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Ephemeral Digital Media: Amiga Dreams

Curator: Kyle Silfer

As digital works become the dominant expressions of our culture, it’s time to worry about their longevity. The headlong rush to embrace the latest tech has already left us with a mountain of orphaned media: Laserdiscs, 8-track tapes, and even cassettes are on their way to obsolescence—soon unreadable except by enthusiasts who have hoarded playback devices against the dying of the light. The ugly secret of the computer age is that digital media is just as susceptible to this junkyard procession.

Hypercard, for instance, a widely-used Macintosh development environment, is not supported in the new MacOS X, thus eliminating almost 20 years of user-created software from mainstream access. The clay tablets and papyrus of the ancient world had far more persistence. If William Shakespeare had relied on an Amiga to develop his videogame Romeo and Juliet, we never would have heard of him.

The Amiga, a cleverly-designed PC popular in Europe, died an early death in the late 90s when its parent corporation filed for for bankruptcy. The Amiga community was known for its resourcefulness in exploiting the tricky hardware of its chosen platform, and so generated a rich culture of computer animation, music and videogames, as well as pre-web hypertext magazines—diskmags—that were propagated on humble floppy disks. This vast library of software and art is now endangered. While the data is as safe as it can be from what William Gibson termed “bitrot”, mirrored in Internet archives, format incompatibility is the real threat.

A selection of Amiga software will be available in the Pixels Room, running via emulation on modern PCs. One could (and should) debate the “artistic merit” of these works, but if creators embrace new technology for expression—as they are certainly being encouraged to do—they must keep an eye on the trailing edge. The Amiga is only one example. Don’t think this won’t happen again. [KS]

[ PIXELS 2002 ]





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Ephemeral Digital Media: Amiga Dreams


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