Things are moving fast in technology, and if we didn’t see something happen it is completely socially acceptable to choose to pretend it didn’t happen at all. Alternatively, we can acknowledge that it did happen, accept that the fact it happened might be important, and make a small amount of effort to engage with it. We don’t have to, but we can.
In the UK, I know of two great museums dedicated to computers – ‘The National Museum of Computing‘ in the grounds of Bletchley Park, and the ‘Centre for Computing History’ which supplied props & expertise for Micro Men and Electric Dreams, among others, and is in the process of moving into Cambridge.
A museum of computing seems like a weird idea, really, to those of us old enough to remember saving programs on cassettes. Computers aren’t old enough or rare enough for museums, surely?
But that’s exactly why these places are so interesting. The exhibits aren’t dusty relics, but close cousins to the technology that rules our world. They reflect ourselves back, too, reminding us we’re not at the end of our technology journey and that this is just another step.
There’s also something a bit theatrical about these machines because they demand to be touched: without people, they just don’t work. And unlike a fading doll in a glass case, all the important parts of them are oblivious to the passage of time. I don’t know of any other museum where you can experience something so present yet resolutely from another age. It’s comforting and alien, like chatting to your grandparents.
So, the wonderful Jason Fitzpatrick from the Centre for Computing History has a request. They need more funding to set up their space in a way that will do justice to their collection. I run into Jason quite a lot at events for people who are interested in these things. He knows a huge amount and is a great example of how one person with masses of enthusiasm and commitment can make up for dozens who never quite ‘get’ it.
It can be a hard sell. I mean let’s face it, it’s not life or death is it? Maintaining a working history of computers? But it might matter more than you think. Computers are of course everywhere now, but they have each arrived via their own journey. They’ve grown into our world, but they haven’t severed their ties with the past – and neither should we. We are all fortified by our trips back to base.