Friday, July 28, 2023

Things that were Vanishing that are Trendy Again

 Friend Jeff has now posted two lists of "Things That are Slowly Vanishing."

Things that are Slowly Vanishing

More Things that are Slowly Vanishing (Or Gone) 

I was going to reply to the second one, but my own list got too long, so I'm posting it here.

Things that were Vanishing that are Trendy Again 

Mechanical watches: Since they're now strictly a fashion item rather than a utilitarian one. Rolex is still around, and their watches are bloody expensive, and highly decorated, and by all accounts, better than ever. More mechanical watch brands, some classic, some new, many with movements made in China, are cropping up every day to cash in on this trend.

And I'll be honest, when my Apple Watch dies, assuming they don't have one with a blood sugar sensor in it as they've been working on for some years, I might go that route myself. I feel naked without a watch, but I don't need a 32 bit computer on my wrist for most purposes.

Cassette players: Why, god, why?

8-Track Tapes: not quite the resurgence Vinyl is enjoying, probably mostly for the antique car world so you have something to put in that big rectangular hole in the dash. But there are new albums being put on rebuilt vintage cartridges. To which I say again, Why, god, why?

Vinyl Records: Better bandwidth than the average mp3. This one I get. Even with my dodgy hearing I can sometimes hear the artifacts that lossy-compression music poops all over cymbals and the lack of dynamic range. You can get digital sound that's as good as records, but it takes a lot of storage space.

Vacuum tubes: Still manufactured and growing for the electric guitar and high-end audiophile market, both for their distortion properties.

To contradict Jeff, neighborhood mailboxes are alive and well, they're just not the old round-topped rectangular things of our youth. The house I grew up in had a mailbox on the front wall right under the address sign, and you certainly did *not* put your outgoing mail in someone else's outgoing mail holder. Nowadays, my house has a mailbox on the corner with a very anonymous and legally protected outgoing mail slot. Neighborhood mailbox? Check.

Ice Cream Truck: We have one that prowls our neighborhood every summer, although with as much rain as we've had, I haven't heard its dulcet tones much this summer. Now that it's hot (and we're home) I expect to. Also, you can get high end ones to show up for your favorite party. Not gone, just changed form.

Typewriters: Okay, this is a stretch. To my knowledge, they're not being manufactured anymore, but you can still get ribbon cartridges for even weird typewriters like my 1970s corona super 12 with a Google search. Again, no longer a utilitarian item, but for those of us who went from handwriting directly to computer printouts, an interesting curiosity.

Knitting, Crocheting, Needlework of all kinds, and Quilting: Hand work is making a comeback. I'm not a practitioner, but M, my wife, does crochet and needlework, and her sister does the other two. She says it's relaxing, forces her to focus, and tune out all the noise in the world.

Manual machining: The number of YouTube channels dedicated to manual lathe/mill/drill/shaper(!)/surface-grinder work is truly startling. New tools for this are made with the hobbyist in mind every day, and refurbishing big old industrial iron for the task is a hobby unto itself.


Handwriting: The trend of not requiring cursive in schools is showing signs of reversing. Also, the net is replete with reprints of old handwriting guides, calligraphy supplies, and so on. No longer utilitarian, but as a handcraft.


Pottery: Okay, hand-thrown pottery stopped being how most china was made hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Now it's done as a craft and an art form.

There's a meta-trend afoot here. Back in the 1980s, I read a book called Megatrends. To some extent, it predicted the technological world we live in today, but it also had an interesting backlash trend. They called it high tech vs high touch. They predicted that the more technology we use, (High Tech), the more hands-on craft we'll see (High Touch.)  If you look at the things that have come back, they all fall into that.

Consider: Handwriting and even typing with a typewriter force you (the writer) to be much more intimate with the document you're creating, rather than just its content. You're not just putting words together, as I am now, you're putting them together, by hand, on this particular piece of paper at this particular time. These are the crafts I know something about. 


Having a wristwatch that goes tick doesn't seem like a hand craft, but the machine itself is, and there are hobbyists who are into fixing them. Sooner or later, hobbyists will be making them from scratch.


Even vacuum tube electronics are a handcraft, really. Sure, you can do pcbs to put a device together, and if all you want is the finished device, that's fine. But for the joy of it, point-to-point wiring is a handcraft. The smell of the solder, the singed fingers, the anticipating watching tube filaments light and waiting for the high voltage circuit to come up to see if your creation will live, that's a hand-craft in my book. There are people out there who hand-make their own tubes, too, but even if you're just using the equipment, the sound is more analog, more human, even if it's less precise. The hands of humans are all over vacuum tubes.

If Megatrends is right, if it continues to hold true, the more technological we become, the more our handcrafts will matter. And if AI ever takes over, it will be because humans lost interest in technology that didn't let use use our old fashioned, imprecise, primate hands and brains.

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