Poetic Computers



Last week I was looking back through some photos on my phone from earlier this year and I came across a visit I made to the Home Computer Museum in the south of the Netherlands. The museum is a gem for anyone who likes to look at funny computers or has any interest in computer history. Its collection stretches from the 1960s until current day, it's got a replica of the Apple 2 and some of the first programmes made when a programme meant physically attaching cables to different places in small chessboard sized box. I went there because I like computers but also because I wanted to see some funny looking machines made by people whose name's aren't Steve or Bill.

I had a great time there. Not only were there computers of all shapes and sizes, they were all open to play on. The weird looking keyboards and the clunky mouses (mice?) were fantastic to touch and feel. It felt like I was going back in history with each click and button push, and I found a real potentials for other realitys. What if the Pear computer had become extremely successful rather than the Apple? What if the laptop wasn't a foldable item and instead was something that connected together like a jigsaw puzzle.

On the train earlier today I was listening to a podcast that interviewed Jenny Odell about Time. The host of the podcast asked Odell to briefly describe the two books she had written and she started by describing how she started writing How to do Nothing whilst she was teaching art to college students. The ideas were forming whilst she was in a university where it was a struggle to give value to things that didn't have a black and white, obvious value to them which was basically anything in the humanities or things like art and beauty.

It made me think about an interview I had recently where the interviewer asked me to describe what I meant by the poetics of computers. I remember stumbling a bit with my answer but eventually saying something along the lines of that when I thought about the general concept of computers I thought about tools of efficiency and productivity. A tool that could do the menial tasks of a person but at a much greater pace. However, when I thought about computers in that way it didn't feel right. It flattened so many emotions and experiences that have happened whilst on a computer or have been facilitated by a computer. And that didn't feel good, it felt like something was being taken away.

The crushes, break-ups, and friendships that formed all online weren't just the outcome of some tool. And beyond the social things that the computer facilitated, the feeling I got when creating my first website, from writing code that actually does something and from interacting with my computer on a more personal level were also feelings that when thought about it as just a tool they lost their meaning.

So poetic computing was a way of reclaiming the importance of those moments, spaces and outcomes that might not have been productive or efficient but were nonetheless of great importance.

It also aligned the computer with something that is often inspiring to many people and artists: nature. If I can find the sublime in microchips and SD cards in the same way that I find the sublime in mountains and waterfalls, I begin to look at my computer not as a tool but as a landscape. And when I look at it as a landscape it feels good because I feel like I'm knowing it in the same way I might know a park when I go for a walk in it.

If poetic computing is like a walk in the park, then I'm happy to keep walking.

Written during the first session of (b)logging at noon in Rotterdam with Emma, Joel, Tiana and Elliot.