Thursday, February 28, 2008

BBS History is an excellent archive of ASCII text distributed during the mid-Eighties. There's a good introduction on the frontpage:

The focus is on mid-1980's textfiles and the world as it was then, but even these files are sometime retooled 1960s and 1970s works, and offshoots of this culture exist to this day.
Archival of networked data has probably become more difficult since the 80's. Organizing and presenting files from back then seems pretty simple in comparison to our present-day predicament because it does not involve the preservation of links or dynamic content. The files are self-contained and the curator can choose how they are arranged. However, without hyperlinks, it is difficult to make the historical and cultural relationship between older content and newer content explicit to the modern user.

Because the ASCII files he curates do not link to other files, Jason Scott keeps them alive by presenting them on the Internet where they can be perused or linked to by modern users. They are not "naturally" a part of the hypertext rhizome - they were written before the popularization of hypertext - but with Jason's careful presentation their historical relevance and accessibility is preserved.

With each technological shift, data format standards change. In addition, how we access and interact with information changes. Taking into consideration both how the computer accesses files and how best to present these files to the user, "porting" old content to a new era of users and computers becomes extremely difficult. When issues of copyright enter the scene, preservation and presentation to a new generation of computer users becomes even messier..

Sunday, February 24, 2008

YouTube is DOWN!

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I'm hoping Facebook is next!

Edit: Okay, it's (partially) back up. You may now resume meme-watching.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Regressive Computing

I am not entirely sure what "Regressive Computing" is.

I came up with the term during an email conversation with a local friend of mine who had posted an ad for free floppy disks on Craigslist. I am obsessed with old, outmoded media and machines. I use them instead of new technology as often as possible. Another of my obsessions is codifying my obsessions. Thus, the term "Regressive Computing" was born.

The main reason for my obsession with abandoned technology is the exponential increase in speed and quantity of computer hardware, which leads to a huge amount of waste. Whether we are approaching a Singularity or not, the garbage dumps are getting bigger. As technology becomes more disposable, I react by seeking something lasting.

There is a tendency as technology advances to throw out the past as often as we throw out computers. For many users, computers arrive as if out of nowhere. The machine comes packaged, pre-assembled and pre-loaded with software. When it reaches the end of its lifespan, it goes to a different kind of "nowhere" - the dump. But there is a rich culture and history to be found that runs counter to the perceived disposability of computer hardware and software.

Computers are incredibly prevalent in American society, but there is hardly any awareness of their cultural, theoretical or scientific past. Without this knowledge, thinking about and guiding future developments is impossible. I aim to address this problem in my personal life and the outside world by disseminating concepts like Regressive Computing.

Recently, after finding a blog on testing Linux distros on old computers I had the idea of downgrading each year to the standard speed of the previous year. I'm already at about average speed for 2003. The only problem is finding the proper hardware for each year (or series of years) because so much of the hardware ends up junked. Another option is to emulate older hardware, but that would take most of the fun out of it.

Regressive Computing is an evolving concept but I will continue to post my ideas here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Computer History

"When personal computing finally blossomed in Silicon Valley in the mid-seventies, it did so largely without the benefit of any of the history and the research that had gone before it. As a consequence, the personal-computer industry would be deformed for years, creating a world of isolated desktop boxes, in contrast to the communities of shared information that had been pioneered in the sixties and early seventies"

The above quote is from John Markoff's book What the Dormouse Said: How the 60's Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. Although the book's support of its central argument is weak and jumbled, I found its attempt at establishing computer history within a movement and culture engaging. Computing's speed of innovation and adoption creates the illusion that they exist outside society, culture, and history. But this is not and has never been the case.

As Markoff's observation suggests, in order to use computers towards a human good it is essential that they be considered in terms other than financial gain and heedless progress.

This concept - maintaining a sense of computer context - is what drove me to create Data Archaea. In my notes and thoughts I have considered computer context in terms of history, data preservation, digital archeology and anthropology. These are all components of a larger goal: raising an awareness of the past as well as the future of computers.