Confessions of a tech nerd: Why I buy vintage
If I told you I own 14 laptops and seven desktop computers, you might conceivably be impressed. If I confess that most of them were made last century, you would probably be less so. If I went on to disclose that I bought them only recently – that is, they’re not just former buys that I’ve hung onto because they’ve since been superseded, but instead are machines that I sought out and paid good money for – you might feel the need to extricate yourself from this conversation altogether.
However, all this vintage tech – or “obsolete Mac crap”, as my wife affectionately calls it – fulfils an important function in my life: it makes me happy.
I’m willing to bet one (and just one, mind you) of my beloved Macintosh Classic IIs that, like me, you and your family couldn’t afford to buy the computers, cameras, printers and other gadgets that you desired as a kid, because who could? This was expensive stuff, and when you look at the price lists for early laser printers and megabyte-grade hard disks today, you wonder who could ever have afforded this stuff.
Therein lies the key to understanding why my dining-room table is currently dominated by the looming bulk of a 21in CRT Apple Studio Display – and it’s this: I can afford it all now.
Moore’s law is unsentimental and unforgiving; I just stopped myself bidding on an eBay auction that offered 15 Power Mac G5s for 99p. Sure, a G5 sucks up vastly more power and takes up far more space than a Raspberry Pi – and both are probably about as useful as each other – but back in the day a G5 would have cost a whopping £1,549-plus. And that day wasn’t all that long ago.
That 21in Apple Studio Display? A tenner – as opposed to $1,499 in 1999. The elegant iMac G4 sitting beside me as I type – with its iconic “Anglepoise” design that was Apple’s high water mark for ergonomics – fifty quid, from just down the road. Immaculate.
The unattainably expensive Amstrad NC200, the model up from the NC100 for which I saved up for and on which I wrote many a secondary-school essay? Pennies.
I wanted all this kit when I was a boy, not only because of what I could do with it but because of the glamorous, desirable, enigmatic designs that bore straight through my eyes and lodged themselves into my hindbrain. They were exciting, and full of promise – and there was nothing I could do except yearn for them and fruitlessly pester my parents.
Now in my thirties, though, I can own them – and because they’re essentially (if not actually) useless, I can pick them up for pocket change. And it isn’t only about finally scratching that itch and fulfilling my boyhood fantasies – some of which were dispensed with some years earlier – but about the sheer joy and delight of surrounding myself with these perennially beautiful objects.
I get to admire them, play with them, discover now what I couldn’t afford to discover back then: how they work, how they feel under my fingers, and how they’re finished and detailed. I get to observe the broader context of the march of technology: to remind myself of the difference in quality of the picture on a flat-screen monitor having only used smeary, bulging CRTs before it; to remember little hacks and tricks we all knew and used daily that have since passed.
While I don’t often use these old machines, I’m comforted by having them in my life. It’s an unconventional form of respect; I’m saying that while the rest of the world may have deemed you obsolete, I still think you look as wonderful and fascinating and beguiling as when I first saw you as a kid, and I want to treasure you.
Why do I buy vintage tech? Because I couldn’t when it wasn’t.