Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I think a lot about obsolescence in my work: hardware, software, and file formats. I encounter a lot of obsolescence in my personal life as well: I own a Saturn (I am currently looking for a place to get it repaired since the Saturn and GM dealerships near me both closed -- I haven't needed to drive it since it developed a coolant leak late last year, but I need it again soon); I can't seem to find the dish washing liquid I prefer except at one store; and the body wash I used for years was discontinued, as was the product I choose to replace it soon after. My liking a TV show seems to be the kiss of death, an assurance that it will soon be canceled.

It's the anniversary of my mother's death today, and for some reason I've been experiencing a strange sense memory of a beauty product my mother used, a cosmetics counter lotion that I could not for the life of me remember the name of, but I remembered the black art deco packaging and its scent vividly (and that I used to sometimes buy it for her at Hart's department store in San Jose, California, also defunct). Last night I found some web sites with images of vintage cosmetics ads and, after some extensive browsing, found an ad that jogged my memory (thanks, Found in Mom's Basement). It was a Charles of the Ritz product called Revenescence. Not surprisingly, the product and brand no longer exists.

Circling back to obsolescence, this product was apparently beloved by generations of women who continue to seek it out. I found a 6oz bottle on eBay priced, optimistically one hopes, at $395, and smaller bottles for $150. There are warnings about pirate versions! And someone has attempted to recreate it, emulate it if you will, with some success. In other words someone so valued this that a market re-emerged, and it became worth someone's while to bring back a product that was made obsolete.

How often does that happen with software? I have seen innumerable games and applications brought back through emulation, and translation and transformation tools created for file formats. But how often is a market recreated, and market value reestablished at a higher rate? Should it ever happen, as an incentive to keep a application or format alive?


Leslie Johnston said...

I may have spoken too soon - Today there's word that the Commodore 64 is being reintroduced:

Leslie Johnston said...

And ... an article on high aftermarket prices on rare video games:

chuckp said...

I can't speak about software rejuvenation, but in photography this is happening with discontinued films and enlarging papers, the most famous of which is The Impossible Project, but as Kodak and Ilford gradually abandon their analog products, niche marketers are licensing or, in some cases, reverse engineering the products and reintroducing them under different brands. There's a curious backlash against digital photography that is more common among people who were in middle school when digital cameras became viable than among geezers like myself - which makes it unlike the analog audio aficionados who DO have a visceral memory of the LP. In most respects, it's yet another example of the use of social networking to sustain something that is perceived as cultural collateral damage instead of promoting the dissemination the best new thing