The Computer Tours Experiment
I spent a year of my life screen-bound during the pandemic. In lieu of physical proximity, I found myself squinting at the digital interiors of others—Zoom backgrounds, bookmark toolbars, open tabs, notifications, desktop wallpaper. Then when it was my turn to screen-share, I became overwhelmed with a self-conscious horror about how others might perceive my digital self; it was like they were reading my diary and looking inside my home at the same time.
Everyone is entitled to privacy, secrets, and intellectual solitude; and there are a multitude of deeply valid reasons that someone might need to shield their digital space. However, as I began to question my own reasons for automatically reaching for a blanket of privacy, I realized that my reasons were instinctive rather than rational. What would happen if I embraced sharing this part of myself? By lingering in these moments of shared digital intimacy, could it be possible to locate more of the humanity within data and information systems? To think about our emotional connections to digital material? To reckon with the precarity of digital preservation?
In this interview series, Computer Tours, contemporary artists and scholars guide us through their individual computing spaces in an attempt to document our current—and ever-fleeting—thoughts and habits surrounding archival preservation. Where does the artistic impulse collide with technical and logistical constraints? Where does the fingertip end and algorithm begin? Because so many of our archives are dictated by products, programs, and corporations, I believe it is necessary to cultivate a more personal language to describe our digital practices. These brief tours are an attempt to personalize our digital lives.
I begin the interview series with artists and writers, the kind of people whose work is often archived and studied. I was ready for Computer Tours to be brimming with interviews, slowly accruing patterns and data; but instead, after hours of contact-hunting and emails, I was left with a spreadsheet full of rejections (“This isn’t for me…” “I think you understand why I have to decline…”) and two glorious yeses, notably from people with whom I had a preexisting relationship of trust. I am unspeakably grateful for these interviewees, who have embraced my strange, invasive request with generosity and openness.
As it stands, this project is the archive of an experiment. Maybe these will be the only two precious yeses; maybe these yeses will inspire more. Maybe we’re just pinning down a brief moment in the rapid unfurling of digitality, or maybe all of this will dissolve silently into the bitstreams. At the very least, consider how—or if—you would give a tour of the device on which you’re reading these words.
"Unpacking My Library" (1931) - Walter Benjamin
"Final Destination: Why do the archives of so many great writers end up in Texas?" (2007) - D.T. Max
On Diary (2009) - Philippe Lejeune
"On Excess: Susan Sontag's Born-Digital Archive" (2014) - Jeremy Schmidt & Jacquelyn Ardam
Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014) - Johanna Drucker
"The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All" (2014) - NPR
Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (2016) - Matthew Kirschenbaum
"What's Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities" (2016) Miriam Posner
Listening to Images (2017) Tina Campt
"How Neil Young’s Eccentric Online Home Was Born" (2020) - Morgan Enos
Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics (2021) - Jacob Gaboury