Last night I was interviewed on ABC News24 about the rise of ‘retro-tech’. The story was sparked by the re-release this week of the 17-year old Nokia 3310, one of the best-loved original feature phones, racking up sales of 126 million through its life. You can see the interview below.
There are many reasons why retro-tech is strong, though it is hardly a new phenomenon. Vinyl record sales are at a 25-year high, 1980s arcade games are keenly sought after in the original and through software emulation, and older but simpler models of a variety of technologies are selling well.
Beyond the obvious aspect of nostalgia in a fast-changing world, there are a number of other perspectives.
Older technologies can have greater functionality or better performance in a variety of ways, as is arguably the case with music on vinyl.
People who use older technology can be considered to be “technology-centered“, certainly not Luddites, but appreciating technology in a form that they feel closer to.
Certainly the reduced feature set of earlier technology can be a strong draw for some, particularly older people who don’t want to keep re-learning as new devices become available. While user interface design has in general certainly improved over the years, it is easier to use technology that does less.
Choice and control
In the big picture, the rise of retro-tech is a manifestation of the increasing choices we have, ultimately on the degree to which technology shapes our lives, and indeed who we are.
At the turn of the millenium many were yet to adopt mobile phones, saying they didn’t need them. Now a majority of those recognise the utility of mobility, and own mobile phones. However they can still exert a choice, in turning away from the latest features, and only using what they need.
We will see increasing social divides between those who adopt technology to the fullest degree, and those who hold back. The use of older technology is a way of people exerting choice, and feeling in greater control of their lives. We are going to see more of this in years to come.
Image: Steve Cadman