I have only a slight interest in product design or industrial design – just enough to read every book on the subject at the library. I am resolutely anti-twee in assessing this field, which is as you’d expect. A really nice chair/lamp/rug is less than useless as far as I’m concerned. That shit is for decorators.

Nevertheless, like other educated people, I love certain objets. But I have to admit I don’t have a use for some of them anymore.

IBM Selectric

A manual typewriter camouflaged my age during my teen years and allowed me to correspond, as if authoritatively or genuinely, with grownups around the world – often on the same topics that interest me today. I adored the Selectric (preferably the II, with its correcting ribbon) years before I actually touched one.

IBM Selectric typing element (Letter Gothic) and three Selectric keys (margin release, []1!±, L-shaped carriage return

I distinctly recall an old Selectric brochure featuring a beautful blonde secretary photographed in soft focus as she effortlessly employed her dusty-rose-coloured IBM Selectric. (You could also get an Eldo convertible in that same shade.) I dearly miss my old specimen book of IBM typewriter typefaces. Along with a certain Citroën SM brochure (ironically featuring a similar bint applying her makeup in the passenger seat), that brochure constitutes a sort of lodestone of my youth, the Bobo teddy bear I keep trying to recover.

Everything you’ve heard is true: They are a dream to type on. But we have no need to “type” anymore, except in Third World countries and except on carbonless forms, two inapplicable edge cases. Selectrics are titanically heavy, you can barely find them anymore (least of all in dusty rose), and the power cord was more like an undersea telephone cable. They hummed, they clattered, they were monospaced.


The two real reasons VHS displaced Beta were as follows: Sony was too slow to license the format to other manufacturers and it was difficult to fit a two-hour movie onto a standard cassette. (Long-enough tapes used thinner substrates and jammed.) Every other reason you have heard is false.

How do I know? I own two of them, and, circa 2002, had I had more cash on hand, I would have bought two more.

Stack of five decks, the top two of which are Betamax machines

Sony Betamaxen were renowned for their jewel-like motors (I seem to be the source of that locution, but I borrowed it), pinpoint start/stop/pause/insert/edit, and logical controls (Play took you off pause). I have an SL-HF750, whose cassette tray pops out and up in a delightful way that is no longer jewel-like, as it and my other machine are both broken several times over. It borders on impossible to get a Beta machine repaired.

I have boxes of recorded tapes in a format I cannot now use. But I have so little call to record a television program, or play one back, that my two VHS decks and my huge collection of ready-to-reuse tapes more than suffice. (I am unconvinced by the technology of the home DVD recorder.)

Girl Power iMac

Hand grasps the handle of an iMac with a blue Apple logo and sublimated blue daisy-shaped decorations

I wrote my first book on this beautiful, pleasing, now surprisingly rare art object. It was a stark contrast to the other designer iMac de l’époque, which looked like a manufacturing error. Commentators noted the Flower Power’s pink Apple logo at bottom rear, never quite noticing the blue one staring them in the face at front top. Far from being feminine, the finishes were soft. Perhaps the design was androgynous and not on the masculine side. The effect is sublimated, like the prints on the case, but I had no hesitation at all in naming my machine Girl Power.

It died once, at the worst possible moment, and now it spends its days in OS 9 hibernation under a towel. I am not entirely sure I have managed to move all necessary files off its hard drive.

Like my other piles of expensive old Macs, it is a comforting reminder of beautiful design for which I have no use at all.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.12.31 14:14. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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