Tag Archives: nostalgia

365 Days of Obsolescing

Initially begun as a 30 day project  documenting things that are obsolescing in my life, I’ve now gathered steam and am continuing on until I run out of objects. Everyday I will photograph things hanging around in my studio (or bring them from my apartment) that I am classifying as either obsolete, or becoming obsolete. In a nutshell — clutter. — Deanne Achong, The Obsolescence Project

It seems fitting, given Obsolescing’s retrospective focus, that I’m informing you of Deanne Achong’s brilliant blog, The Obsolescence Project, after it’s already ended. For 365 days (with minimal breaks for flu, a wedding, and other of life’s interruptions), Achong, a Vancouver-based artist, has documented a different “useless object” each day.

Day One, February 1, 2012, the blog begins with a light meter and a straightforward, bare-bones caption:

Day One – Light Meter

Light Meter I bought at a garage sale a few years ago. Love the leather case. I did use a light meter like this when I first went to art school.

On Day 365, the Obsolescence Project concludes with a picture of a fossil, an ending that takes us back to distant beginnings, where the ephemeral also endures.

The end takes us back to distant beginnings, where the ephemeral also endures.

Day 365 – Fossil

Achong follows a simple formula, which evolves over time: simple close-up photographs accompanied by short captions. The objects portrayed range from true treasures (fine china, old leather-bound books) to true trash (broken lamps, old power cords). Yet hers is a leveling eye. The sharp gaze of her camera lens exalts the lowly and humbles the proud. The obsolete parade by without value assigned, certainly not monetary value (though she will sometimes reveal what she paid — or didn’t — for something, especially if a treasure was plucked from a trash bin). Achong’s aim is not so much to reveal an object’s beauty, though her photos accomplish that, as to reclaim the trivial, broken and outdated.

The Obsolescence Project is in one sense a year-long artist’s manifesto, in which Achong considers her own magpie tendencies:

As an artist, I have kept a lot of stuff. Thinking one day it might have some kind of value. Not eBay value (although there’s that too) but become an idea for a project. Possibly I’ve imagined these things might magically assemble themselves into another type of object, present themselves to me as a story or at least a lead on a narrative that I want to pursue. I’m not giving up that hope, but I am hoping that by documenting their presence, I might detach from them and make the leap towards shoving (some of ) them out the door.

As our guide to this successive collection, Achong is inquisitve and wry, never authoritarian. She muses, rather than asserts. She usually shows her pieces from a variety of angles, then writes about its personal associations — where she acquired it, what she thought she might do with it. As her approach developed over time, she did research as well, so the curious reader will learn interesting facts about an object’s origin and history or even, say, how many Viewmasters appear for sale on E-bay.

Though this phase of the Obsolescence Project has now ended, this is a perfect time to go back and review the whole. Following Deanne’s process as she shapes the blog and discovers in the daily practice of photographing and writing exactly what she is doing, is fascinating and rewarding — a privileged glimpse of an artist at work.

On that last day, last February, I was  happy to read  that the Obsolescence Project will not itself become obsolete. Achong is taking a break after her (nearly) daily documentation over the course of a year and then plans to move on to Phase II — content and focus not yet announced.

I can’t wait! Brava Deanne!


Slow Netters

Slow internet movement favors old-fashioned dial-up over hi-speed wireless

I’m a bit behind (like 7 weeks!) on this story, which aired on “All Things Considered” at the beginning of April. Reporter Melissa Block visited Drip, a coffee house in Washington, D.C. that caters to so-called slow netters, as devotees of the new slow internet movement call themselves.  The trend-setting cafe eschews high-speed internet for basic dial-up.

Late though I am, Obsolescing had to alert its readers to this surprising trend:

Dial-up Internet is enjoying a huge comeback as the slow-net wave (partly inspired by the slow food movement) crashes onto hipster shores nationwide.

OK Go frontman Damian Kulash has written the trend’s anthem. The song is called “Love Me Longtime.”

“It’s about the Internet when it was a more tactile experience — when it took something to be on the Internet,” Kulash says.

Kulash used dial-up’s classic series of tones as supplemental percussion in his ode. “That sound is kind of like The Beatles to my parents, it calls back out all the rage and lust and hormones of my youth,” Kulash tells All Things Considered. “Really powerful sound.”

Listen to the entire report here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2011/04/01/135041848/ok-gos-damian-kulash-crafts-pro-dial-up-anthem. You’ll find all the familiar tropes for talking about a now obsolete technology. Kulash revels in the sensory details, the “tactile experience,” while others interviewed celebrate the noisy scritch and beep of attempted connection as a nearly Proustian trigger of fond memories. Throughout the report devotees insist that slowness, clunkiness, unreliability are somehow more authentic or, even, more human.

Before you listen to the report, though, you might want to check out the dateline.

April 1, 2011

Yes, this report was one of NPR’s elaborate April Fool’s jokes. It worked brilliantly because the reporters knew the lingo of obsolescing. Yet, in the letters aired a few days later, one listener (inevitably?) wrote:

Am I the only one who was disappointed when they realized it was the gag story? He continues: I live a somewhat conflicted life. I am at the same time nostalgic for technology of days gone by, yet I work in the IT industry with current technology. But I resist new technology as much as possible. No smartphone, no Bluetooth, and yes, still dial-up at home. Others make fun of me, of course, and I was excited to be able to share news of this anti-bandwidth revolt with them.

P.s.I still have my original Commodore 64 somewhere in the attic.

Hope this is a joke that works no matter what the date. Belated April Fool’s!

A Dance We Cannot Imagine

I came across this Billy Collins’ poem in a book I plucked off my shelf, Best American Poetry 1992. No commentary (at least not on my part) is necessary. Read and/or scroll down to listen.


Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

Billy Collins, “Nostalgia” from Questions About Angels.
Copyright © 1991 by Billy Collins.