The key feature of Fgo is free access to a wealth of digital resources through fun and educational activities conducted by the various participating organisations. This provides a platform for the public to learn more about the digital resources available on the NLB portal and brings the content to life with accompanying activities. The partner sessions are archived and made available after the event on the NLB website. By doing so, this preserves the content and indirectly promotes the partner organisations to viewers of the archived sessions. Due to the COVID-19 situation, Fgo proved to be a timely and well-received event. Many of the partners had intended to use Fgo to reach out to seniors and bring them to their physical premises. However, the COVID-19 situation had deterred seniors from leaving their homes, making it difficult to engage them. Fgo then provided a more feasible way to engage the seniors at home and this led to several organisations planning special sessions catered for seniors. Live streaming initiatives would greatly benefit from the continuation of the enhancements to internet connectivity and speeds in Singapore. Live streaming requires a stable and fast internet connection to avoid connectivity issues and buffering, something that previously might not have been available to all in Singapore. With the nationwide improvements in this area, it can be expected that more Singaporeans would be able to easily access and participate in live streaming activities. This is crucial as a main target audience for many of the heritage initiatives would be the seniors. With Singapore’s rapidly ageing population, there is a growing silver generation who are interested in heritage and keen to learn about remembering the past. However, many of the seniors today would find it difficult to navigate modern technology and there is an assumed notion they are less likely to access such online activities. Hence the improvements in internet connectivity would help make live streaming more accessible to them.

Future of Cultural Preservation through Live Streaming

The influence of live streaming technology on the future of cultural heritage lies in its potential to serve as an enhanced immersive and interactive platform. The increasing accessibility and decreasing cost of virtual reality (VR) hardware and software indicates a shift in the method and quality of media consumption. In the more immediate future, 360-degree live streaming will become an option for heritage institutions. For example, a museum could set up a 360-degree camera at an event, and users at home could fully immerse themselves in the happening, thus providing a sense of ‘being there.’ A full immersive experience could be further facilitated by live streaming 3D video. In this case, users can interact with a 3D environment through an avatar and be able to choose their own pathways. While museums have long used the internet to provide images and information, these new forms of media provide a more engaging and personal experience. Live streaming does not only open new frontiers in virtual reality but also in the technology behind it. The development of live-streamed haptic technology could enable users to ‘touch’ or ‘handle’ artifacts from a remote location. Although this technology is still in its infancy, it poses an intriguing possibility for the experience of museums in the online world.

Potential Innovations in Live Streaming Technology

Another interesting innovation is that of live streaming 360-degree video. Although 360-degree video is not in itself a new technology, live streaming presents a fresh set of challenges in the context of 360-degree video, which have not yet been completely solved. Current systems involve multiple cameras filming in different directions and stitching the video together, which is then streamed from a single viewpoint. This content can then be viewed from different perspectives using interactive video players. However, as Kurak and Bodnar observe, this presents a challenge when transitioning to a live system in which a viewer can freely change their viewing perspective. Despite this, companies such as Google and VideoStitch are already developing live 360-degree video streaming systems, and it is likely that by the time live 360-degree video is in common use as a live streaming platform, these perspective control issues will have been resolved. Live streaming 360-degree video has massive potential in cultural preservation, as it would enable an off-site audience to view a cultural event or site in a highly immersive and interactive manner, being able to actively choose their point of interest and explore the environment in their own way. This directly encourages active viewership and participation and is in line with the desired outcome of live streaming as a tool for cultural preservation.

Innovations in live streaming technology can help to ensure that the potential of live streaming as a tool for cultural preservation is realized, even for audiences unable to actively participate. For example, ‘virtual presence’ technologies as used in teleconferencing are now being adapted for use in a museum or gallery-based context. This would enable a remote audience to ‘visit’ a site through a virtual proxy, able to interact with on-site participants and control their own viewing perspective. An extension of this is the use of ‘immersive environments’ such as CAVE or HMD systems, which create a sense of being physically present in a virtual space and would enable an off-site audience to ‘visit’ a cultural site in an engaging and interactive way, vastly differing from the passive viewership of a live stream. These innovations directly tackle the issue of audience engagement, providing a far richer and more interactive virtual experience of a cultural event or site.

Collaboration between Cultural Institutions and Live Streaming Platforms

New audiences are a huge benefit of live streaming and always highly sought after, as can be seen by the large push around the world to get youth involved in arts and culture. The National Gallery of Art in the United States has recently discovered this while trialing various educational programs that use their online resources to reach classrooms across the country. Their efforts to integrate technology with education were recognized in 2008 when the museum was awarded the Coming Up Taller Award for its online resource called Art: 21 for Educators. Live streaming is the next logical step for institutions to tap into new audiences that were previously inaccessible. By selecting the right content and quality live streams, there is potential for these programs to reach and appeal to a broad international audience. This could spark a profound shift in society that creates stronger global awareness and appreciation of art and culture, resulting in a more unified world.

The traditional business model of cultural institutions has prevented many of them from taking full advantage of the potential benefits of live streaming. In order to shift the focus of the cultural preservation movement towards live streaming, broad collaboration between cultural institutions and live streaming platforms must take place. Derrick Leong, assistant curator for the Singapore Art Museum, suggests that “participating in live streaming will be a departure from the traditional way of programming, allowing institutions to reach out to a new audience segment and finding creative, innovative ways to promote their collections”. Mr. Leong is referring to new, potential audiences that live outside of major metropolitan areas and would never have the opportunity to visit the museum. Although it is hard to determine the success of reaching new audiences, the potential to do so has many institutions considering innovative applications of live streaming. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London piloted a program in May 2008 with a live theatre broadcast from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear. The event was broadcast live into 60 Vue cinemas around the UK and attracted a large new audience to the museum, including teens and young adults.

Overcoming Technical and Accessibility Challenges

In a more successful initiative, the New York-based Foundation for Jewish Culture has been using desktop video conferencing technology to create a form of long-distance artist residency, working with artists in several different countries who are interested in Jewish culture. They have partnered with the Six Points Fellowship, an organization seeking to create new cultural work informed by Jewish tradition. This has allowed both the artists and the foundation staff to form strong connections with one another without the time and expense of travel. The artists have been able to participate in Six Points’ professional development programs, as well as discussing their work in progress with foundation executives. They have found the ability to share creative space with colleagues from different backgrounds while being supported by a cultural organization to be very energizing and freeing. But this initiative has a narrow bandwidth as it involves few people and only one discipline.

Many of the streaming projects faced challenges that stem from the differing levels of technology and skill among its participants. In the DanceBase project, a live streaming master class with the dancer working in his own home with a laptop had to be abandoned because of the low quality of his internet connection. The dance he was trying to teach was Filipino tribal dance, and the loss of visual and audio quality interfered with the fidelity of his instruction.

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