I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be someone in my generation — that would be X —and how we embrace the newest technology, but we also have memories of a much simpler time.
In “X Saves the World,” Jeff Gordinier, editor-at-large of Details magazine, writes, “We’re the last generation to produce and hold onto albums on vinyl, the last generation to read newspapers, the last generation to remember television dials that stopped at 13 channels.”
Maybe that’s why, even though I’m a fan of the latest technology, part of me longs for the gadgets of my youth.
I could probably pick up things as collectors’ items on eBay, but I wanted to see if I could find versions that resurrected the past at stores and online.
The first video game system I ever got hooked on, like many of us, was the Atari 2600.
Aah, do you remember the joystick? It seemed so cool at the time.
And the games: Asteroids, Centipede, Donkey Kong Jr., Frogger, and my absolute addiction: Pitfall! I feel like I spent a year of my life on that game, and I still couldn’t beat it.
So now, you can reclaim your past with JAKKS Pacific's Atari 10-in-1 TV Game System ($12), part of the Plug It In & Play line.
It brings back that joystick, which is all you need to play Centipede, Breakout, Pong, Asteroids and other games. The Atari paddle is also available, as is Pac-Man, through Arcade Gold, also from JAKKS Pacific.
How about phones? These days, we want the slimmest, smallest, sleekest ones to carry with us. But I have to admit, I miss pay phones.
You barely see pay phones nowadays, the older-style ones I remember as a kid.
So it was with a certain glee that I found the Crosley 1950s Pay Phone ($81) at CoolStuffCheap.com. I know the idea of having a landline is so 10 years ago, but if you were inclined to have one, this would be a great conversation piece with its rotary-style keypad and a functional coin slot. (Remember checking the coin slot for extra change?) This one actually doubles as a coin bank.
Or how about AM/FM radios? In this age of satellite radio it seems really old-fashioned, but I miss turning that dial sometimes, and more than that, I liked the way the radios looked.
Sundance carries an “Almost Vintage Miniature Radio, Bullet” ($25) that looks like something my grandparents would’ve had on their countertop. It’s pocket-sized, too.
I wonder what it must have been like to have this as the primary source of news of the outside world, and how captivated people used to be by it. (One of radio’s most famous moments: the panic created by Orson Welles’ great radio hoax, “The War of the Worlds.”)
Retro camera and boombox
When it comes to photography, everyone — it seems — has a digital camera now. Remember film and not being able to see how a photo turned out until it was developed?
For me, pocket cameras were the bomb. I took mine everywhere. Then disposable cameras entered the scene and the pockets seemed to go obsolete. The modern-day equivalent that seems to come close – in a rounder design – is the Polaroid I-Zone ($9), which spits out mini-pictures that double as stickers.
How about the boombox? I never hauled one on my shoulder, playing it for all the world to hear, but I remember when people did that.
Now everyone is plugged into their headphones — God forbid, you hear what they’re hearing. I’ve always been a sucker for the Sony boomboxes, so looking for a more compact version of this dorm staple, I saw the CFDF10 Silver model ($79 to $91 at stores such as Buy.com and J&R Music and Computers), and felt a little like 18 again. The Sony model has a cassette deck, CD player, AM/FM radio (digital tuner).
My previous boombox lasted a good 10 years, believe it or not, after my dad gave it to me for Christmas in high school. I later “graduated” to the Sony Sports Walkman, using it for workouts.
Hanging onto the VCR
Long before the DVR, I was hooked on my VCR, first Beta, then VHS. I taped EVERY episode of “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I still have those tapes. It was such work to record, though!
But I still keep a VCR, for shows that haven’t made it to DVD. I was surprised at how much new ones cost — more than $100. You can easily find DVD players for much less, but maybe other people are just as attached to their tapes, including home videos.
Also among my nostalgic items is a microcassette tape recorder I used for class, and later, for story interviews. I still have a boombox to play cassettes. Somewhere around here, I probably have my pocket camera.
It makes me a little sad that my kids will never know a lot of these gadgets, which will seem more like museum pieces to them, like the Mac Classic at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But for myself and many others, those devices were a part of our history, our past that informs our present. I wouldn’t have it any other way.