Out of style or “Retro Chique” ?

“Annual neighborhood garage sale” the sign read on the side of the road. As we whizzed by at 50 miles per hour it was a little hard to read out the final lines of where exactly this event would take place, but I was quick enough to take down the date : Today.  My trusty Nexus smartphone provided me with the correct information and walking directions how to reach this event and I was pleased to know that, not only was it within walking distance, it would also be an ideal way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon. So my slumbering crave to become the next Indiana Jones collector of forgotten cult memorabilia (Read : Old Transformers, GI-Joes or the holy grail : Vintage Star Wars toys) once again proved hard to resist. A couple of hours later, armed with some music, geeky headphones and a camera, I was ready to go shopping.

Being able to hold an event like this on a sunny Sunday afternoon is a blessing for any neighborhood committee and it was nice to see that they got a nice turnout. The wonderful thing about garage sales is that you not only can rummage around old junk, you can also see the people who have owned it. As I spot two sweet young ladies sitting side by side on a comfy lawn chair, my camera snaps up a shot of two discarded Walkmans in their original packaging. In my mind I go back a couple of years and see the adolescent version of these charming lads sporting braces and pressing ‘rewind’ and ‘play’ over and over again, just to hear their favorite Take That song over and over again.

As my efforts to find a Chewbacca action figure in mint conditioning turn out to be a quest for another day, I mentally rummage around my own collection of stuff that sits discarded in my drawers. Old gadgets and forgotten pieces of tech that might just be something I could sell off. As I head home I make the promise to “clean out my closets” and see what I could sprawl out on a blanket along the side of the road.

A couple of hours later, a small line of ‘technological legacy’ sits on my desk. Old usb sticks, discarded 250 gigabyte ATA harddrives, a bunch of cables, an old Beige box, a ton of SD ram and more .. Most of these items have been sitting here for quite some time, the pace of progress to fast for them to keep up as they slide into disuse.  On the side of this little pile sit two more items that somehow stand out. An old Nokia 6310 phone and my very first 30 gigabyte iPod video.  

I roll them around in my hands and together with a sense of familiarity, memories come flooding back. Back to the times when I got this Nokia I had discarded, yet always kept close as a “backup phone” .. To times when I worked as a field engineer in a large industrial plant, and how I used to have this iPod on me for over 10 hours a day playing podcasts. I close my eyes and let my fingers slide over the tactile ring, still being able to operate both devices completely by touch. A privilege lost with modern day smartphones and iPhones.

Before I chuck them on the pile a strange thought crosses my mind :  “Why ? “  Why would I throw out these two gadgets, who, despite their age, have not lost a single shred of their functionality.  Would I still be able to use these devices today.  As for the Nokia 6310 it would be possible. I would be in the possession of a phone that would only be able to have a data communication through the primitive functionality of a infrared dial up modem at a speed that is considered slow even in third world countries. I would have to use the numeric keyboard and T9 text predictions to compose sms messages. I would be unable to access twitter, Facebook, email and the other countless social networks that comprise the main share of my interaction with the outside world. It would be a device where people could reach me when they REALLY URGENTLY needed me : By actually “calling” me. It would be a device that would give me digital solitude while still keeping open that one essential line of communication used in the most dire circumstances : A phone call.   I wonder if I would look “out of date” answering the standard Nokia (monotone) ringtone with a simple “hello”  and actually starting a conversation. Would, planting my phone on the table alongside sweet black squares of magic be considered “outdated’ or “tech-hipster-retro” .. it gives me food for thought and perhaps even the grounds for a little social experiment.

The second device, a white 30 gigabyte iPod video pours fuel on the fire and actually lets me come up with a nice re-implementation of the device. My beloved has just acquired her new set of wheels, A fiat 500, the NCC 1701a of the legendary Fiat 500 line. The car is a tribute to a beautiful design of another time : its ‘Retro Chique”  And somehow the old iPod would fit perfectly. Not only can it be directly accessed through the car’s entertainment system and far outclass my wife’s 8 gig iPhone 4 in storage, It also is safer than the average ‘touchscreen only” device should the need arise to manually operate it.

Instead of trying to angle out glare while trying to push minute icons on the touchscreen while driving, this iPod ‘video’ gives her the ability to be handled by touch only. Play, pause, forward and back.. her eyes can be on the road as the old but trusty jog dial helps her find the right tune.

I punch up an eBay auction and spend 5 dollars on a battery replacement kit for the iPod ( Its battery is utterly and completely dead ) and look forward to installing the ‘renovated’ iPod in her classy car. Here the question of “outdated’ vs “retro” is a non issue. It would fit perfectly and perform all the tasks that would be required in its second lease on life.

And thus I wonder. with the great waves of innovation crashing on the shores of struggling times, how many of our “old gadgets” are actually still functional. How many of them have we discarded because “something new” was on the horizon. How many of them could be considered “retro chique”. With the average norm reaching for “the latest and hottest thing” on the shelves (without having an inkling WHY), would we geeks be considered “hip” if we sported retro gear ?

My mind goes back to the two young ladies at the garage sale. How would they look today If the two walkmans would be strapped to their sides, their headphones (with orange earmuffs) contrasting with their dark hair. The tinny sound of a Rick Ashley bleeding out of the speakers as the volume is set to maximum. Would they be out of style .. or Retro Chique ?

 

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