Caspar David Friedrich: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer

Where did the Computer go?

In his newly launched webzine Contemporary Home Computing, my good friend Dragan Espenschied discusses in a two part essay Where did the Computer go? It's a rather romantic look back on the age of classic home computing.

Perhaps the combination of romantic and home computing might sound a little odd at first, so I should clarify how I use the term "romantic" here. Romantic dinner by candle light? Not at all. I refer here to the epoch of Romanticism in the 18th century.

Now, this might seem even more odd, because they did not have computers at that time (hadn't they?) I am quite sure, that Caspar David Friedrich did use a paint brush and not a Wacom graphic tablet to paint his paintings, and Novalis surely did not blog his Blüthenstaub fragments . So I  am  alluding here to the inherent principles of Romanticism that I also recognize in the first part of Dragan's essay. The one principle of Romanticism that is recognizable here, is the tendency towards a dichotomic view of the world. In Romanticism, there was the grey and boring world of reality and Spießbürger on the one side, and on the other there was the colourful and phantastic world of the arts.

A similar view appears in Where did the Computer go? Here, we have obviously wrong view on computers which is not technical and which tries to "write with light",  as Peter Glaser is quoted. To achieve this, the computer as it had been in the 1980's home computing days, has to disappear. Something, Dragan argues, that started with the Apple Lisa which combined as many periphery parts into the main computer chasis.

On the other hand, Dragan argues, that home computers and cable anarchy necessarily have to go hand in hand. He gives two impressive image examples that certainly make a point here.

But this leads us to the second similarity to Romanticism. Romantic poets and playwrights were looking back towards a Golden Age that - again - set in comparison to their own dull present era. The Golden Age the Romanticists dreamed of was the Middle Ages, or to be more precise, their elevated and romanticised version of the Middle Ages.

Has there been such a Golden Era of home computing? One might debate it had been the times of 8 and 16 bit home computers, when programmers knew every register of their machine by heart, when single hackers like Jeff Minter programmed games on his own without a hollywood scale budget and production team, or Pradip Fatepuriya was the obviously sole programmer of Atari Works. These were the days of Kabelfreax.

Yet, the first part of the essay seems scratch a little bit on the surface and concentrate too much on the outside and visible part of the problem. But there should be a second part of the essay, and there is at least one reader out there who is eager to get the full story. :-)

 

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