Cracked Macs, or a Cautionary Tale about Digital Preservation

Discovery of a cracked Mac case
The better of the two broken LCs

Four of the vintage Macs from ELL were destroyed in shipment to the Pathfinders exhibit at the Modern Language Association convention in Chicago last week. The boxes were delivered in perfect shape; however, when I opened up the first one, the LC 575, I noticed a piece of the top was cracked. As I pulled it out of the box and opened the bubble wrap surrounding it, the computer crumbled and splayed on the table. This problem was repeated with the LC 580. The computers were intended to show Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse.

I was crestfallen when the Apple IIe, which looked like it had escaped damage, began to smoke when it was plugged into the power strip. It was, then, I noticed a large chunk of plastic missing from the hard drive. Alas, Malloy’s Uncle Roger was also unable to be exhibited. Finally, the SE, despite the dent in the front, the huge crack running along its side, and the banged up on/off switch and power cord port, still worked. We were able to show Moulthrop’s Victory Garden.

Malloy's station
Malloy’s Uncle Roger displayed at the Pathfinders exhibit

I have to say that the silver lining in what is an otherwise sad story is that the broken computers provided strong testimony to the power of and need for the preservation of electronic literature. These were only four computers destroyed by a freak shipping error, but everyday the computers we need to show the work that constitutes our literary heritage are breaking, falling apart, being destroyed until one day there will not be any left to show this important cultural artifact.  One day all we will be able to “read” of Malloy’s work is the emulated version on the web.  In the meantime, we did set up a nice display of the raw footage from the Pathfinders traversal on an iPad for all three works that were orphaned at the exhibit.

Dene Grigar is Director and Professor of the CMDC Program. She specializes in electronic literature, emerging technologies and cognition, and ephemera.