Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars


Posted by Trixter on January 18, 2012

Now that MindCandy is out the door, I’ve had time to return to some of my more favorite pastimes, like retrocomputing.  Perodically the topic of conversation in a retrocomputing forum turns inward as people ask: Why do we collect old computers?  Why dedicate space, power, and time to restoring and using slow, impractical machines when better ones exist?  I think the question can be expanded to all collectors:  Why does anyone collect anything?  Why go through the trouble of gathering up material items?  Why do we assign personal value to inanimate objects, or derive comfort from them?

I think I can sum it up in three words:  Fear of death.

Everybody needs a coping mechanism for dealing with the inevitability of death.  Social interaction, religion, family, blind ignorance, sex, drugs, and various causes (environmental, human rights) are the most common, but there are people for whom none of those apply.  I believe these people turn to anything that gives them comfort, or used to give them comfort.  Ventriloquists collect ventriloquist dummies, maybe because they remind the owner of receiving adoration on stage.  Housewives collect porcelain dolls to glorify their memories of youth.  Christopher Dennis has an extensive collection of Superman memorabilia because the image of Superman is what keeps him alive.  But you don’t have to be down on your luck or unhappy to have a collection; just look at Jay Leno or Steve Martin.

For those who grew up using early computers to better themselves or others, it’s not inconceivable that such objects would give them comfort.  I am one of those people, so I have a collection of computers.  It is modest by most hard-core retrocomputist standards; I have around 30, and many are duplicates for parts.  But I definitely spend otherwise productive time hauling them out, getting them working, running old favorites (or new discoveries) on them, and writing software for them.  It reminds me of a time when I was the technological wunderkid, and had control over my environment — you tell a computer to do something, and it actually does it.  When I “retrocompute”, I have something pleasant to occupy my thoughts, and I gain a sense of accomplishment and completion.

Some collectors in my hobby look at their crawlspace, storage space, shed, or warehouse and wonder how their collection got so big and how they’ll ever get rid of it.  I think the answer is to recognize your collection for what it is:  A coping mechanism.  It should not have any more value beyond that.  Your collection is not a replacement for people.  Your collection is not more important than your job, your marriage, or your kids.  Once you realize that, you can start letting it go.  Maybe only one piece at a time… maybe never all of it completely.  But you can let go.

4 Responses to “Collections”

  1. Mel said

    Nice posting, but the housewives collecting porcelain dolls…umm, no.

  2. Optimus said

    Interesting resolution. I haven’t really thought that fear of death was the reason. I am not sure about this. Maybe even as a retro junk collector I was not extremely affected and that’s why I can’t get the connection.

    Once in a while, something of value was missing from home because my mother cleaned up and relocated everything from my collection. But I didn’t bothered much since I had other things in life to mind about. Nowadays I stopped collecting any new stuff and I am thinking to sell or give away some of my old stuff. The reason is that I am still in the middle of things in my life that have to be settled, I am temporary living with my parents and wish for the moment when I get a job so that I can live on my own again. So, now 20% of retro stuff are mostly scattered in my room and the rest are rusting in my grandparents home.

    That’s the problem with collections. Space and Transport and all the fuzz. I am searching for a job outside Greece if possible. What if I suddenly have to relocate to UK or Germany for example? I wouldn’t bother having to worry about transfering all my retrojunk. And most of them are not rare. If I give away my CPC then I could later buy another one from ebay when I relocate to a new place.

    Could it be why I lately enjoy collecting homebrew game handhelds (gamepark, dingoo and others) and small laptops? I could carry all of the ones I own in a backpack at the moment. And they all come with homebrew emulators to revive the older days without having to carry too big junk :)

    Though, I will restart retrocollecting when I get a job and rent my own home to stay again. There are several machines in my list that I would love to touch in real flesh rather than emulated and I am really looking forward to this when I am ready for this. Another thing that I enjoy (but also avoid doing these days) and is kinda weird, I realized has it’s funny term, trashing or dumpster diving. I enjoyed reading an article about it in this C64 diskmag ( http://pouet.net/prod.php?which=56388 ). I used to do it with spare PC parts. I have recovered tens of motherboards, graphics and sound cards, network cards, hard drives, CD-rom drives and everything. I like to build oldschool PCs from these parts and because I don’t have enough towers, sometimes I plugged in the stuff naked on a motherboard standing on my table. Hehe! I still haven’t thrown most of these and I think I should test which are working and try to give away to people who might want some. I think I will only keep my beloved 386 box with GUS and Tseng labs card close with me and might give away the rest of the tower PCs.

    • Trixter said

      Your hobby sounds quite healthy, especially when you mention if you need another CPC, you’ll just buy another one. The trouble for some people is when they have an emotional attachment to items in their collection; this leads to traditional hoarding.

      There was a time when I had emotional attachments to items in my collection; thankfully I’ve worked through it. The only piece left I have a personal attachment to is my very first computer, the AT&T PC 6300 — which I still have, and still works. To help with letting go of it, I’m creating a video about the AT&T 6300 that goes into significant detail and examples of its use, along with comparisons to similar computers in its time period. Once this video is online, I think I can let go of the 6300 too.

      I want to clarify that “letting go” doesn’t necessarily mean “giving it away” (or worse, throwing it away). I specifically mean “letting go of the emotional attachment you have toward it”. Even if I have no plans to physically get rid of some of my items, I don’t want to be emotionally attached to them any more, since it affects my decisions, which ultimately affects more than just me (ie. my family).

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