Retro tech requires tolerance.

This piece is directly inspired by a seemingly common thing that happens in a vintage tech community I’m in. There’s a handful of vendors that serve this particular niche, but one in particular stands out what for being a participant in the community themselves, and they attract a lot of flak for “shipping people broken things”. (Apologize for the vagueness, but trying not to name names here because that’s not the point of this piece.)

I have my own hypothesis as to how this started happening. In this particular instance, this vintage niche was filled with people who knew what they were dealing with, knew how temperamental old tech could be, and had somewhat of an understanding of this.

That is, until a certain someone made some content on a video sharing site that ended up blowing up and getting a bunch of people interested in this vintage niche from all walks of life. Maybe they remember owning that device. Maybe they wanted one but never had the means. Maybe it was before their time and they want to experience it. The issue, in my eyes, is that this event injected a lot of new blood into the space, and that new blood sometimes doesn’t “get” what they’re getting into.

Now, hold up. Before we get too much farther: I get what I’m saying sounds like gatekeeping. Which is not the message I’m trying to send with this. This piece isn’t to discourage anyone from getting into the vintage tech space of their choosing. Rather, the message I’m trying to send with this is to do your due diligence and research before jumping in, and vintage tech can and usually will be a bit moody. If things go wrong, it (unfortunately) comes with the territory.

Just because some big-name YouTuber pulled an iMac out of a box and it worked first shot and looked perfect doesn’t mean you are going to have that very same luck. If you’re going to jump into vintage tech, you need to do so with an understanding that things can and likely will break. You’re dealing with components that in most cases are well past their use-by date. Some of these components were never meant to last 30+ years (in the case of vintage computers and the like). Plastics have gotten brittle and will break if you even do so much as look at them wrong. Does it suck? Absolutely. But it comes with the territory.

Case in point: myself. I got a Quadra 700 off a friend of mine. It ran perfectly when it left his house and ran perfectly for a week or so after, but not much later…hard drive died. No big deal, just have to buy something like a BlueSCSI. Which I did. And after I painstakingly built it from the kit I got, not even two days later? The power supply blows up and hotboxes my room in RIFA smoke. Yay.

Assuming for the sake of argument that I bought this Quadra 700 off a friend, would I be angry? No, I wouldn’t. At least not at him. Because vintage tech can be extremely fickle and failure prone, and sometimes things like this are impossible to test for and they just…happen. Unfortunate, yes, but it happens. 

iPods are another example that I’ve been affected by: These devices had to survive being carried around in pockets and tossed around during their heyday, being tugged by the headphones, dock connectors, and just all around abused by the general public. If you have an iPod still running on original components, it is prudent to keep in mind that a LOT of these devices are going on two decades of service. If you have an original run iPod classic (as in, the 6th gen model), that’s turning 15 next year. And that’s the last “big” update the iPod classic ever got, mind you!

I’ve broken countless things trying to work on iPods. Batteries, logic boards, you name it. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it’s just that these devices are old and you need to be extremely careful with them. At the end of the day, I just mutter some curses under my breath and move on, because I know these devices are just fickle. On top of all that, with things like flash modding, I also know things are going to get weird because we’re pushing these devices to do things they were never intended to do.

As such, things are going to get weird and sometimes not work as intended. Old parts are going to wear out and not work, and you’ll just have to replace them with a less worn part, or a part not necessarily manufactured to the OEM spec, which in turn may cause more weirdness.

That’s just how the cookie crumbles with vintage tech, and if you’re new to all this and want to jump in, I salute you! It’s a fun hobby to get into. But you also need to jump in with a modicum of caution, because some days it will feel like the universe is just out to make your life a living hell, and in a lot of cases, there’s no one to lay the blame on, it’s just the way it goes with vintage tech. Sometimes it works great! Sometimes it’s a huge case of “if it’s not one thing, it’s another” and you’re sent on a long journey that feels like a wild goose chase.