The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

November 1998

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 29 October 98 Copyright ©1998 alt.screenwriters

This column doesn’t typically discuss the tools of the writing trade, i.e., the device you use to crank out a screenplay. Frankly, we don’t want to hear about your 450Mhz Pentium II screamer, your 3Dfx graphics card, or what kind of software you use. Do your bragging somewhere else.

But if you have been using a computer for awhile, we’d like you to think back to the first computer you ever owned. Was it an old Osborne or Kaypro or Televideo? A big, bulky Xerox 820, Wangwriter or Displaywriter? Something that gobbled up acres of space and broke your back if you moved it?

If you’re under 35, these brand names aren’t likely to mean anything to you. But if any of them do … have you still got that relic stashed in the garage somewhere? Did you pass it on to a nephew, or maybe your parents?

What? You say you don’t have it? Did you donate it for a quick tax writeoff, or just leave it out for the trash truck to haul away? If so, we may have some bad news for you. That old piece of junk might be worth something now.

In Silicon Valley, the Mecca (or Ground Zero) of our digital lives, the second annual Vintage Computer Festival has already come and gone — and The Computer Museum has amassed a warehouse full of artifacts.

Believe it or not, retro-computing is here. Thanks to the highly disposable age we live in, there is already a nostalgic yearning for the first generation of desktop computers — the vast majority of which, for the most part, have long since been banished to thrift shops, scrapyards and landfills. And you remember your macroeconomics. Scarcity creates demand.

Head to one of the online auction sites on the Web (Ebay and Haggle Online are two of them), and you’ll find that your old Osborne or Kaypro — if it’s still running — can actually fetch a price from a generation that has never known anything but a world where Microsoft software rules supreme. Were you one of the first to buy a Macintosh (a computer that had one 400 kilobyte floppy drive and 128 kilobytes of memory, compared to today’s megabytes and gigabytes of storage)? Well, there aren’t too many of those original Macs left either — and somebody will pay for one. Still got one of the first laptops — a Toshiba T1000 or a Grid maybe? Same story.

We’re not talking huge sums of money for these — dinner for two at Matsuhisa won’t be fully covered — but what if you have something really vintage? An old Sol Terminal, a SuperBrain, Northstar, or Cromemco perhaps. (The names were more fun back then, let’s face it.) Brace yourself: they can fetch upwards of a thousand dollars.

Got something even rarer? The first consumer microcomputers ever manufactured were the MITS Altair and the IMSAI. They’re now worth thousands of dollars — and their price may be doubling every year.

Now, don’t get too excited and start dusting off that old IBM XT. Sure, that was the one you wrote your first big screenplay on. It’s suddenly feeling quite a bit more valuable. But IBM sold too many of those, and too many of them are still around. And unless you’re willing to wait around a hundred years or so, your antique XT is not likely to increase much in perceived value.

However, if you’ve still got a few 8 inch diskettes or ancient software manuals tucked in a corner, even these can gain you a few dollars in a furious online bidding war.

A general rule of thumb is that you may have a collectible if it runs on a software operating system that predates Microsoft’s, e.g., CP/M. The first of a category may qualify as well — the first Mac, the first true DOS laptop, the first palmtop, etc.

Have we awakened the Inner Geek in you? Maybe you didn’t even know it was there — but imagine your writing career if it had all been spent on a Remington Rand manual typewriter. No software upgrades. No B.S.O.D. (blue screens of death). No flying toaster screensavers.

What, you say? You have an old Remington Rand typewriter still in the garage? First of all, it’s time you clean out that garage — where are you parking your car anyway? But second, you’re never going to believe what those are worth…

Written by tborst

October 29, 1998 at 2:49 am

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