Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Should We Value the Historicity of Obsolete Objects?

Boing Boing recently posted an entry on Scott Marr's intricately carved 78's (shown below). The comment section resulted in a battle between people who thought the carved records looked cool versus people who were opposed to the destruction of historic objects.

Readers argued that the records themselves were far richer art objects than the carved results, and compared his art negatively to clipping off typewriter keys to make jewelry.

But what else are we to do with all these things?

Typing on typewriters won't even be an option much longer. Gizmodo recently posted an article chronicling the lives of the last of San Francisco's typewriter repairmen. Similar articles have been written about repairmen in Chicago and New York. What will we do with these relics once these men are gone?

Which brings up the question, is there a proper method to respectfully interact with obsolete objects?

Even though it may maintain a retro cool factor, the traditional use of records, 8 tracks, typewriters, rotary phones, or papyrus scrolls is inefficient at best . Records are still very hip, but it's an iPod world and their appeal is strictly an avenue to show love for music in physical form. With LP's you can proudly display an assortment of 12 inch square album covers that visually represent your favorite sounds. They can be framed, or stood up as a center piece on a dresser. We can line the walls of our apartments with shelves to show off the completeness of our obsession and periodically run our finger along their creased spines, reading band names to ourselves and remembering where we were when that particular object was purchased.

Digital files are far more convenient. Records are cooler. The difference is that even an entire hard drive filled with MP3's will never amount to a collection.

To collect obsolete objects is to be a historian and a curator, and the default purpose for their collection is to be on display. The question is, is allowing a once-useful tool to collect dust a respectful tribute to a job well done or should we devise new roles for them?

My friend Nate recently gave me an amazing old typewriter. It is beautiful and compact and folds up for travel like a heavy, finicky, single-purpose laptop. It is a very generous gift and I love it as an object, but there is nothing it can do that my macbook can't do better. In order to use it I will need to specifically design a project around the typewriter. It will need to be something specifically related to obsolescence and the work the typewriter has retired from.

I have a few ideas up my sleeve for such a projects, but none of them compare to the video below. This is the most ambitious and detailed love letter to a once-important tool I have ever seen and it comes from Cadet Jones from the Police Academy Movies. Enjoy.

History of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow


  1. Typewriters aren't on their way out. They've just moved from the streets to the prisons.

  2. I wonder if there are any repairmen still finishing up life sentences. They could be very busy.