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The New Old Thing: A New Series About Old Pleasures Made New Again

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech
The New Old Thing: A New Series About Old Pleasures Made New Again

We live for the New. New book, new movie, new app, new game, new show: the New happens every day, and you couldn’t escape news of the New even if you wanted to.

But every so often, the New gets old. Just as we sometimes prefer to skip the hot new restaurant for a favorite regular spot we’ve been haunting for years, it can be refreshing to tune out the New and fall into the arms of something … old.

Sometimes that means comfort culture, analogous to comfort food — revisiting a classic. Sometimes it means seeking out entertainments we’ve wondered about but never got around to examining. And sometimes it means the perfectly random encounter with something we didn’t even know we’d missed: a new old thing.

Counterintuitive as it may sound, modern technology is the best thing that has ever happened to old things: More songs, movies, TV shows, performances, texts, and other cultural forms, from a wider cross-section of time, are more easily accessible now than ever.

With that in mind, today I’m starting a new series that’s all about the old: Once a week, The New Old Thing will recommend a distinctly untimely piece of culture, available to you right now thanks to the magic of technology. Sometimes the tips will come from me. I hope they’ll also come from you. And sometimes they’ll come from smart, clever folks whose opinions and taste I value.

For starters: Seth Godin, the writer, speaker, and ever-surprising cultural observer. When I ran my idea for this series by him, he answered immediately: “The Prisoner! It’s on DVD, and every American needs to watch it.”

Seth was flabbergasted when I admitted I’d never heard of this show. But turns out the 17-episode British TV series — a spy thriller with some seriously heavy subthemes relating to the information state and shadowy power — has a fanatical cult following. (The series gave us the phrase, “I am not a number, I am a free man!”) Seth first experienced the show on PBS when he was a kid (it came on after Monty Python), but then “it was gone forever,” as so many things were in the broadcast era. 

Years later, he stumbled upon the (rather epic) opening theme sequence for the show online, “which led me to Amazon, which led me to the DVD which led me to telling you,” he says. “And now you’ve discovered it — and the N.S.A. will never feel the same to you again.”

Take Seth Godin’s advice and check it out.

And keep your eye on this space for more New Old Things, from Kevin Slavin, Debbie Millman, David Pescovitz, Tom Roston, and others … including you?