Why Old Stuff is Cool

antique store

“Paris – Vintage travel gear seller at the marche Dauphine – 5212” by Jorge Royan – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Recently, I’ve been very interested in media. Specifically, media before the Internet age. As someone who grew up with computers and social media, it’s very hard to fathom a world without computers and social media. The idea of a world where you can’t just Google something is mind-blowing. A world where you had to look something up not on the laptop two steps from your bed, but in the library down the street. A world where the only interactions you had with your friends were vis-a-vis.

Because things weren’t digitized or virtual, I somehow imagine this “old world” as being more real.

I’ll illustrate with a few media examples.

Books vs. eBooks

"Egg companions" by Augustus Egg. Public domain.

“Travelling Companions” by Augustus Egg. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m a literary purist. I tell myself that I will never succumb to the ebook phenomenon. And so far (so far), I’ve been successful…

Books have a tactile aspect that ebooks can’t reincarnate. You walk up to your book shelf. You run your fingers over the spines of your collection. You make your decision. You slide out the book (sometimes it gets stuck). You open the book and breathe in its musty papery scent. You fan through the pages with your fingers, noting the weight, feel, and texture of the paper chosen by the publisher.

Whereas you tap a screen and open a PDF and well, yeah…that’s kinda it.

There are so many things that make up a book. Books are not just the words written by an author. There’s the shape of the book: is it hardcover, paperback, big, small, square, rectangular? The smell of paper: is it old and musty, like your grandfather’s attic, or new and crisp, as if still warm from the laser printer it was printed off of? How about the font: is it serif or sans-serif? Or the cover art: is it conceptual artwork or photography, or conceptual photography?

Ebooks, PDFs, .docxs…they’re imposters.

Records vs. MP3s

Phonograph

“Phonograph” by Walker, Harry [photographer]. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons.

Recently, I’ve been really interested in vinyl, and am pondering whether or not to purchase a record player. I like retro music and retro stuff, but of course my practical millenialism made me Google all the pros and cons before settling on a turntable.

Through my research into turntables, vinyl, and people who collect such seemingly useless, bulky, kinda stupid, impractical things, I’ve discovered there’s a real difference between how we listen to music as millennials today and how our parents and grandparents turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.

These days, you hear a song you like on the radio. You stream it on YouTube, or you torrent it from the net. You listen to a bunch of different songs from different artists on the radio or a YouTube playlist or Songza, and a few songs will stick with you, but most likely you won’t listen to more songs from the artist. Not many people actually buy songs nowadays, which makes music seem more expendable, like it’s a less tangible thing that’s just passed around. This guy has a pretty interesting opinion:

I can’t speak about the old days because I wasn’t alive in the old days, but I somehow imagine the experience to be a little different. People bought albums and listened to them from a-side to b-side in the order the artist intended. People got to know the artist by buying full albums and looking at the album artwork in its original, 12-inch length and width. People bought these tangible records at stores, supporting the artist and actually making a financial commitment.

The experience has definitely change. I wouldn’t say it changed for the worse, necessarily. I do like listening freely to all sorts of music in the comfort of my bedroom.The radio is still a great medium for spreading musical awareness and it’s a good thing many artists get exposure by radios, social media, Songza and YouTube. And radios (hence social media?) has existed long before the 21st century.

Social Media vs. Real-life Encounters

Campfire war buddies

“Pancho Villa Expedition – Around the Campfire HD-SN-99-02005” by C. Tucker Beckett. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Social media gives us both losses and benefits. We’re connected to more people by social media. Social media keeps us in touch. We’re less shy with the indirectness of social media, and we’re more likely to share personal things we may not share face-to-face on social media. We’re more direct due to indirectness, but we’re also more…indirect.

Personally, nothing has yet exceeded the experience of sitting down in the dark around a campfire with your closest friends, telling stories, getting philosophical, and goofing off until the early hours of dawn. Being with people in person is such a simple, almost primeval, experience that is profoundly human.

I believe it’s written in our DNA to plunge our hands into the rich, cold earth of our gardens. We’re programmed not to program, but to wrap our limbs around trees to climb them. We yearn to dive head first into the welcoming, raw waters of a lake. Evolution has given us the gift of literacy and media enjoyment, and so we must take our hands out of the dirt sometimes. But who says we have to depart so far from reality?

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7 thoughts on “Why Old Stuff is Cool

  1. I haven’t converted to ebooks yet either. I tried reading The Count of Monte Cristo on my tablet online but I find I’m less likely to go back to it and actually lose my place in the story much easier than with a book. I also like the tactile feeling associated with books and the same goes for music- I still buy CDs 🙂 Sometimes we need to step back, take a breather from social media and connect with nature (I say as I scroll through and type on WordPress 🙂 )

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  2. Pingback: Old stuff is always better. | breakfast with words

  3. Well I wonder if the artsy-type people of the era after records were invented were like “well fuck that, this is definitely by no means REAL, live music is just so much better” and if the same artsy-type people of the era after the printing press was invented were like “well fuck that, this is definitely by no means REAL, oral tradition is just so much better.”

    People will always look backward in face of progress… but at the end of the day, progress always keeps chugging along.

    At any rate, I feel like books/ereaders are in their own leagues. They are similar devices but it feels like comparing a spoon and a fork… while they are used for the same purpose (eating), they are best in different applications (say, soup vs spaghetti), and you can’t really say that one belittles the other.

    Similarly, I would say that social media/face-to-face are in their own leagues as well (think same analogy as above). I also don’t know anyone who only engages in social media interaction and avoids face-to-face interaction. If such a person exists (I guess they do, eh?), then I’m glad that social media gives them a place where they can feel comfortable expressing themselves when they are usually too shy in real life. And I think that anyone who values face-to-face interaction cannot say that social media diminishes these interactions for them in any way. On the flip side, all the people who only engage in face-to-face interaction but avoid social media interaction are just plain annoying (I have to personally update you on all the details of an event just because I can’t invite you to the Facebook event I made).

    And the idea of a world without Google is kinda scary (think China). I think Google is the best thing ever, – knowledge to the masses! A world where you had to go to the library just to figure something out is a world where education was less accessible, imo.

    I don’t think the world of technology is unreal, so to speak. It may seem that way until you get to know more of how it works. And once that happens, it becomes very real, and very exciting. Progress is a very exciting beast, regardless of the demons it sometimes brings. I definitely believe that the world of nature and the world of innovation can coexist peacefully. I myself would never hesitate to dig one hand in the earth while digging the other into technology, and they by no means ever conflict with the existence of the other.

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  4. I think that it’s also human nature to to chase progression and improvement. Once computers were invented it was impossible for humans to not try to take it to the next level, always trying to reach the next cleverest application of it — because pushing the boundaries is also a very human thing to do.

    I agree that old stuff is cool, and lets us glimpse the ingenuity of previous generations which is a different but equally admirable kind of ingenuity from our own.

    New technology keeps society safer. Advances in medicine and engineering wouldn’t be possible without these people pursuing the new. But like everything else, maybe it does come at a price though.

    – Anson 🙂

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  5. Interesting-you and I like old stuff for different reasons. Or at least the topic “old stuff” brings different things to mind. I love old (modern) stuff, ie thrown away items for their story value through tactile roughness, deformities etc. but I have no interest in antiques. Probably because they are usually overpriced. It’s super awesome that it makes you think of how people lived before digital though-I don’t know many people who think of that. I tried super hard in gr 9 to donate my computer to the library so that I could live a non-digital life, but schoolwork and parents meant I had to keep it. I mourn how it’s become too ubiquitous to be a special tool in life-it was good for a few interactions where I was too shy (to show my writing basically) but in all I feel it has made me more shy (ie eventually I stopped sharing and I do not show much more on facebook than I do to a basic stranger because I had never shared that much in real life.)
    I know you probably have beef with my ereader but I swear it was for practical reasons (Ebooks are often free, and it substantially reduces the weight of my backpack while taking transit, as I usually take 10 books) Sitting down in a real seat with a real book, which feels like a rarity, is the real treat.
    I suppose records are one step closer to live music. And music is certainly an experience to savour.
    I’m so surprised you didn’t write about using a pen vs paper. Views??

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    • I don’t hate new stuff. New stuff has its own purpose: it’s more environmentally-friendly, cheaper, more convenient, etc. And I like that I live in the 21st century because I have a choice whether or not to do things the new or old-fashioned way.

      Funny enough, I enjoy typing over writing. I have reasons for this, but that deserves its own post.

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      • there are instances where I like writing better than typing, and where I find it to be more beneficial. I’ve sworn off using my laptop to take class notes for the most part. writing feels more intimate, and I actually have to process what the prof is saying rather than transcribing the lecture. it’s been shown that writing things down helps the encoding new information into long-term memory.

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