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.


Anonymous said...

Ross said...

Thanks dogg. I should've known a bit of Googlin' would reveal that I am not breaking new ground here.

madame said...

my first computer was a trs-80, known as the trash 80, but i didn't know that then. cassette storage. then the leap to an ibm that used floppies. i favoured the ones with the elephant on them. and used gw-basic to try and make little programs that would shuffle my writing. i would ask my brother to make a program, describing what i wanted it to do. (i'm always looking around for servants)

he would then proceed to make a program that did something unexpected and very cool and i would say: no, stop, that's good, i want it like that. and he would say: no, i can make it do what you wanted to do. and i would say: no, but this is what i want it to do. and so it went.

which is why he is a patent lawyer dealing mostly with genetic and medical weirdness patents and i am a lowly writer. the long story of our estrangement is extremely convoluted and amusing yet sad and intertwined with the history of computing.

for a good time go to the computer museum in boston. it's right next to the children's museum (which is also good) on the wharf which boasts a snackbar shaped like a huge bottle of milk. last time i looked.

Anonymous said...

i want to retro compute with you

Ross said...

i will c heck out this museum asap. i think i have linked to their youtube channel on sidelinks.

sometimes i wish i could program, but like you i'd rather have somebody else do it for me.