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The most valuable part of Living Computers can’t be sold at auction

Kurt Schlosser, GeekWire:

Living Computers Museum + Labs, the Seattle institution created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as a hands-on showcase for rare computing technology and interactive displays, will not reopen, more than four years after closing just ahead of the pandemic.

[…] The estate also announced Tuesday that some key pieces from Allen’s personal collection of computer artifacts, displayed over the years at Living Computers, will be auctioned by Christie’s as part of a broader sale of various Allen items later this year.

As directed by Allen’s wishes, proceeds from the sale of any items will go to charitable causes.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the written rule of Allen’s estate was to liquidate everything for maximum value and donate the proceeds to charity. If so, what a terribly short-sighted decision.

An old computer sitting lifeless in someone’s collection, or even a museum gallery, isn’t doing anyone any good. An old computer you can use in the museum gallery teaches so much more. I’d like to believe Allen knew this, which I’d like to believe is why he started this museum in the first place, and built up a staff of archivists and engineers who brought so many machines to life and made them accessible to anyone who wanted to learn about them, even over the internet.

Maybe that wasn’t his point; when you went to the museum, you could tell Allen was showing off a bit, but every story and every collection has a little bit of bias. Even then, anyone could see the value is not in the machines themselves, but the totality of the collection and how much of it was alive, waiting for user input at any moment. Allen’s estate — whether through his short-sightedness or not — has flushed all that down the drain; the decision that the museum must liquidated for charity is, somehow, the least charitable way for it to go.

A billionaire destroying so much work done by others is nothing new, but it’s still shocking to see their institutions crumble under their own hand.

A source close to Living Computers told GeekWire that over the past four years of closure, two full-time staff members have kept machines up and running.

Here’s hoping that these machines end up somewhere where they’ll be loved. If you hear anything, let me know… I’d love to be able to pay them a visit once more.

(And if you want to visit somewhere else keeping old systems alive, might I suggest visiting the Connections Museum in Georgetown?)