Anglia Ruskin University
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Attribute clash: an archaeology of the ZX Spectrum

posted on 2023-08-30, 19:13 authored by Alexander Cline
This thesis investigates the Sinclair Research ZX Spectrum, an early microcomputer released in 1982. The system belongs to the first accessible generation of home computers in the United Kingdom and had a lasting influence on the development of digital culture there. At the same time, it has had a global impact, leading to the embrace of computing in several different contexts. Despite its rapid obsolescence in the face of technological change, it has remained a powerful object. A community organised conference in 2012 brought together enthusiasts and students of technical history. In Cambridge, a museum opened in 2013 has progressed both preservation and community engagement. In London, a gallery devoted to the Information Age opened in 2014, putting on display objects forgotten by many for three decades. At the same time, several new subdisciplines began to develop. Platform studies has attempted to blend technical and cultural research, creating a synthetic approach. Media archaeology has proposed unconventional ways of investigating media and their archives. Contemporary archaeology has engaged with the contemporary world, looking at our relationship with objects and technologies through techniques once reserved for classical civilizations. This thesis has been as much an attempt to bring these approaches together as to study the ZX Spectrum itself. Further, other approaches are intertwined. Important concepts for this study have included convergence and diffusion. In the first, different components and infrastructures are brought together, clashing with one another, collaborating only in a temperamental fashion. In the second, artefacts cross spatial, temporal, and cultural borders, emerging in strange places and situations. Emergence and variation involve the creation of complex systems from simple fragments. A single object was chosen in the hopes of isolating it for discrete and thorough analysis. The ZX Spectrum, however, resisted simplification. Instead, it has refracted analysis in a range of different directions. This thesis is similar; like the Spectrum, it has provided a means to train an experimental creativity for a digital world.



Anglia Ruskin University

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