The Hidden Value of Old Tech is the Mystery

by Barrett

Here’s the story of how this vintage Bell & Howell 8mm movie camera found its way onto my bookshelf.

When old tech stops working, we usually discard it, like a malfunctioning printer or Wi-Fi router. While important to maintaining Tech Zen, this gear operating in the background usually isn’t at the forefront of our consciousness. Plus, once it glitches out, it’s entirely useless.

Why aren’t You Retiring It?
On the other hand, we tend to proactively retire other items in our aging tech arsenals when they’re replaced by newer models with more advanced functionality. Technically, this gear might still work, but it’s slower and no longer retains the original shine.

While it’s entirely appropriate to discard this older tech, we sometimes can’t actually part with it.


I think it has to do with the good memories created from their use.

No, it doesn’t make much sense, but if you’re already prone to holding onto ‘things,’ as a way to retain some of your positive memories, you may be a poster child for this scenario. (I’m certainly guilty of this.)

Owning a Little Piece of History
Another twist to this techno-hording phenomenon has to do with someone else’s old tech that you inexplicably crave.

If you acquire this ancient gear that you’ll never use, what’s the point in that?

No, this tech may no longer have any functional value, but its ongoing existence reflects something potentially more important…

I think it’s about taking ownership of the mystery of how this tech might have been used during a more glamorous bygone era.

This gear contains unknowable stories of the other people who’ve used this gear. You can only guess at the history.

So, it’s this mystery that creates an inexplicable psychological value in what otherwise would be viewed as junk.

From the Back of a Closet to the Front of a Bookshelf
Take, for example my father-in-law’s vintage Bell & Howell ‘Electric Eye’ 8mm movie camera from the 1960s.

He passed in 2008, but while he was alive, I was unaware of this camera or how he used it to document family events decades earlier.

It was buried in the back of a closet, forgotten and effectively lost.

When it was finally rediscovered, this tech relic had no use, superseded many times over by newer tech.


An 8mm camera from the 1960s. How cool is that?

And as it turned out, nobody in my wife’s family wanted it, and the camera was about to be thrown away.

So I rescued it.

And I placed the Bell & Howell on a bookshelf in my home office.

No, of course I’m not going to ever use it, but I still enjoy looking at it.

Sure, 20th century and early 21st century tech can have a certain physical gravitas that today’s lighter, sleeker, cheaper gear long abandoned.

And certain vintage tech has nice “craftsmanship.”

But the real allure is what you can’t really know.

The Joy of Creating the Story
There’s actually not that much mystery to my father-in-law’s camera. I, of course, know the family from which it came. (And yes, there’s also a box of old film reels. So, all of the recorded stories actually do exist.)

But if I had picked up the camera at a stranger’s garage sale or an antique store, then it really would be a mystery.

And that would give it even more value.

The value of an unknowable set of stories from a time long past.

Tales you could imagine from scratch.

When Old Tech Mutates into Art
But you also don’t need to dig so deep into the psychological to justify wanting a piece of ‘junk.’

If looking at a created object pleases you, then how is it any different from owning a piece of art or perhaps an antique?

I’ve got to tell you that having an old film camera on my shelf feels fabulous, especially if visual storytelling is your thing.

And that’s certainly my story.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The why doesn’t always have to be a mystery, but it helps.