In the heart of civilization lie places abandoned. For whatever reason, people retreat from these spaces entirely, leaving behind unintentional time capsules filled with objects and equipment from another era, including computers.
In recent years, a risky hobby called "urban exploration" has gained momentum on the internet. Urban explorers risk life, limb, and imprisonment to document derelict buildings and urban decay. They are guided by a code of ethics not to disturb what they find, as illustrated by their main credo: "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints."
In the gallery below, we'll uncover the hidden and often eerie world of abandoned computers in 12 photographs that remind us both of our own propensity for technological excess and of the seemingly inexorable force of tech obsolescence that has overtaken our civilization at a breakneck pace.
Before we begin, a strong disclaimer: Urban exploration is extremely dangerous and usually illegal, so please do not try it yourself.
(This story was first published on March 13, 2011.)
School Computer Lab
While exploring the abandoned remains of Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana, photographer Ken Fager stumbled across the school's computer lab. There, among piles of generic PCs, he found a few Apple II units. Years of vandalism took their toll on the (circa 1987) Platinum IIe seen here, but oddly, the Imagewriter II printer remains unscathed. Those printers were built like tanks.
(Photo: Ken Fager)
Moss On Board
The Earth wastes no time reclaiming what is hers, even if it's in the shape of an electronic printed circuit board. Avid hiker Eric Koppel discovered this striking display of nature overtaking technology while exploring near Paterson, New Jersey, in 2006.
(Photo: Eric Koppel)
Time has not been kind to the buckling desk beneath this monstrous early-1980s computer terminal, which was likely used as part of an office-wide mainframe computer system. Despite the years of decay, the machine looks as if would spring back to life if given the chance. A moldy paper ledger, perhaps once used to stock the computer with data, still sits atop the terminal, awaiting its appointment with software that has long since faded away.
(Photo: Bill Anderson)
A Tangled Web of iMacs
In the bowels of an abandoned Niagara Falls fire station, urban explorer Phrenzee stumbled upon this collection of Apple iMacs, which appear as if they've been victims of a giant computer-eating spider. Only 10 years ago, computers such as these would have been welcomed with open arms onto the desktops of Macintosh fans everywhere. Now they sit abandoned and unwanted, proving that the march of technological progress holds no favorites.
Urban explorers often encounter senseless acts of vandalism committed long before they arrived to peacefully explore a scene. These two PC monitors, found in an abandoned home for boys, may be cursed to forever sit among shards of their own broken picture tubes. Their only respite could be the arrival of the wrecking ball.
(Photo: Tiffany Bailey)
While exploring the remains of derelict buildings, it's not uncommon to find ancient computer backup media among the computers themselves. On the left, we see removable hard disk platters, which were once used in an ICL ME29 computer system. Spools of 1/2-inch magnetic tape (upper right) lie forgotten, still containing backups dated to 1984. Below that we see an 8-inch floppy disk once used for DBase II, a popular database application from the early 1980s.
Could we still read the data today? Possibly, although software stored on magnetic media fades over time.
[Photos: TranKmasT (left), Hazel Whorley (upper right), Alex Luyckx (lower right)]
This trashed circa-1981 IBM PC monitor and matching keyboard have definitely seen better days, but they make for a beautiful image when photographed by explorer Tommaso Coerini in Italy.
(Photo: Tommaso Coerini)
During the heyday of the Apple II computer line, AppleWorks was the premier productivity software suite. Containing integrated word processor, spreadsheet, and database applications in one package, it was the 1980's equivalent to Microsoft Office. Photographer Chris Luckhardt found this AppleWorks box sitting among trash and rubble in an abandoned Rochester, New York, office complex.
(Photo: Chris Luckhardt)
The Blue Beast
You never know what you'll find in an old building. Chris Folsom discovered this rather large 1970's-era Bell System mainframe and matching widescreen text terminal in Forest Haven, Maryland.
(Photo: Chris Folsom)
Many folks have a room in their house that ends up as a dumping ground for unorganized stuff. The owner of this 100-year-old bathhouse in Clydebank, Scotland, took that practice to a whole new level: they stuffed a room full of old computers, let it sit for 15 years, and invited a wide variety of animals to defecate all over it. Don't sit in the orange chair.
(Photo: Alan Third)
The clock stopped at 12:40. Somewhere in Toronto, an entire lab of computers sits frozen in time like a modern Pompeii. But no sudden disaster struck this gritty scene, captured with artistic flair by Michael Quigg; just slow and purposeful abandonment.
(Photo: Michael Quigg)
Stripped of its case and its dignity, a rusted PC chassis sits as a monument to electronic pollution on the banks of the Meduxnekeag River in Maine.
With the profound explosion in computer production in the last three decades, e-waste has become a serious problem. This computer, for instance, is potentially leaking toxic chemicals and heavy metals into a natural waterway, which spells bad news for the animals and humans that rely upon it for survival.
One piece of electronic trash can leave a legacy of pollution that lasts decades, if not centuries, which begs the question: are we abandoning computers, or are they abandoning us?
(Photo: Aaron Gullison)
Abandoned Video Games and Arcades