In Alexis Madrigal’s Atlantic article, Future Historians Probably Won’t Understand Our Internet, and That’s Okay, an interesting point that is brought up is that even though we could theoretically store all of the data and software lying around on the internet for posterity’s benefit, there’s no way to “document the experience of using” said software and other digital objects. For older operating systems, we lack the hardware to run them (unless your dad keeps old computers in the basement), and for systems such as social media websites, no one but the company perhaps retain the original code that determines the functioning of the application. That doesn’t even consider the cultural and social circumstances around which much content is created, and so only those with context will get the full ‘experience’ anyhow.
Perhaps that’s why we get such a kick out of being able to say, “I was around when cassette tapes were a thing,” or “My first phone was a Motorola Razr.” Sure, anyone now can appreciate the analog peculiarities of a record player, but unless someone was part of the time period in which that technology meant something significant to society, there’s no context to invoke a certain type of nostalgia that is associated with having aged with and moved on from a technology. The exponential rate at which we are developing new technology makes every passing lived experience even more special, infusing those who had gone through it a pride in saying, “You Had to Be There.”
I find the cyberpunk genre, which Blendo Games’ Quadrilateral Cowboy (QC) embodies, quite interesting because it exists in a world in which the rate of technology’s development is even faster than where we are at right now but at the same time, even old technologies remain very much relevant – retro technology in a futuristic context.
Through embracing the clunkiness of 1980’s punk (the characters are blocky for crying out loud), the player can experience a certain thrill associated with completing heist missions with old-school equipment. Although nostalgia is generated just from the usage of ‘retro’ technology in the game-world, both the culture within the game and that of the player work together to create a new experience that isn’t exactly, but appeals to, the “you had to be there” sentiment.
Even in the game’s narrative is instilled a sense of friendship and family, our character being part of a three-woman heist crew.
Only they have the experience of practicing and mapping out heists through a simulator (which we stole on our first mission), and it helps that for some reason, high-risk criminal activity tends to bring people close together. I believe that it is this particular ethos of an underground, basement-based team towards which QC was aiming – not only does it make for an interesting story, but it captures a culture of the past without resorting to the tired tropes of what we think of the 80’s. So is it really that important that we keep a carbon copy of all of our data and hardware? In the end, technology is only part of a representation of ourselves, and if I could only take with me my tech or my friends and family, I think I’d choose the latter.