This steampunk keyboard does all kinds of unspeakably pleasurable things to me. Steampunk, by the way, is defined by the maker as the practice “wherein the craftsman demonstrates the construction of artifacts from an age of steam and brass”, and also refers to a genre of speculative fiction:
The term denotes works set in an era when steam power was still widely usedâ€”usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian Englandâ€”but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.
I’ve workshopped the affective and/or visceral dimensions of our engagement with ‘obsolete’ technologies before, thinking about the example of majestic theatre organs, in a post called love and the mechanical sublime, andanother one about typewriters. There’s much more thinking to be done though, and there’s definitely a kind of steampunk vibe behind the widespread recent scholarly enthusiasm for the more curious objects from the history of new media, especially in early modernity and the Victorian era, as well as popular histories like Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet. Which reminds me, anne mentioned this new book to me the other day, must check it out too:
Residual Media, Ed. Charles R. Ackland, U of Minnesota Press.
In a society that breathlessly awaits â€œthe newâ€ in every medium, what happens to last yearâ€™s new? Ample critical energy has gone into the study of new media, genres, and communities. But what becomes of discarded media? In what manner do the products of technological change reappear as environmental problems, as â€œthe newâ€ in another part of the world, as collectibles, as memories, and as art?
Residual Media grapples with these questions and more in a wide-ranging and eclectic collection of essays. Beginning with how cultural change bumps along unevenly, dragging the familiar into novel contexts, the contributors examine how leftover artifacts can be rediscovered occupying space in storage sheds, traveling the globe, converting to alternative uses, and accumulating in landfills. By exploring reconfigured, renewed, recycled, neglected, abandoned, and trashed media, the essays here combine theoretical challenges to media history with ideas, technology, and uses that have been left behind. From player pianos to vinyl records, and from the typewriter to the telephone, Residual Media is an innovative approach to the aging of culture and reveals that, ultimately, new cultural phenomena rely on encounters with the old.
Or am I just fetishising the means? And if so, and more importantly, how can something that feels so good really be wrong? 😉