A Fondness for Old Things

In my day job, I work with technology. My desk has two large flat screen monitors, plus my laptop screen. I have a fancy Cisco IP phone that can do all sorts of neat tricks. While writing code, I sometimes listen to music streamed from satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Instead of phone calls, I have video chats. I carry a mobile phone that is often smarter than I am. I am inundated by cables and wires of all shapes and lengths. I am constantly checking to see if this device or that requires charging. All of this technology has creeped up on my in steady increments over the years. Perhaps because I have been part of this explosion of information technology for the better part of 22 years, I have developed a fondness for older, simpler things.

Office Desk

I envy those writers who worked on typewriters. It makes no difference to me whether the typewriter was electric or manual, there is a minimalist quality to the idea of writing on a typewriter. I have written on typewriters, but not since I began to write with the intention of selling what I wrote. I own my grandfather’s Royal QuietComfort Deluxe manual typewriter, and instead of hiding it away as an antique, it sits in our living room, and the kids are free to tap on the keys, and watch the typebars strike the ribbon. Writing used to be noisy.

When I was a kid, we had a telephone mounted to the wall in the kitchen. It’s ring was mechanical. A signal would activate a bell within the phone and produce an unmistakable RING! This sound cannot be reproduced by ring tones on an iPhone today because those rings tones are all digital. The mechanical sound of the bell is unique. My grandparent’s had a rotary phone which took forever to place a call. It seemed like every number I dialed had lots of 8s, 9s, and 0s, and few 1s and 2s. When talking on the phone, you were leashed to the radius of the cord. As I tend to multitask when I am on the phone, only half paying attention to what the person is saying, I think a corded phone that leashed me in place would be a useful feature today to help me focus on the call at hand.

My dad had a pocket calculator that I used to play with as a kid. In high school I had a scientific calculator, but even then I preferred the pocket variety. Our local Target still sells pocket calculators, but I don’t know if anyone actually buys them. My iPhone has a calculator built into it. What’s more, I can simply say, “Hey Siri, what’s 40 times 52?” and she will respond, “It’s 2,080.”

Music is digitally remastered today, but I sometimes miss the sound of records playing on a turntable, with all of the hisses and pops that went along with it. I listened to the Grease soundtrack over and over again on a turntable. I also listened to Spider-Man adventures on 45s. I miss the sounds of records. I noticed recently that Barnes & Noble carries records. These aren’t old used albums, but newly made “retro” albums. I wonder how they sound.

And what I wouldn’t give for the elegance and comfort of a DC-3 over a 737-900. It might have taken longer to get somewhere, but you went in style. First class today could not approach tourist class on a DC-3.

I feel like an old man, complaining how “back in my day…” But many of the old things I am fond of are things from long before my day. They are things I read about in memoirs and history books, or experienced second-hand, through the stories my grandfather told me. The past always seems simpler. Perhaps my fondness isn’t for old things after all, but for simpler times.

I suppose many people yearn for simpler times. Even the people who lived in simpler times probably sighed, and dreamed of the simpler times of their parents or grandparents.


  1. Could not agree more Jamie! This is why I love WriteMonkey which is a minimalist/distraction-free text editor that has a “typing sounds” feature. I use the typewriter sound and I love it. I feel like it helps me develop a cadence and rhythm to my writing. I also have the ring tone on my phone set to an old school ringer. It’s a little shocking when it goes off, and it clearly announces, “Yes, I’m old school!”

    You might be interested in a documentary called “DSKNECTD”. As the title implies, it’s about how technology has impacted our lives. I found it on Hulu, but I imagine it’s available on other streaming services.

    I have to know… Did you stage your desk for that picture, or is it always that tidy? 😉

    1. Dave, the desk was not staged. I am mostly paperless, especially at the office. My coworkers know this and email stuff instead of printing things out. If I am seen with paper in the office, I get a lot of razzing. One side-effect is that my desk is usually clutter-free.


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