|A CARBURETOR. Cars don't have|
carbs anymore, but lawnmowers do.
Not until carburetors have become
completely obsolete will I love them.
Me, I'm a Late Adopter. You won't find me camped outside the Apple store the night before a release date. On the spectrum between early adopters, who are always the first to snap up new technology, and Luddites who would rather smash it than buy it, I am somewhere in between. You can have tomorrow's technology, I want yesterday's. Or better yet, yesteryear's.
I got my 1945 Leica IIIc camera in 1965, my 1946 Hallicrafters SX-25 shortwave receiver in 1966, and my 1956 Buick Super in 1970. All three were gifts from my father, but I continued in the same vein, with Ann's kind encouragement, culminating with a 1913 Chandler & Price 10 x 15 printing press, acquired in 1984. We also harbor an Ivers & Pond upright piano built in the late 19th century and fully restored for the 21st.*
One reason to be a late adopter is that it's cheaper, anywhere from 25% during the clearance sale down to half price on eBay. Or even better, a prematurely jaded early adopter gives you a superseded model for free because it is so last week and he wouldn't be caught dead.
True, a few categories of old things become more expensive rather than cheaper with age, and in a future post I will tell all I know about the charms of rare books, the darker side of rare coins, and other variations of tulip bulb madness. But old technology usually holds little allure for collectors. Bulky, heavy, inconvenient objects like printing presses and parlor pianos typically change hands on the basis of "Get this damn thing out of my garage and it's yours."
Another reason to prefer older tech to new is that, at least until recently, older equipment can be repaired. Its parts are discrete and visible. Before the extreme miniaturization into silicon chips of even the most complex gadgets. it was possible to take things apart, discover what had failed, and replace it. Parts may be hard to find, but the satisfaction is great when it works.
The repairability of old machines, however, is not guaranteed, and there can be a great deal of self-delusion about it, verging on compulsive hoarding disorder, which has recently become the subject of not one but two popular and horrifying reality shows. Ham radio hobbyists notoriously keep "junk boxes" because you never know when some tube or capacitor might be just what you need to fix something else. But junk boxes all too easily can became junk basements, junk garages and junk barns, and well, a junked-up life.
Why do we do it? "It is the libidinization of stuff," Cambridge psychologist Lucia Stone told me, adding that it is far more common in men, and she ought to have known. Her husband, Fred Stone, was a magnificent acquisitor of nearly everything, including wood and lead printing type, vintage glass bottles, old buttons, and World War II airplane parts. Fred was the kind of guy who gave materialism a good name. The type that overflowed the basement was stored in a makeshift shed Fred lovingly built in his backyard from military surplus magnesium aircraft frames.
I wish I had been there, standing slightly upwind from the plume of fragrant and poisonous fumes, the day that shed caught on fire.
But I digress, yes I do, digression upon digression, and I intend to continue. Stay tuned.
*The piano was restored by Emily and Ed Hilbert of New Haven, Vermont. We schlepped it to California, where a piano tuner tried to buy it from us, and then hauled it back to Middlebury where it may be viewed by appointment.
**Fred Stone's collection of 19th and early 20th century wood type ("Take it all! Just take it!") went from his basement in Cambridge to mine in Somerville, then to our next basement in Waterville, Maine, and finally to the Art Department at Smith College, where we hope to visit it someday soon.