Old stuff is new again again

I just found out typewriters are cool again. There’s even a documentary called California Typewriter about preserving and using typewriters in contemporary life.

So: Vinyl records, printed books, typewriters. Was I ahead of the curve when I purchased a couple of reel-to-reel tape recorders at the last picker sale? Are people escaping the digital, interwebbed world in favor of mechanical reproduction and analog? Clock faces, not readouts? Does it turn out, after all, that time makes more sense as something that constantly sweeps in a circle rather than as a set of blinking numbers?

We own (but rarely use) a 1950s-era vacuum tube radio and turntable console — it’s a lovely piece of furniture — but when we moved it from one side of the living room to another the other day, we recalled on advantage of digital tech: the old stuff is very, very, very heavy in comparison. 

The new stuff is definitely more convenient — all the music in the palm of your hand instead of a wall of LPs. But the LP has some heft to it; it’s substantial — it’s not a birdsong streaming from afar, it’s a physical manifestation, with measurable weight, and a box of them will lift only with a little effort. It’s harder to envision something as a physical product when it’s miniaturized and nearly weightless. 

Conversely, the weightlessness of music is part of its beauty. I never thought to consider a piano is a 500-pound instrument until I was on the cusp of buying one and bringing it home. It was hard to visualize, because a melody doesn’t weigh an ounce.

Is it merely a sign of my advancing age that I call back to the technology of my youth? Or is there lasting value in the old methods, the ancient electronics and machines? A 1957 Chevrolet is a magnificent machine, but only if you never mind its miles per gallon, the planned obsolescence, no foldback seats, no air conditioning … Those cars had only five figures on the odometer, because reaching 100,000 miles was improbable and 200,000 almost unheard of.

My dream car would be a Studebaker Golden Hawk on the outside, built with modern materials and technology on the inside. Now that I say that, newly minted vinyl albums seem to be crafted with more care now that they’re not manufactured by the million. Perhaps there’s something to be said for using the new methods to advance old tech.

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