Written for Kinneir Dufort: http://www.kinneirdufort.com/blog/old-tech-new-experiences
The choice we have as consumers today, fuelled by the speed with which technology is developing, is amazing. Energised by the opportunities created by new technologies, designers, engineers and marketers strive continuously to offer greater convenience and excitement through new products and services. Yet at the same time, a contrasting movement is building – a renewed appreciation for hand-made, imperfect objects, alongside a willingness to re-evaluate technologies and rituals from years gone by and a desire to spend less time online and more time getting our hands dirty. It was only a few years ago I was hearing about the end of the line for ‘obsolete’ technologies like vinyl records, film cameras and printed magazines, yet somehow these products are not just surviving, but enjoying a revival.
You’ve seen it too, I’m sure. Think about the popularity of vintage photo apps like Instagram and CameraBag. What about the vinyl record section in your local music shop? Whilst Facebook’s membership continues to grow at a phenomenal rate in developing nations like India, in May, 6 million people deactivated their accounts in the US [i] – having decided to do something else with their time. Meanwhile, there is a growing industry based around ‘slow’ experiences, such as a cut-throat shave in a barber shop, or cooking at home with locally sourced ingredients. This is a macro-trend which is still on the rise.
In his recent Core77 article [ii], Willem Van Lancker describes a ‘small rebellion’ brewing against the abundance of sleek and shiny objects around us, and the saturation of our environment by digital content. These offerings genuinely do make life easier sometimes, but they’re often missing something too. We are now in search of ‘authentic’ experiences – our reaction to years of short-lived consumer products that didn’t live up to the marketing promise. We’ve learned that the big fridge with the touchscreen isn’t really going to make us happy, and we’re asking tougher questions about the values of the company that made it.
I believe this shift is evidence of us finding a better balance as consumers. I own a touchscreen phone with a personally tailored library of MP3s in my pocket, and yet I am also spending my Sundays in second-hand record shops leafing through tattered vinyl records. These give me a different way of experiencing my music, one that is less convenient yet more engaging, and there is place in my life for both. Similarly, when I want to read I can choose between a book or an Amazon Kindle. The Kindle offers me much more convenience in terms of buying and storing books, but the experience of reading lacks the tactile feel and the personality of a battered paperback.
As sophisticated and discerning buyers, we are now shopping for rewarding and meaningful experiences, and know that newer is not always better. Rejecting the advertising models of the past few decades, we now demand that brands are more engaged with us, and for some of us that even means we have a hand in co-creating its products. At the same time, Generation Y, who accept the internet and mass consumerism as the norm, are learning to appreciate old technologies and crafts that some of us thought were left behind.
I personally find this shift in consumer habits very exciting. In the future, I can see us achieving a more personally satisfying balance that includes both the low and the high tech – online and offline time – in our lives, as there is room for both. We will not be so easily dazzled by the latest thing and will make smarter and more self-aware technology choices. I think we’ll be happier for it.