Your Old Digital Camera Is Just Sitting In a Drawer When It Could Be Your Kid’s New Favorite Toy

published Apr 11, 2023
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Vintage digital camera beside vintage voice recorder with toys and markers around.
Credit: Anjali Prasertong

In 2005, I was a food blogger with a pretty sweet amateur camera setup: I had a point-and-shoot Canon camera with four megapixels. (For reference, the newest iPhone model boasts 48 megapixels.) It was silver and chunky. Sending a photo to someone was a multi-step process involving a USB cable.

Times have changed and, for most of us, smartphones have made a lot of the old tech in our lives obsolete. But my early-2000s gadgets have found a vibrant second life as toys for my kids, stimulating creativity and capturing memories in the process.

My older son discovered that old Canon PowerShot when he was still in preschool. He had a kid-specific camera that he rarely played with because it was frustrating to use, with a clunky interface, a very tiny screen, and a short battery life. When he spotted my old camera in a drawer, it had been untouched for at least a decade, and I thought, “Why not?” I put in some new batteries, and let him try it out.

He loved it. With all its settings on “auto,” the camera was simple to use, and because it was digital, I didn’t care if he took 50 pictures of the same stuffed animal. I showed him how to pull up the photos and look at them on the screen, and every once in a while, I would plug the camera into my computer to download the photos and see what he had been up to.

It was amazing, actually. I got to see the world through his eyes, and understand what he thought was worth looking at: his toys, his toenails, our pets, his dad and me, silly selfies, and so many photos of Pillow, his special pillow. I keep them in a folder on my computer, a living document that captures his view of the world, and how that view has changed over time.

Credit: Anjali Prasertong

Because the camera was such a success, shortly after I unearthed an old digital voice recorder that I had bought in the mid-2000s to record interviews, and showed my son how to make recordings and play them back. Somehow he was instantly transformed into a 5-year-old radio newscaster, announcing, “Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! I’m here this morning with my mommy. Hi, Mommy.” He interviewed his babysitter and his new baby brother. He told jokes (“Dad’s butts are stinky!”) and played them back for his friends.

He is almost 9 now and doesn’t use the recorder much, but we will still listen to the recordings together from time to time, marveling at how cute and young his voice sounded in the beginning, how each little recording captures a specific moment in time so perfectly, and how dad’s butts are still stinky — and hilarious.

I’m so grateful that I gave him these gadgets on a whim, not knowing until later that I was also giving him the power to capture his own story in sounds and images, and in the process giving myself a unique glimpse into how he experiences the world.

I’m In! Where Can I Find Old Tech Like This?

If you don’t have any operable 2000s tech lying around your house, you can start by asking friends and family if they have any old gadgets they don’t use anymore. Think about who in your circle was among the last to buy a smartphone, and start there.

If you can’t find anything for free, yard sales and thrift stores are good places to poke around. You could put out a call on a local parents’ buy-sell-trade group, or on neighborhood sites like Nextdoor, to see if anyone in your area has items to part with. eBay is another option, and some items, like digital voice recorders, you can even find new online for a decent price.

However you acquire it, just remember to back up your child’s work frequently. We all know ’00s tech doesn’t last forever.