Digital life

Aug 04 2014, 00:53 IST
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SummaryTechnology can allow us to investigate the intellectual evolution of anyone, including a celebrated writer.

Today, social media is exposing more of ourselves than ever before, from Facebook to Instagram, tweets and blogs. Technology is an irresistible force and most of us get caught up in its swirl without quite being aware of the consequences. Take Salman Rushdie. We would all like to know his thoughts and views as he wrote on his computer. It turns out we can, sort of. A recent New Yorker piece talks about the Rushdie archives which were acquired by the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University. The collection included papers and letters but what most people missed was the real treasure—digital materials, including Rushdie’s personal computers, one desktop and three laptops, as well as a hard drive.

According to the article, the oldest computer in Rushdie’s collection is a Macintosh Performa. The library prohibits visitors from turning it on and searching through the files, but there is, as it turns out, a way to make a visitor feel as if they were looking through it. The Rushdie Born-Digital Archives Working Group, a team of software engineers, librarians, and archivists at Emory University combined their talents to build an “emulator” which allow visitors to get a glimpse of what was on Rushdie’s mind when he worked on his Mac. Rushdie’s digital archive, in its old Mac setting, contains the playbook of his life: bank statements, newspaper articles, drafts of stories, at least one screenplay, and folders called “Names For New Child”, as well as a “Games” folder, which allows you to see what Rushdie was playing while working under the death threat. This trove of data, produced by one man, could allow scholars to investigate the intellectual evolution of a celebrated writer and how his life was affected by changes, technological, physical and mental.

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