Why old computer handbooks?

If you’ve followed the blog a bit, you’ll have seen that I mostly just read old computer handbooks and write about them. Not systematically – although I do have a few more conventional publications too – but sort of just whatever comes to mind as I read them. Mostly it’s stuff from the 1960s and 1970s, really out-of-date things.

I don’t really do it for a DIY thing, although a bit of the ‘coding’ I’ve done (if you even want to call it that) has a certain DIY appeal. (Mostly because I’m an amateur and don’t really have the energy to pursue this further.) I love DIY, don’t get me wrong, and if I could rebuild old computers I totally would.

The real fascination that old computer handbooks have for me, though, is pretty close to the bios theoretikos, the life of contemplation I talked about two weeks ago. I read them for a kind of pleasure you might call aesthetic. It’s like listening to a song by Autechre… if you think about this stuff the right way, it almost feels as though you lose a little bit of your humanity, and feel just a little more like a being that doesn’t know all the wants and needs and aches and pains that humans feels. You feel a bit calmer, a bit more abstract, a bit less lost, a bit less conflicted. I think thinking of yourself as a little less human – a little more posthuman – a little more machinic – goes a long way to a life of genuine contemplation. Losing oneself is, after all, a very classical step towards wisdom.

Maybe that’s what our machinic brethren have to say – if we’d let them speak for themselves?

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