The People Obsessed With Using Obsolete, Y2K Technology—as Decor

The People Obsessed With Using Obsolete, Y2K Technology—as Decor

From Zoomers who never used it, to Millennials who miss it, early aughts tech has captured the aesthetic eye of those yearning for when “Life was just much simpler.”
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Welcome to The Trend Times, a column that explores design fads in the age of doomscrolling.

In the early aughts, if you owned a gem-toned iMac G3, you were *that* bitch. Not only was having a "home computer" extremely special, but shelling out over $1,000 for a candy-colored Apple machine was elite, creative class behavior. If you happened to be a young kid at the time—coming of age along with consumer technology—these computers were foundational to not just our relationship with tech, but our understanding of design. For me, the pink G3 was the first tech object I craved for aesthetic reasons. (Soon after, buying bright glittery covers for a Nokia cell phone at the mall would scratch that itch at a much lower price.)

I dare any millennial to look through the computer’s OG ad campaign and tell me it doesn’t activate something deep inside your soul. Over the past couple of years, I’ve grown accustomed to this nostalgia bubbling up against will, as my TikTok algorithm is littered with Gen Z kids who are obsessed with the aesthetics of my childhood. We’ve seen an early aughts revival in fashion with the comeback of skinny jeans and Uggs, and even wearable tech, with old headphones and nanos fashioned into hair clips. (A few years ago, Apple even started making colorful computers again.)

I’ve noticed it’s even crept into the interior design space; what is now considered "vintage" technology is lusted after—even if it no longer works—for how it looks in the home. Display a clear landline phone on your desk, despite only communicating via text in your actual life. Or go all out with a Macquarium fish tank built by a special effects prop stylist.

As an avid thrifter in Huntsville, Alabama, 27-year-old Myra Magdalen was used to coming across the occasional old PC keyboard, and never thought much of it. But when she saw a box of 10 to 15 of them in 2022, the clothing designer/content creator was instantly inspired. And not because she wanted to actually use them. "[I thought] that would be cool all together on a wall, almost like a little installation piece," she recalls. Lacking any free wall space in the living room or her bedroom, to the delight of her roommates, she covered their bathroom walls with the keyboards using industrial velcro. "Then whenever I would see keyboards at thrift stores or on the side of the road, I just would get them and kept adding them." There are now 37, all of the "classic," "chunky," "beige and gray" variety from the late ’90s and early aughts. (New, functioning keyboards simply don’t interest her.)

"At first I didn’t really think about ‘why keyboards?’ but now I think it’s because they’re very unsuspecting. I like the idea of doing something with something you’re not supposed to do," Magdalen explains. A lot of other people do too: her vintage keyboard wall is part of the appeal to over 842,000 followers on TikTok. There’s also the nostalgia factor, even though she was very young during the height of this aesthetic: "Growing up, we had like the computer room in our house with an old computer and the keyboard and everything." Magdalen points to the similarity of her mom collecting typewriters; every generation loves collecting the technology of their youth, she says.

Perhaps we wish to pass along not just the tech object, but the more innocent role they used to play in our lives.

For Millennials like Gladys Tay, a designer and vintage dealer Shoreview, Minnesota, the connection to these tech objects is more visceral. "When I saw [a giant Microsoft mouse at a flea market], I had to have it because it brought back so many memories from me when I was a kid." ​(Tay thinks the oversized object was a promotional piece created by Microsoft in the late ’80s). 

In 1990, Tay’s father gifted the family a computer. She thought she’d get to play computer games all day, but instead her dad insisted she use it to learn how to type. Tay spent hours typing "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" over and over again, using a mouse like the one she saw at the flea market. Though she hated it at the time, she says she’s grateful because it’s how she learned how to use the now essential device.

As evidenced by Tay’s story, these objects are reminiscent of a time when the technology that is now ubiquitous was special, a rarity not to be taken for granted. "I remember when the iPods came out, like if one of my friends got an iPod, we’d all go over to her house and just basically stare at it. Or the iPhone. That was crazy," says Magdalen, who would have been a tween when iPods became affordable enough to be widespread. While having a Peloton in your office viewable for Zoom meetings might say something about your lifestyle and income, not many contemporary tech objects can be seen as interior decor choices, let alone statements. While to some, non-functional technology is trash, to Tay, "It’s a piece of artwork that reflects who we really are as a person."

Billy "Skipper" Hughes, in his late 30s and from Leesburg, Virginia, owns SkipRetro, a company where he converts iBook G3 clamshells into iPads using a 3-D printer. Hughes never intended to make more than one for himself, until he put his creation up on TikTok and was flooded with requests from people who wanted to buy them. In late 2022, he would put up three to four of them for sale at a time every few weeks for $1,000 a pop, and they’d sell out within an hour.

Hughes loves the Apple aesthetic of the late ’90s and early 2000s, when the company was into colors and curves that are in stark contrast to the sleek, mass-appeal tech they make today. He thinks there’s a reason more complex than nostalgia everyone else is too: "As you look around the world these days, you’ll notice that everybody, especially the younger generations, are looking for their individual style. Nobody wants to conform, everybody wants to make sure they follow their own path. This has led to a massive uprising in artists, how people express themselves, and even mental health in making sure they are doing the things that make them happy, not just what is expected of you," Hughes wrote in an email. "Bright colors, dyed hair, and retro accessories, etc. It’s all brand new to Gen Z, so they are going nuts with it, and I love to see it, like a parent passing down their favorite childhood toy to their kid and seeing their eyes light up."

Perhaps we wish to pass along not just the tech object, but the more innocent role they used to play in our lives. "Technology, especially in the era that I grew up in, it was so pleasure focused," says Magdalen. "I remember I was so excited to get a [Nintendo] DSi and [that it could] connect to the internet. Now, you know, I have an iPhone on me all the time that’s always connected to the internet and I…do content creation and I run a business and everything. So my phone is a work tool." Tay echoes this sentiment: "Now, we are bombarded with so many images and things we have to do. Computers back then were simple—you work on it or you just play games and it’s not even competitive gaming. It’s just like, how can I get to the next level? And that’s it. Life was just much simpler. It wasn’t as tense or stressful." 

Though not everyone who bids on an old G3 on eBay can remember using one, and the simpler times that came with that. What about the Zoomers who were born into the chaos of cellphones and social media, who feel nostalgic for an experience they never had? Maybe we can learn something from their desire for dial up and go back to a time when your processor was on your desk and not your wrist.

Alana Hope Levinson
The Trend Times columnist. Exploring design fads in the age of doomscrolling.




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