Nine times out of ten, when I receive an email link that says "did you know about this?! It looks perfect for your dissertation!" I do indeed already "know about this". As I'm sure many academics can sympathize with, it's a familiarity that comes with the level of specialization--if a piece of documentation is out in the open enough for anyone to find it with a quick google search, chances are I already have, too. But sometimes that self-assured academic attitude gets proven wrong. And it feels amazing to be wrong.
Case in point: a month or so ago, Raiford (my advisor) passed me a link to something he turned up while roaming Atari Age. It wasn't entirely clear to me what I was looking at--was this a newspaper clipping? an article? an essay from a book? The site sourced it to a book called Digital Deli, and like the good cyberscholar that I am, I found a $2 copy on amazon and ordered away.
The book finally arrived and may I just say...wow, just WOW. Digital Deli was compiled by a crew called "The Lunch Group"--essentially, a group of NYC journalists and writers who started meeting in the early 1980s to share food, conversation, and computer chat. Steve Ditlea, primary editor of Digital Deli and author of the introduction, wrote: "The Lunch Group began inauspiciously enough on July 29, 1982, over a Mexican lunch on Manhattan's West 44 Street. Of the quintet of New York journalists, three had used personal computers for more than a month, two actually owned their machines, and one later confessed to having been totally intimidated by the rather simplistic conversation" (xi). But July 1982 was the cusp of the mainstreaming of home computing--it's amazing to imagine these folks gathered around a table with like minds, sharing common interests, intensely aware that "something is brewing", that the culture might shift, and yet just living life and trying to make sense of the world, as we all do.
The title Digital Deli grew from the groups own practice of organizing their meetings around food. The table of contents is offered as a menu: there are "Appetizers", "Soup and Crackers", "Word Salad", "Just Desserts" and a half dozen more bad culinary riffs. It appears that the pieces are all original--written by or commissioned by members of "The Lunch Group". Indeed, many of these were pieces specially commissioned for this collection, as the range of authors far outstrips the original group of early 1980s tech writers. Digital Deli is a verifiable trove of the 1980s Who's Who in computing, gaming and computer journalism, with articles by Steven Levy, Stephen Wozniak, J. Presper Eckert, Ted Nelson, Nolan Bushnell, Marc Blank, Bill Gates, William F. Buckley, Jr., and dozens of other names I'm not even familiar enough with the recognize the importance of. And there is a substantial showing of women authors as well.
What's most phenomenal about Digital Deli, for my purposes, is the content. While there is the obligatory "computing timeline", and other information documenting or commenting upon the mainstream research-military history of the computer, most of this book is on personal computing. And not just technical information--human interest stories, advice columns, top ten lists, humor...topics related to computing include education, music, art, romance, and more. There's an entire piece about how a family spends their day with their computer. It's full of trivia and oddities and offers a remarkable glimpse into how people were effortfully relating to, living with and working on computers. I've include pictures of just 2 of what must be over 100+ pieces here. This book is really a marvel, and a must own for anyone working on the personal computing era.