“My friends call me the BlackBerry Queen!” Meet the people clinging to the old tech – from faxes to VCRs | technology | Wbactive

MFor more than 40 years, since the fax machine has become an integral part of the office, the party finally seems to be over. With telecom providers no longer required to offer fax services, these devices may soon be relegated to the dusty attic of bygone tech. But for the TikTok generation, which has never known life without WiFi, concepts like fax, dial-up internet, and Friday night jaunts to blockbuster videos are not only outdated, they’re completely alien. Still, not everyone has forgotten the charm of older technology. From the clanking keys of an old typewriter to the nostalgic delight of a clunky Walkman, some people have never given up their favorite technology.

“I prefer videos because I enjoy owning something physical”

Billy Cunliffe, 79, Wigan, retired

It took me three weeks to save £60 on the purchase of my first used video player in 1981. I now have seven players and over 6,000 VHS tapes that I have collected over the years. Although I use Netflix, I prefer video because I like to own something physical, and I have a lot of content that you can’t find on digital channels. I love my old movies and I’m also a big rugby fan. I’ve taped every Wigan match ever shown on TV.

Billy Cunliffe at home with his vast collection of VHS tapes, vinyl, cassettes and tapes. Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

I have the feeling that VHS offers better picture and sound quality than DVDs, which scratch easily and stop working. The downside is that VHS tapes and video players are now really hard to find and if you do, they can be expensive. People are going back to their roots and many now find that older things look good, so prices for vintage technology are rising. I’ve started taping some of the stuff I don’t watch anymore as I find it impossible to get new blank tapes. Luckily I’m an engineer so I’ve been able to fix a lot of my video players myself and take really good care of all my tapes. I’m a bit of an expert now.

Besides all the videos I have more than 200 reel to reel tapes [magnetic tape audio recordings, popular in the 1950s and 60s], including a recording I made of a 1963 television broadcast of The Beatles at the London Palladium. I had to hold the mic up to the TV to pick up the sound but the quality is just as good as the day they played. I’ve always been a big fan of vintage technology. My granddaughter loves records and cassettes so I think she’s following in my footsteps.

“I feel like fax machines still serve a purpose”

Lisa Ford, 54, St. Louis, Missouri, nurse

I work in a hospital and still use the fax machine a lot. It is really practical, safe and uncomplicated. There are situations where you don’t need to share information in a paperless way, so I feel like it still serves a purpose. I like them because they are incredibly easy to use and are visual rather than virtual so you can see confirmation that something has been sent and received. If you want to send a document virtually, you often have to convert it to PDF or another format, which is more complicated than faxing. I also still use a pager, which is great if you don’t have phone service or internet access because [it uses radio signals so] it will still work out.

Lisa Ford with pager and typewriter.
Lisa Ford with pager and typewriter

While new technologies are more efficient in many ways, I feel like there’s a greater security threat because we don’t know how our data is being collected and what it’s being used for. There’s also a nostalgic element with traditional engineering, which explains why I have an old, heavy typewriter. I use it to write cards and notes during the holidays and it’s always a conversation starter when people see it.

“People look at my BlackBerry phone like it’s an ugly kitten”

Aren Devlin, 39, London, actor

Aren Devlin's BlackBerry.
Aren Devlin’s BlackBerry. Photo: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

I’ve been using BlackBerry phones for almost two decades and I’m known to my friends as the BlackBerry Queen. I got my current phone five years ago and I’ll keep it for life. I love the tactile keyboard and knowing I’m not accidentally hitting the wrong keys. People look at my phone and ask to hold it like it’s an ugly kitten. They’re fascinated by it, but also shocked that I’m still using it. While I love my BlackBerry, I know I’m living on loan because some features have stopped working. At the moment it still works for calls, emails and WhatsApp. I can take photos but they are not the best quality. Luckily I don’t use the camera much so it’s not a big problem for me.

I like not having all the apps because I could imagine wasting too much time. Also the newer phones that constantly beeping and buzzing are more disruptive to our concentration. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to get another BlackBerry if this one breaks since they’re no longer made, but until then I’m not thinking of buying a new phone. I am very careful about my carbon footprint. So if something works and I enjoy using it, why would I replace it? I consider the constant replacement of new technologies to be a waste.

“I hope my Walkman never breaks”

Tess Caven, 56, Essex, Strategy and Marketing Manager

A Sony Walkman from the 1980s.
A Sony Walkman from the 1980s. Photo: AKP Photos/Alamy

I bought my current Walkman in 1989 and although I live and work in a very technological world I still enjoy using it. My father was stationed in what was then Burma during WWII and told us amazing stories about his experiences which I taped down in the 1990’s to ensure I could always hear them. Although I know I could have them digitized, I enjoy listening to them on the Walkman because you can hear all the crackling and noise in the background. It takes me back to when I spent the day absorbing the stories, so there’s a real sense of nostalgia as well.

I also have some old mixtapes that I’ve kept since the 80’s that my kids enjoy listening to. They also have Spotify, but we like the Walkman’s sound because it’s less polished and adds more depth to the music. The downside is that while vinyl is now very popular again, cassettes and players are not easy to buy. I hope my Walkman never breaks – I have no idea how to fix it.

“I find it meditative to use a typewriter”

Carla Watkins, 36, Colchester, Photographer

I have eight typewriters, three of which are working. I also use modern technology, but I like to use my typewriter for letters and journal entries. I have a friend who I only keep in touch with through typed letters, which is lovely. In a digital world, it’s nice to get a thick envelope full of messages that you don’t see in a Facebook update.

I find typing meditative because there are no distractions – you can concentrate better. Finding people to fix them can be difficult and expensive – it’s kind of a dying art – but I am determined to have some of my other typewriters restored. I’m afraid to take them apart myself if I can’t put them back together.

Carla Watkins with her typewriter collection.
Carla Watkins with her typewriter collection. Photo: Carla Watkins

My oldest typewriter dates from around 1910 and I enjoy thinking about the history of these machines and what generations before us wrote. I also have a rotary landline phone which I love. Afternoons are spent in long chats with my friends, and because I can’t do anything else at the same time, I can fully engage in the calls. I’m definitely an old fashioned girl at heart.

‘When you play on Atari, the focus is completely on the game’

Neil Thomas, 42, Cotswolds, museum owner

I got my Atari VCS game console in 1985 when it was inherited from a family member. I loved playing on it as a kid. My favorite game was River Raid, which is about flying down a river in a plane and shooting at things. A little over a decade ago I found the console in the attic and started using it again. The main attraction is that the game appears on the screen instantly – there is no waiting for downloads like on modern consoles. I also think the gameplay is really good on the older consoles. With no flashy graphics, the focus is entirely on the game itself.

Neil Thomas plays River Raid on the Atari VCS.
Neil Thomas plays River Raid on the Atari VCS. Photo: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Over the years I’ve started collecting more vintage consoles and computers, and in 2017 I even started a website and YouTube channel for fellow retro tech enthusiasts. As a result, people started sending me their old consoles and computers. I’ve since opened two museums in the Cotswolds where people can come and play games.

I think the revival of older consoles is happening partly because it’s nostalgic to relive your youth and partly because people want to share video game history with their kids. Ten years ago, you could buy used consoles for virtually nothing, but now their growing popularity can make them expensive. Luckily we have a lab at the museum where we take care of the consoles and repair them to make sure they stay in great condition. I also found a use for all the floppy disks that were sent to me – they paper the museum.

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