Grandad’s Virtual PC

One of the tongue-in-cheek ideas I’ve presented a few times when talking about Technology Heirlooms is the idea that the way in which virtual things are arranged may carry as much meaning, sentimentally, as the things themselves. This isn’t unlike a place, and the arrangement of things in it (think “Grandad’s shed/workshop”) being a strong source for reminiscing, more so than any individual tool in it.

I’ve shown the following thumbnail sketch to illustrate this. The scenario for this sketch is that you inherit a PC from a relative who has passed away. Rather than simply sorting through, deleting and keeping the content, you start to host their PC on your own desktop as a virtual copy. The icon lives on your machine as a reminder of them, and their PC becomes a place that is kept intact, and that you can “visit” whenever you want. This presupposes that the choices that your relative made in the arrangement of their digital stuff has value in and of itself – that the desktop wallpaper they used or the way they set up their folders tells you something about them and their life.


Although I’ve always thought this idea was a little speculative, and used it primarily to make a point, I came across the Salmon Rushdie Archives at Emory University (vie New York Times), which really describes something similar. This is an academic resource, held at the University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, that, in addition to storing the more traditional paper based manuscripts and notebooks, virtually hosts 4 of the Apple computers used by Rushdie to author his books. The implication of the following video is that there’s real value in seeing that Rushdie, for example, kept copious notes using the Mac’s Sticky Notes application, or used Eudora for e-mail. I like the way that the narrator describes “peeking into Rushdie’s wastebasket”, which makes it sound as socially unacceptable as dumpster diving.