[vcf-midatlantic] How old is "vintage"?

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Thu Aug 5 17:38:28 UTC 2021

> Joshua Abraham  

> I would agree that the time range and qualifications are varied. 
> By the book though, vintage usually is defined as an authentic and significant item about 20 years or older. So a good example: The IBM AT would be vintage. A random 286 clone... perhaps not. 
> Now defining retro, that’s a whole other can of worms. Haha. 
> -Josh “Singularity” 

So, I read this post offline. I composed a response to this, and took 
some time to do so. Before I posted, I looked ahead and saw that others 
made similar points.

I see common themes of PROCESS, on matters related to "vintage 
computing". Putting hard dates on what-is-vintage, well, pardon me, 
that's an operational decision one makes for specific purposes. Here's 
my considerations on process.

  - Herb


There is no "book", as there's no authority that establishes vintage 

Vintage isn't about significance. Significance is about "interest" and 
then "value". Vintage is primarily a measure of age, then largely a 
matter of out-of-use. The notion of "authenticity" means "not a modern 
copy"; there are copies of vintage computing items; some were copied in 
the era, some later, some now.

Two ways one can look at age. 1) "things from when you were a kid". 2) 
"things older than *now*". So 20, 25 years from now-present computers - 
one or two computer "generations" - is an convenient way from both 
views, human and tech, to describe some "vintage" computers if only as 
"too old to be current".

I'm old, so age matters to me, I can look back multiple human 
generations. And: computing advanced rapidly, so "a generation" of 
computing is a short HUMAN span of time. Here's what I mean about each.


Given, personally owned computers became generally available, sometime 
in the mid-late 1970's (That's me.). MITS Altair era. Technical 
professionals and those learning-about.

So "about a computer generation" after 1975 was an era of lots of home 
gaming, mass-produced and distributed computers. While thousand of 
people had original experiences with MITS Altairs; *millions* had 
experiences with C64's and Atari's and Apple II's. Numbers matter (it 
goes to value too). Also: mass small-business computing, as in IBM PC's 
which became PC's in-the-home, but still for doing business, finance, 
word processing, and so on. People often separate "home gaming" from 
"boards in a box" computing - I do.

Another "generation" is 2000. Everyone had some kind of personal 
computer, at home and work. You could find them in thrift stores. They 
started to become disposable. And yet, with Linux, they were still 
useful. Availability and use was called at the time "the digital divide".

People had programmable cell phones by then, kind of small computers and 
certainly calculators. Also: tablets, and then "netbooks" - tablets that 
use remote programs not locally-operated programs. "computing" was 
becoming about connectivity to services.

And now, in the 2020's: it's quite possible to not own "a computer" at 
all. One owns a smartphone, it's not a computational device. TV's are on 
cables and networks: they are not "computers". We know what people do 
with smartphones and TV's. And most old smartphones don't have value - 
if you think about it, it's because they can't do much by themselves,

So now, personal information technology is about connectivity, it's 
about apps which are connected to services including a service to 
provide content. Example? Remember owing a DVD player and lots of DVD's? 
Or CD's? Or "video tapes"? Depends on how old you are.

What's the "vintage computing" interest counterexamples? No disrespect 
meant. Calculator collecting may have peaked in general interest in the 
1990s? Smartphone collecting, doesn't seem to be too popular. Anyone 
collect LCD TVs? These are out of my collector-experience zone, I'm 
trying to make sense of historic trends.

So in a certain sense, in 2020 we may be at the end of "personal 
computing", as valued items obtained for private experience with 
information technology for "programming" or running arbitrary programs. 
Current "tech" are items for consumption, access to services. No 
service, slow service - no value. These devices become disposables - not 
as failed devices but from owner's BOREDOM; or because of 
end-of-service. Some were disposable when *sold*.

Converse argument? Under-30's who collect 286-386-486 systems, to run 
classic games. It's stuff *outside* their age-experience, but 
conceptually it's like playing a gaming device or app "now". Social 
trends can "invert" to become trendy. It's an interest!

I'm not trying to start fights. I'm making points about being 
retrospective about "vintage computing". "how old" just starts the 

It matters more about how old you are, your relationship "back then" 
with some kind of information technology, and your relationship NOW with 
either your past or with present information technology. And it matters, 
how these technologies were designed, then sold and marketed and used. 
And, what they can do now (if functional). You can divide eras by those 
criteria. I and others argue, those are the factors that determine 
interests (and also values-of) in "vintage computing".

Regards, Herb Johnson

Herbert R. Johnson, New Jersey in the USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net
preserve, recover, restore 1970's computing
email: hjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT com
or try later herbjohnson AT comcast DOT net

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