If you happen to find yourself in Rijeka, which may happen as its the European Capital of Culture of 2020, a highlight of your trip will be the Peek & Poke Computer Museum. Rijeka is a typical coastal city in the Balkans. Typical in the sense that it has an impossibly complicated history, friendly people, and a lively bar scene. You will forget all of this when you walk into the Peek & Poke.
Peek & Poke has one of the world’s largest collections of computers, game stations, and associated hardware. Most of it is plugged in and can be used or played. There are no “no-touch” signs in this museum. Only the most priced objects are behind glass: original Apple computers, experimental Nintendo 3D glasses, Yugoslavian calculators. HAL 9000’s eye peers at you while you walk around the gallery.
Roman Mars, the host of the influential podcast 99pi, states that it should be a life rule to befriend people working in museums. In Peek & Poke, this means befriending one of the two founders. When I visited in the summer of 2019, after some poking, we got a lengthy and completely customized tour. Being Dutch, we were shown classics from Philips, our homegrown consumer electronics company and a one-time inventor of the CD. The wonderful thing about such a personal approach is that we were able to add to the stories of the museum. If you ever wondered about the size of the hole in a CD, it is exactly the size of an old Dutch dime, since replaced by a differently sized Euro coin. You can now also learn this story in Peek & Poke.
Peek & Poke is not a polished museum experience. Rather, it is a classical chamber of curiosities. The curiosities are not natural and cultural history objects, but snapshots of our technological history. There is no exhibition design and very little interpretation, which is often a good thing as it encourages the visitor to engage staff in conversation. As such, instead of learning about the year a computer was built, you learn about its significance for a country and a people. And through these stories, a thing or two about the history of the Balkans and the history of Rijeka.
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Jasper Visser is an international strategy consultant and facilitator specialized in sustainable development, digital transformation, and community leadership in cultural and civic organizations. Jasper is a senior partner at the design studio VISSCH+STAM, project director of the NGO Stichting 2030 and he blogs at The Museum of the Future. Jasper is a co-developer of the Quantum Culture method, Cards for Culture, and the Digital Engagement Framework.