I really enjoy both the visual and tactile elements of old computer terminals from the 1970s and 1980s. While the technology that we interact with now has digital representations of buttons, switches, and knobs, there is something that is enjoyable about the tactile feel and sound of physical buttons from early computers. When brainstorming what I wanted to do for my project, I found my old bin of broken electronics, including a broken mechanical keyboard, some old Arduino components and a worn out Xbox controller. This inspired me to want to create an interactive piece, utilizing the old switches and knobs that I can find.
HP 9845c, CREDIT: www.hpmuseum.net
There are several key aesthetic features of these early personal computers. They have monochromatic crt displays, often with green or blue backlighting. There is also a text based interface with a characteristic digital font. The cases are generally plastic with off-white and beige tones, mixed with darker accents, they also have large vent grates for cooling. The keys are large and chunky, with typography that is simple and bold. Auditorily, there is also the distinct whir of fans and a loud, “clacky” keyboard.
Below are some examples of early personal computers from the 1970s and 80s:
1971 Kenbak 1, CREDIT: abelimray150.com
DEC VT100, CREDIT: en.wikipedia.org
I have some old glass panes that I would repurpose to make a screen, and I would also like to repurpose the switches in the keyboard due to their satisfying tactile feel , as well as the font style on the switches. I could also use the analog sticks on the Xbox controller. One idea that I have for the lights is using the R, G, and B keys to control an LED to produce different colors on the “display”. I could also use the numpad, where pressing different values could light up LEDS corresponding to the binary representation of the number. At this point, I’m not 100% sure how literally I want to interpret the 1970s/1980s computer aesthetic. Meaning I could just create the piece to be a small replica of an old terminal, or I could be a bit more abstract/artistic while still sticking to the distinct style that these old machines have.