Category Archives: Old Things

Working in an Atlanta Culture-Mausoleum

I agree with the sentiment that Lawasky and Mather assert, that objects do indeed live a life beyond their own, and their afterlife is tied up in the ongoing human narrative.

According to the New York Times article about “extinct” objects of the aughts, I have the pleasure of keeping company with several dodos– the deposit slip, the foldable roadmap, the incandescent bulb, the fax machine, the cassette tape, and “smoking in bars.”

Until recently, the bar I where I work allowed smoking; I send faxes there from time to time, and I fill out a deposit slip after every shift I manage.  Atlanta Magazine has plenty to say about Manuel’s Tavern.

At our bar, these inanimate objects often take on a life of their own; people ask me to tell them the stories behind all kinds weird stuff hanging on the walls and even stuck to the ceiling.  Most of these items have little to no monetary value, but the history within them is beyond the dollar and subject to be lost, as the people within the stories slowly die-off and the people who know the stories slowly forget details, bit by bit.  There’s a lot of oral history floating around about people, about stories, about playing cards that hold dollars up onto the ceiling, and urns filled with the ashes of people you’ve never met.


We banned smoking back in January, but the walls and ceiling are still stained with nicotine.



There’s a weird sculpture that hangs above one of the booths that many of my friends mistook for an authentic Calder, but as it turns out, my research indicated, by means of gathering informal oral histories, that an art teacher from a local institution made that sculpture while he was in prison for some serious charges.  The sculpture was rumored to have been a gift to an employee of the Tavern.

I bring this up to illustrate that discovering hard facts about  the history of objects, and getting down to the business of documenting their “life” and “death” can be down right confusing and difficult, as so much depends upon the availability of source information.

I think we’re left with more questions than answers.

Also, much depends on the rhetorical situation of the object in question– to what or for what end was the object brought into the situation being studied, and what significance does the object hold in the context of its current “incarnation,” and for whom does this object have value?  For whom does it have meaning?  For how long of a timeline does an object remain relevant?  How can all of these categorical situations be subject to change due to cultural or technological evolution?

Works Cited

Burns, Rebecca.  “The Museum of Manuel’s”. Atlanta Magazine. 05 August 2014.  Web. 21 September 2014.

Photographs by Patrick Healy, Atlanta Magazine

McClanahan, Thayer. “Rust in Peace”. New York Times.  06 December 2009.  Web. 21 September 2014.


Analog Rebellion: How Vacuum Tubes Helped to Redefine the Concept of “Old”


Yes, it’s true, the Cathode Ray Tube is a dead … Kind of.

Despite how much we may want to tag human characteristics on to our objects, the lifecycle of technologies are a rather fickle thing. In modern consumer culture, a “dead” technology is merely one that’s intrinsic values are considered obsolete when compared to new models. In this case of the CRT, its older, bulky model has been replaced by new sets that boast slimmer, wall-mounted screens filled with liquid crystals and advanced features. So yes, technically the life of the tube TV is over. However, its afterlife has brought us not only a newfound sense of its irreplaceable characteristics, but sets an example for why the lifetime of objects will extend much further out than we may typically expect.

Toward the latter half of his article Lepawsky makes a brief introduction of the afterlife of CRT televisions. He paints a picture of the CRT being a valuable but deadly resource: parts being stripped for new technologies, toxic materials affecting humans, foreign countries buying them in droves because of their cheap prices, etc. In the author’s mind, the afterlife of the CRT is literally a technological poltergeist, as he discusses the millions of discarded televisions that harbor the evolution of deadly bacteria with their hazardous components. While Lepawsky certainly may have a point, I find his article to be rather one-sided, as he has clearly overlooked a major aspect of the CRT’s lifecycle: it’s reincarnation.

While it’s easy to write off the Cathode Ray Tube as “dead” because of obsolete technological specs and lowered economic value, the truth is that those who are aware of the CRT’s natural advantages hold it in high regard. In fact, vacuum tube technology as a whole has recently come back into popularity as many find a connection to its warmer, analogue qualities. In my mind, this coincides directly with the resurgence of vinyl records, film cameras, and countless other devices that are technically inferior. While “birth”, “life”, and “death” are relatively self-explanatory, the afterlife of an object stems from individuals having the hindsight to distinguish the unique qualities of each product, as opposed to the “ old=bad, new=good” mindset that is pushed in consumer culture. For example, CRTs are highly valued in gaming culture: tube televisions are much more responsive, have “deeper, more vibrant color”, and can easily adjust to a variety of resolutions. The introduction of the LCD television may have “killed” CRTs in terms of mass market value, but it cannot undermine its legacy, nor compete with the components that make it unique.

It’s very easy to merely state facts about the hidden value and advantages to older objects, so I would like to close by speaking from my own personal experience:
A few weeks ago, when shopping for a new guitar amp, I made a conscious decision to purchase an older model with vacuum tubes over one with digital technology. Looking at it from an economic standpoint, this is a completely illogical purchase: the digital amp is larger, less expensive, has higher wattage, and is significantly easier to repair/replace. But despite these facts, I (among millions of other guitar players) still chose the older technology, as there is something much more radiant and life like about it.  We’ve spoken ad-nauseam about how we identify objects as extensions of ourselves, perhaps the value we see in old objects stems from the fact that they are “flawed”, and in that sense, more human.

* “14 Gaming Myths Exposed” at

Blog Post #4: Old Things

What is the difference between studying objects to learn human stories and studying them to learn their own stories? Is there one? In “Recalling Things Forgotten” and “Parting Ways,” Deetz presents us with human histories that have been recovered through careful analyses of objects and building sites. To an extent, Prown, Czikszentmihalyi, and Belk, although they draw upon knowledge and methodologies from a wide variety of disciplines, nonetheless seem to approach their studies of material culture with a goal similar to Deetz’s.

As it begins, however, the essay, “A Terminal Condition: The Cathode Ray Tube’s Strange Afterlife,” by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather, seems to offer a different sort of teleology, or aim, for its analysis:

“Rust in peace,” ministered the New York Times in its 2009 catalogue of obsolescence for the aughts. The obvious play on words conjoins an industrial mythos with a Christian burial rite in a requiem for an object that had, not long before, been the primary screen on which many of us experienced television, video, and computing. What does it mean that we think of the CRT as something with a life—something that was born, lived, died?

In its title and with its three opening paragraphs, the essay promises to give us a history of the object itself. It provokes us with a question, about what it means to think of inanimate things as having a birth, a life, and afterlife. Yet, from that question, the essay seems to turn in the fourth paragraph quickly back to a relatively conventional history, not of the object, but of the people who created and used it, beginning with two 17th century intellectuals, Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle. After that turn, it’s not until the eleventh paragraph in the essay that we get a chunk of text organized almost entirely around exposition of non-human agency, alternating between copper and the CRT itself as the subject or actor of nearly every sentence. Continue reading Blog Post #4: Old Things