64 Bits: a trip down www.memory.lane

Dancing Baby, 1996, Autodesk/John Chadwick. Arguably the first ‘viral’, Dancing Baby was originally created to demonstrate Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max software

Across 64 vintage computers, including a Next PC, the 20th anniversary Mac and just about every iMac ever brought out, 64 Bits takes the visitor through some of the most important moments in the history of the web. The first browser, Archie – the first search engine (created by Barbados-born Alan Emtage) – PizzaNet (the first site to allow a customer to order a pizza for home delivery) and word.com (the first online multimedia publication) all working on the tiny, lo-res screens they originally ran on.

An Apple Mac LC displaying PizzaNet, 1994. Developed by SCO for Pizza Hut, PizzaNet was the first ecommerce website and facilitated the first online order and delivery of a pizza – to ‘Phil’ in Santa Cruz. Pepperoni and mushroom with extra cheese
Visitors at the 64 Bits exhibition. 64 seminal moments in the history of the web are displayed on vintage computers from the corresponding year. Visitors can also listen to a dial-up modem tone (shown at rear). Photo: Micha Theiner
Posters of Susan Kare’s Mac icons at 64 Bits. Photo: Micha Theiner
Geisha drawn in 1984 using MacPaint 1.0 by Susan Kare, who designed the Mac’s first icons

But as well as showcasing important technological and commercial developments, 64 Bits is also a treasure trove of digital creativity. Jodi, Daniel Brown, Head, eBoy, Han Hoogerbrugge, Deepend, Digit, Good Technology, Soda, Digit, Lateral, Hi-ReS! – names that, in the mid-to-late 90s, we seemed to be writing about every month in CR (and featuring on our CD-Rom) all have work in the show. It’s wonderful to rediscover gems such as Hi-ReS!’s Requiem for a Dream site, Yoshi Sodeoka’s Sissyfighter game, Daniel Brown’s Noodlebox experiments  or the anarchic madness of jodi.org. This was a period of great experimentation online – a time of freedom, optimism and playfulness. It’s both hugely enjoyable, and very valuable to see it all again here.

Joan Heemskerk and Dick Paesmans’ jodi.org launched in 1995 with an unintelligible screen of ASCII symbols, it looked like it had crashed the browser
Daniel Brown’s Noodlebox website from 1997, an interactive landscape of building blocks, inspired by the computer games of the 1980s

64 Bits is the work of Jim Boulton, currently Digital Director of Aesop Agency, which has supported the show. Bolton was behind one of the UK’s earliest web start-ups, Large Design and also wrote 100 Ideas that Changed the Web. Bolton is also behind the Digital Archeology project “that seeks to document the formative years of digital culture and raise the profile of digital preservation”.

“Many pioneering examples of digital creativity from our recent digital past can no longer be seen. Files have been lost or stored on redundant media. People have passed away. Companies have gone out of business. Stories have been lost,” he says. “64 Bits explores these forgotten roots and offers alternate histories.”

ASCII Cam, by Aesop Ageny/MIke Farrow. Visitors to 64 Bits can transform themselves into ASCII art via ASCII Cam hooked up to a dot matrix printer. Photo: Micha Theiner
A reconstruction at 64 Bits of the Trojan Room Coffee Cam, 1993. The world’s first webcam was created by Cambridge University Computer Laboratory students Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Paul Jardetzky, Daniel Gordan and Martyn Johnson in order to monitor their coffee machine from another room. Photo: Micha Theiner

A key part of the exhibition is an open-door digital media archiving service, supported by the British Library, where artists and designers can bring in obsolete media for the curating team to migrate to a modern format. Where appropriate, the excavated work will be exhibited as part of the exhibition.

To take advantage of this service, any creatives with historic artwork stored on floppy discs, CDs, Zip discs or other super discs, can take them in to 64 Bits, at Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, on Saturday April 8.

64 Bits is open from 12-6pm daily at The Press Centre, Here East, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London E20 3BS, until April 21

CD-Rom artwork by Nick Gentry
Some of Susan Kare’s Apple Mac icons at 64 Bits

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