What's with the Millennial/Zoomer fascination with old crap?

'member having to cut open the pages of a book as you read? All too easy to end up with somewhat ragged edges.

I’ve had to do that occasionally once or twice on a cheaply made book, but was that ever a regular thing?

I agree. Looks nice. Inhibits reading.

Yes, it was. Up to the early 19th century, books were printed by taking one large sheet and printing a number of pages on it simultaneously, on both sides, with some upside down if necessary to accommodate later folding.

There were folio folds (2x2 pages printed at a time and the paper folded in half), quarto folds (4x2 pages) and octavo folds (8x2 pages), and duodecimo folds (12x2 pages).

The large sheet was then folded, resulting in the correct orientations and page numbering. The folded pages were then bound into a volume, so that there were many small stacks of uncut pages.

These were usually left as they were, and the reader would have to cut the uncut pages the first time he read the book. This is what paper knives were originally for.

There are some old things I’d never want to go back to, having lived with them. A 286 IBM PC. A VCR. Paying $50 for poor analog cell service with limited minutes and roaming areas. Then there are old things that either work just fine or better than a new replacement for what is desired. The toaster someone mentioned, the control and shooting (and even developing) of a manual camera on black and white film for art, materials that haven’t made a transfer to new technology, and so on. There really can be a difference in “cheap crap that’ll work for a bit” and “highly expensive” that sometimes can be filled by old products. And then there’s the “functionally the same, so I’ll get what I like” sector, like the resurgence of midcentury modern, Scandinavian design, and so on. When you’re furnishing a smaller area, the clean lines, light weight (physically and visually), use of quality materials, and clever functionally can all be very attractive. Especially as a response to your parents/grandparents heavy furniture, brown leather, massive tables, and other things that might have fit okay in their space but not in yours.

Outside of maybe some special digital processes, that’s still how books and magazines are printed. It used to be my job to coordinate with the press room and the bindery to figure out how to plan the impositions.

But could you? The most basic camera in 1974 cost the equivalent of $225 today, and by 1996 or so you had $7 disposables. Before the great Chinese garbage influx of the 90s people who couldn’t afford to drop $225 on a camera just didn’t have one. There was no version of most products for the bottom 20%, poverty actually meant going without anything besides the absolute necessities of life. I think we’re so far removed from this that it’s actually been forgotten.

Yeah. Also, the small size and poor quality of illustrations in many e-book versions is frustrating. And for a larger-format book such as a graphic novel, the awkward fit of the pages on a kindle is annoying.

I do most of my recreational reading on a kindle these days too, but it’s ridiculous to imagine that the experience of reading on a kindle is indistinguishable from, or has no downsides compared to, its counterpart with a physical text.

This is… not an accurate depiction of the history of inexpensive leisure technology. For example, the inexpensive Kodak Brownie camera was introduced in 1900 at a sale price of $1, equivalent to less than $35 today.

Just because there were a couple of decades when cameras became essentially a low-level-luxury item due to rapidly changing technology doesn’t mean that they were always regarded as such. The affordable disposable camera of the 1980s was basically a return to low-cost mass-market photography equipment, not the unprecedented invention of it.

And the notion that in the 1970s the “bottom 20%” couldn’t afford anything beyond “the absolute necessities of life” is simply ridiculous. If you imagine that one out of every five Americans in the 1970s couldn’t ever afford, say, a newspaper, a comic book, a party dress, a baseball bat, etc., then you are seeing a fantasy dystopia of some kind, but certainly not the 1970s as they were.

I also do almost all my reading on a Kindle now, but I often disassemble the e-book to look at the illustrations on my computer to see them at full size and resolution.

Sometimes it’s also easier to jump around the book and page quickly on a computer Kindle reader than on an actual Kindle.

Of course, the huge advantage of e-books is that you can easily search for text. And copy/paste extracts if you want to quote something.


To be fair, the low-end version at about $28 in 1972 would be about $180 in 2020 dollars.

$30 in 1972 is $188 today.

Point taken about the Brownies et al - I picked 1974 because that was the first year I could find stats on what the best-selling camera was, and that was a period of particular economic instability. Still, look at the total cost of getting photos finished across the 1900 v. 1998 scenarios. $30, plus another $1 ($30) for the film and development of each roll of film…versus $7 for everything. It was still over 8 times as expensive in real terms in 1900 and that’s without getting the photos turned around in an hour. I really don’t think a poor person in 1900 would just drop the equivalent of $60 on getting some pictures taken, whereas $7 is less than two hours of take home pay at the 1998 minimum wage.

Meh, the Brownie camera was aggressively marketed to kids. Kodak sold ten million of them in less than five years. I just think you’re way off base in supposing that such an item would have been an unattainable luxury to as many as one in every five Americans.

There was major progress over the course of the 60s into the 1974 year discussed above, but as of 1960 only 80% of houses in the U.S. had a telephone and only 75% had indoor plumbing. Again, the rate at which severe, third world style poverty became ordinary American relative poverty was fast and obliterated a lot of cultural memory of what “poor” used to mean. Expanding cameras beyond professionals to people with middle class budgets in 1900 is an achievement, but the idea that this product was being purchased by the same kind of truly poor person who could buy a $7 disposable camera in 1998, or take a digital snapshot today on the smartphone that even poor people need to function [and for most actually poor people completely takes the place of purchasing any other computer device], still seems unrealistic.

You are using some weird logic here. Yes, there was more hardship in the past, particularly if you were poor. But the, to us, slow adaptation of the telephone and indoor plumbing doesn’t mean people were in severe, third world style poverty, nor does the existence of “severe, third world style poverty” mean everyone who was poor was close to destitute all the time.

Poor people today, even outside the sphere of “ordinary American relative poverty” may prioritize a cell phone over other amenities you couldn’t imagine living without.

And though you have thought about changes in poverty rates and condition, you seem to have entirely forgotten that in that period people used old stuff for longer, because a lot of it was sturdier. A brand new camera might have been out of range for a poor person, but cameras from the 60s and 50s were not hopelessly outdated, so people used hand me downs and bought used equipment.

Not that everyone wanted to have a camera and used it, but your analysis is severely flawed.

Progress in many ways is an illusion, and certainly not a goal in and of itself.

Of course there are objective differences in fidelity between various analog and digital formats of sound duplication, and other various products and cultural consumables have changed in many positive ways. However, what is “better” for an individual and what gives a positive experience in the moment doesn’t have to track with the latest or objectively more advanced version of a thing or experience.

We crave novelty, not progress. I don’t think there’s a metric that indicates that people have increased in happiness in a meaningfully way that tracks in a straight line with “progress”, so it should come as no surprise that the newest version isn’t always what people desire.

Focusing on the analog vs digital audio example: higher fidelity audio isn’t guaranteed to provide a “better” experience for everyone.

(the challenge here is that we are so conditioned to appeal to authority to justify our preferences that folks get hung up on defending subjective descriptions of their experience by using arbitrary objective metrics)

That’s patently not true.

I grew up below the federal “poverty line”. We weren’t wearing gunny sacks to school with old tires for shoes. We had a microwave oven in 1972. I had a brownie, and a Kodak Instamatic in the early 70s. I paid $225 in 1977 for my Minolta mentioned above. That’s 1977 dollars. The county I grew up in is still practically the poorest county in WI, and yet it isn’t a third world hovel.

Now film processing - that’s another story. I remember dropping off the film at the drug store and then two weeks later it would come back from South Dakota or whereverthehell it was processed. And IIRC it cost like $8 a roll, in 1976 dollars. That’s why you have pictures from three year’s birthdays on one roll of film. “Can’t waste the film. There’s still two pictures left!”

Those are huge advantages for sure, but at least for me, cut/paste is surprisingly difficult on Kindles (probably for copyright reasons).

The big game-changers for me and e-readers is the ability to have LOTS of books on the thing at a time, and the ability to look up words in the moment by merely highlighting them and getting a definition.

Just the other night I was reading “In God We Trust - All others pay cash” by Jean Shepherd, and he used the word “inchoate”, which is a middle school vocabulary word I hadn’t run across in a long time. Rather than having to either get up and grab a dictionary and look it up, or just read past it and hope I remembered to look it up some other time, I just highlighted the word, and up popped a definition right then and there. Personally I find that fantastic.

For the dozens of books thing, it’s really, really good if you like to cook. You can have your Kindle app on your phone, and if you happen to go to the store and know you need an ingredient, you can just pop up the cookbook in question, look up the recipe and find out the ingredients and quantity right there.

On a computer Kindle reader, I’ve never had any trouble copying and pasting. I’m pretty sure I’ve used that capability at least once or twice to insert a quote from a book here on the SDMB.

On an actual Kindle, I’m not sure where you’d paste TO.


Fascination with old crap is nothing new. It’s just something about human nature. The entire Renaissance was a bunch of 15th century hipsters being fascinated with old crap.

Somewhere in history there was probably a caveman scoffing at the flint speartips that were all the rage.

“Sure, it’s easier to kill an animal that way. But you don’t really experience the kill, you know? It’s so impersonal. A club is the purest expression of the hunt, but I wouldn’t expect you to understand that.”