The Sixth Stage of Grief Is Retro-computing

Paul Ford wrote one of the sweetest things I’ve ever read about people and their computers. My computer story isn’t as picturesque as his, probably because mine is not yet long enough to have endured much loss. But Ford’s story peaks for me in a passage that feels deeply familiar to me. I’m grateful to him for it, because it reminds me how crucial my childhood wonderment at the power of computing was to the development of my work in the world:

Technology is what we share. I don’t mean “we share the experience of technology.” I mean: By my lights, people very often share technologies with each other when they talk. Strategies. Ideas for living our lives. We do it all the time. Parenting email lists share strategies about breastfeeding and bedtime. Quotes from the Dalai Lama. We talk neckties, etiquette, and Minecraft, and tell stories that give us guidance as to how to live. A tremendous part of daily life regards the exchange of technologies. We are good at it. It’s so simple as to be invisible. Can I borrow your scissors? Do you want tickets? I know guacamole is extra. The world of technology isn’t separate from regular life. It’s made to seem that way because of, well…capitalism. Tribal dynamics. Territoriality. Because there is a need to sell technology, to package it, to recoup the terrible investment. So it becomes this thing that is separate from culture. A product.

This post drove me to follow its instructions on how to emulate old computers on my machine. I have a few DOS games from childhood wrapped in individual Boxer apps, but now — thanks to Paul Ford — I have an entire OS 7 Mac on my machine. I don’t even have any interesting software for it, but just browsing the Finder feels like reading old love letters.

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