There’s a rather amusing, and quite clever, YouTube channel titled the Museum of Obsolete Objects. Short videos demonstrate the use of objects that, as the name implies, have become obsolete. The dial telephone, instant camera, and abacus are examples. The videos are well-produced, and many of them point out unintentional quirks, such as how a pencil was used to wind up a cassette tape that had been eaten by the player, how a record could be played backwards, and how to cut a second notch in a 5 1/4” floppy to make it double-sided.
They are all obviously created for comical amusement, but it has me thinking about a minor concern that has bothered me for some time. Our technology is advancing at a very fast rate, which means things are also obsolescing at a very fast rate—fast enough that we lose things before we care enough about them to save them. The film industry has done a fair job of keeping movies available for viewing. I can sit down and watch old black and white films on DVD or even digitally. The same goes for music. But what about computer games. The vast majority of the games I own are not playable on any device I have access to, yet they are as sentimental to me as any movie. A few games have been rereleased for newer platforms, and there are emulators for several more, but what of some of the fantastic explorations from the early days of “multimedia”? All that’s available for Laurie Anderson’s Puppet Motel is a short demo reel on blip.tv. The music from The Residents Freak Show is available on YouTube, but there doesn’t appear to be any video of the actual gameplay. I’m even having difficulty updating the student work I created in Macromedia Director. Then there is software—just plain old user interfaces. Where can an Interaction Designer go today to experience the original Palm OS or a Silicon Graphics machine running IRIX? Aren’t user interfaces historical artifacts that we should be maintaining for future study?