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Preserving the Future

Date & Time:
17:00:00 - 18:30:00,
Wednesday 22 January, 2003


Silicon Valley, a small place with few identifiable geologic or geographic features, has achieved a mythical reputation in a very short time. The modern material culture of the Valley may be driven by technology, but it also encompasses architecture, transportation, food, clothing, entertainment, intercultural exchanges, and rituals.

Combining a reporter’s instinct for a good interview with traditional archaeological training, Christine Finn’s most recent book Artifacts: An Archaeologist’s year in Silicon Valley brings the perspectives of the past and the future to the story of Silicon Valley’s present material culture. She traveled the area in 2000, a period when people’s fortunes could change overnight.

In the book she describes a computer’s rapid trajectory from useful tool to machine to be junked to collector’s item. She explores the sense that whatever one has is instantly superseded by the next new thing – and the effect this has on economic and social values. She tells stories from a place where fruit-pickers now recycle silicon chips and where more money can be made babysitting for post-IPO couples than working in a factory. The ways that people are working and adapting, are becoming wealthy or barely getting by, are visible in the cultural landscape of the fifteen cities that make up the area called ‘Silicon Valley’.

In this seminar Dr Finn will argue that the heritage industry has a major role in helping us to understand the extraordinary boom and bust cycle of the past five years in Silicon Valley. The establishment of a major Computer Museum in Silicon Valley, and the increasing numbers of computer collectors – of all ages – shed light on the fascination for ‘vintage’ hardware which represents not just a machine, but a technological narrative. It raises questions of how best to preserve this material, and software.

Analogies can be drawn between the management and presentation of this material and that in a regular museum setting. The speed of transition ‘value’ is an added issue. This seminar will draw on some of the work presented in the book.

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  • Name: Dr Christine Finn
  • Affiliation: Research Associate, Institute of Archaeology, University of
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