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The Love Affair with Vintage Computers

I am writing this on a 33-years old Macintosh and I love it. But where are these deep feelings for yesterday's tech coming from?

The Macintosh SE/30 was a personal computer that was manufactured by Apple Inc. and released in January 1989. It was a compact and powerful computer that was designed to be a follow-up to the Macintosh SE, and it quickly became a popular choice among professionals and enthusiasts alike. One of the most notable features of the Macintosh SE/30 was its compact design. The computer was housed in a compact case that was similar in size to the Macintosh SE, but much more powerful. It featured a 16 MHz Motorola 68030 processor, which was a significant improvement over the 8 MHz processor found in the Macintosh SE. This allowed the SE/30 to perform much faster and smoother than its predecessor, making it a great choice for professionals who needed a powerful computer for tasks such as video editing and graphic design. This Macintosh also featured a PDS (Processor Direct Slot) which allowed users to add additional hardware such as a math coprocessor, a SCSI card, or a network card (I have added a SCSI2SD card-reader to this slot, operating a 64GB SD card as an internal hard drive).

"The Macintosh SE/30 embodies the same "user-friendly" philosophy as the original Macintosh, while providing more memory, faster performance, and greater expandibility. The Macintosh is still easy to learn, and now it's more powerful than ever." (Macintosh Owner's Guide, 1989)

Now - pretty much 33 years after being released on January 19th in 1989 - I'm sitting in front of this beautiful chunk of plastic (while other vintage Macs tend to turn yellow mine remains almost pristine gray-white'ish). The SE and SE/30 were designed by Frog Design, a design agency used by Apple from 1984 to 1990. Hartmut Esslinger created the Snow White design language, used across Apple's product range during this period. Apple spent the latter part of the 90s attempting to move on from the Snow White design language.

Flipping the power switch responds with a mechanical "clunk" - a sound people born in the 90s or later can hardly imagine. You can feel the power running through the Macintosh before its display comes to life flickering. Everything about the Macintosh feels clunky and loud. It is a dinosaur, a behemoth from "back then". And everything about it has a charm no modern tech will ever have. People tend to think that our modern tech will receive the same aura 30+ years from now - believe me, it won't. I am actually typing these lines on the original Macintosh keyboard - each key-stroke takes some effort and it feels really exhausting in the beginning - like writing on a typewriter. But the sound and mechanical feedback is so rewarding - I am instantly falling in love with the Macintosh (again). The Macintosh SE/30 is not only a 30+ years old home computer it is a remnant of a whole era I am thankful to have lived in. Everything took long back then. Booting up the operating system (especially from a disk) took minutes! People would think twice before shutting it down because booting it up again would cost time.

But why are so many people nowadays seeking refuge in memories from the very first days of home-computing? Why are people like me investing money and time on a plastic cube which lacks all technical standards modern-time computers have? The SE/30 I am typing this on is not even connected to the internet means I am using an external floppy USB-drive to exchange files. And because the drive would not be supported on my M1-Mac I am using an old 2002 iBook to relay files between my very first and latest Mac. One of the reasons why people may be drawn to vintage computers is the nostalgia they evoke. These machines can remind us of our own childhood and the early days of home computing. For example, using a Macintosh SE/30 as an 11-year-old and experiencing the novelty of using a mouse for the first time. It is a reminder of a time when technology was less commonplace and new experiences were exciting. The simplicity of using a mouse to move a cursor on a screen, which is now second nature, was once an amazing discovery which required introduction by my dad. Perhaps these computers are also a reminder of how ephemeral we are. After all, it's not uncommon for people to cling more and more to things that surrounded them during their childhood and adolescence. I would have run out of the room screaming at the thought of watching old commercials from decades past. Today these old videos elicit a pleasant sigh from me.

I believe that the attraction to vintage computers and software is rooted in their simplicity and accessibility. It was relatively easy to learn how to program on a Sinclair Spectrum, as the knowledge required was manageable. This simplicity also extended to the industrial and commercial sectors, where software and peripheral devices may have been more complex but still functioned within a well-documented and stable environment. In the pre-internet era, comprehensive manuals were provided with mini-computers, and if additional information was needed, one could contact the designers directly.

The resurgence of interest in nostalgic technology, such as vinyl records and instant cameras, has demonstrated a strong desire for vintage technology. Personal computers are no exception. As personal computing reaches its middle age, some people are drawn to revisiting the early days of the technology by restoring and using machines like the iconic Commodore PET from the 1970s. A fascination with early computing equipment and software however is hardly a new thing, but retro-computing seems to be undergoing a real renaissance these days. There are various resources available, such as publications, online marketplaces, and physical stores catering to the demand. Many enthusiasts are restoring and repurposing old devices, as well as emulating or integrating them with newer technology. Examples include using a Raspberry Pi to enhance a Commodore Vic 20. Additionally, there are communities dedicated to playing vintage video games and using "wayback" word processing software.

And? Also infected with Nostalgia? A good point to deep-dive into this would be Retro Battlestations on Reddit and Tinker Different a vintage community focusing on Apple computers.

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