As part of the GO::DH Minimal Computing Working Group, I’ve been researching the various uses and implications of “minimal computing.” What does it mean? According to whom? For whom? Under what assumptions? I wrote a thought piece on the topic, but below is the tl;dr version of my observations.

Minimal computing appears to prompt some fundamental questions about choice and necessity: “What do we need?” (see Gil) “What don’t we need?” “What do we want?” “What don’t we want?”

The definitions/perspectives below point to some interesting overlaps and tensions between the multiple aims (stated or not) of minimal computing. For now, tho, I’m listing them here without synthesis, analysis, or any assumption that the list is complete.

Minimal Design: Reduce the need to update/modify the structure or layout of a project in order to focus on content production and to increase the likelihood of project persistence

Minimalist Design: Reduce the use of features to highlight a project’s fundamental components across platforms/devices

Minimal WYSIWYG: Reduce the use of What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) interfaces to decrease resource demands, increase awareness of programming and markup processes, and also increase individual focus on writing

Minimal Dependencies: Reduce reliance on scripts, databases, libraries, versions, and software to decrease resource demands and processing time

Minimal Maintenance: Reduce dependencies and the use of features to decrease the labor of updating, moderating, and stewarding a project over time

Maximum Ephemerality: Reduce an impulse to inscribe, measure, or visualize with technologies in order to increase the likelihood of experimentation and collective participation

Minimal Use: Reduce the use of natural resources and technologies (especially hardware, middleware, and peripherals) to decrease environmental effects and energy consumption

Minimal Consumption: Reduce arguments premised on technological progress, the early adoption/implementation of technologies, and the treatment of computing as work (to create products) in order to increase deliberation, thoroughness of research, and the likelihood of informed decisions

Minimal Obsolescence: Reduce turnover of technologies, standards, and formats to increase reuse and decrease waste/discards

Minimal Presence: Reduce the use of laptops, desktops, and other computers in order to prototype with low-tech materials (clay, paper, pencils), decrease reliance on automation, and increase comparative studies (across digital and analog media)

Minimal Visibility: Reduce the perceived intervention of technologies to facilitate interaction as well as the production/extraction of data from those interactions/behaviors (Internet of Things)

Maximum Access: Reduce the use of proprietary technologies and paywalls to increase access to content, data, and/or source files

Maximum Accessibility: Through shared guidelines and frequent user testing, reduce the use of features that are difficult to see, read, hear, translate, use, navigate, process, store, or find toward access by everyone and to also increase the overall quality and consistency of projects

Maximum Justice: Reduce the use of technological, cultural, social, and economic barriers to increase entry, access, participation, and self-representation in computing and to also build systems/projects premised on social justice and difference, not white supremacy and settler colonialism

Minimal Learning Curve: Reduce the experience assumed or required to participate in computing and technological work

Maximum Negotiation: Reduce the rigidity of form, composition, and use to increase the personalization, adaptability, responsiveness, and/or robustness of technologies

Minimal Internet: Reduce reliance on the internet for communication, exchange, and participation to account for or privilege local conditions

Minimal Connectivity: Reduce or eliminate the default assumption that internet access is evenly distributed in order to account for material and social conditions of communications and exchange

Minimal Surveillance: Reduce the use of sensors, computer vision, cookies, and other tracking mechanisms to increase privacy and security and to decrease harassment and hacks

Minimal Vulnerabilities: Reduce attack vectors (e.g., cross-site scripting, SQL injections, and directory traversals) of projects to decrease likelihood of hacks and harassment

Minimal Externals: Reduce dependency on external groups or mechanisms to produce, exchange, and circulate your own projects and content

Minimal Automation: Reduce use of mechanisms that (magically) turn input into output in order to increase awareness of how this becomes that or how algorithms/tools make decisions

Minimal Space: Reduce the physical space dedicated to hardware and workstations to increase the flexible use, variability, and modularity of that space

Maximum Mobility: Reduce dependency on fixed technologies (e.g., desktops plugged into walls) to increase movement, performance, and participation across events and settings

Minimal Technical Language: Reduce the use of specialized language to increase participation and engagement with shared technocultural problems


Featured image includes the commands for the BF esolang. This page was created on 3 October 2016 and updated on 11 May 2021.