Library exhibit showcases old technologies

Photo by Jerod Ray

Frequent library-goers may have noticed an unusual new exhibit on the first floor of the library: retroTECH. With antiquated and out-of-date technologies, such as Apple computers from the 80s, radios from the 30s and telephones from the 60s, the exhibit includes artifacts that fill several display cases at any given time.

The technologies presented are rotated out every Wednesday, providing a steady stream of novel inventions from another time. Accompanied by a short backstory, each piece has been temporarily loaned to the retrospective exhibit by Tech students, faculty or staff members and alums. The exhibit has, also, been fittingly named “retroTECH.” Created by “crowdsourcing,” concept ideas and first named in 2006, retroTECH draws on the resources and ingenuity of its patrons to create a dynamic exhibit.

Wendy Hagenmaier, the Digital Collections Archivist in charge of the display, describes retroTECH as an opportunity for “exploring and digging through the past to inspire future ideas.” She claims that the exhibit also aligns well with the history of Georgia Tech as a technical institution.

Moreover, the library, in partnership with Project One, is sponsoring this exhibit. Project Ones, a new program aimed at easing the college transition for first-year students and inspiring creativity in the student body, is promoting the theme of “Digital Lives.” RetroTECH showcases the evolution of digital lives among Georgia Tech patrons while emphasizing technology’s profound impact on individuals.

The library is hoping to expand the frequency of its exhibits in the coming years using retroTECH as a prototype. Visitors to retroTECH are encouraged to share their experiences on Twitter with the hashtag #retroTECHgt. Hagenmaier also encourages visitors to vote for their favorite items online. With over seventy people loaning their much-loved technologies to the exhibit, the prototype seems to be successful and will, hopefully, translate into more exhibits in the future.

The retroTECH exhibit raises various thought-provoking questions regarding technology. Why do people hang on to old technologies when faster, better technologies are available? If something has outlived its useful purpose, why not just throw it away?

For some individuals, the obsolete item’s educational value leads them to cherish the fairly useless object. For others, there is a strong, sentimental attachment to the past technology.

A calculator’s backstory card, for example, reads, “I kept it because it had belonged to a late co-worker of mine. Her name is written on the bottom of the calculator.” Another card stated that the owner had needed no other reason to keep an old computer than “because it’s awesome.” The exhibit hopes to emphasize that people value material items more for the stories they tell than for their function.

The exhibit, located on the first floor of the library by the Service Desk, opened in early October and will be open through the end of the semester.