The Impractical but Indisputable Rise of Retrocomputing
For all the personal technology introduced and popularized in 2020 — upscale fitness bikes, at-home Covid tests, game consoles new and old — the personal computer lands on the list with a bit of a thud. PCs lack the novelty of other gadgets, but they’re practical, essential even, in a year when work, school and social life have come to rely heavily upon them. From a report: While modern, ever more efficient computers are selling better than they have in years, vintage computers — impractical old devices in need of repairs and out-of-production parts — are also in demand on sites like eBay. Collectors also flock to message boards, subreddits and Discord servers to buy, sell and trade parts. People are buying these PCs not necessarily for daily use, but for the satisfaction they get from rebuilding them. It’s a trend one might chalk up to quarantine boredom, though it’s been gaining traction for years.

Retrocomputing, the hobby is called, is hardly just a way to pass the time. Instead, as enthusiasts see it, it’s a means of communing with the past. “You get into this mind-set of what it must’ve been like to be somebody in the late ’70s, having spent thousands of dollars on this thing that barely does anything more than a calculator,” said Clint Basinger, 34, who runs the YouTube channel Lazy Game Reviews. (The devices do allow retrocomputers to make art and music using software unavailable on new computers and to play 8-bit games, but not much else beyond that.) “It’s like a time machine to me,” Mr. Basinger added. Before the pandemic, there were several vintage computing conventions located around the United States, to which collectors brought their computers to show off. Attendees bought and traded hardware at these events, as well as meet the friends they’ve made online.

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