The question is: What will be the next obsolete technology to break out of the hopelessly niche category and go semi-mainstream again?
When vinyl became a “thing” again, I was surprised, but, if you look at it just right, I can see the appeal. Some people are convinced it sounds better, which I don’t get, but with records, you get beautiful album art, music that’s not mastered to be as loud as possible (at least for older recordings), and…that’s about it, I guess, but that’s something.
Polaroids popped back up out of nowhere and found a home in…Urban Outfitters? Ok, in modern terms it’s a camera that comes with a portable printer, which is pretty cool, and the glitchy-ness of the process gives some interesting results, so, yeah, Polaroids are pretty cool and I can see why they’d find a new market.
But some of the other stuff? Cassette tapes? No thank you. Even I can tell they sound pretty lousy and there’s just no romance to them. OK, you make a mix tape. Well done! Hardly anyone can play it back, so unless you’re carrying a jam box around, I don’t see much point. And VHS? Yes, VHS is seeing something of a resurgence for reasons that absolutely baffle me. Bad audio AND video in one difficult-to-play-back package.
I could go on: Flip phones and analog keyboards went from hot to not to, well, not hot, but at least back from the dead in an absurdly short span of time. Analog synthesizers used to be considered garbage; now we’ve not only gone back to analog, but modular synths are huge. I think analog wristwatches are “back”, but maybe those are just FitBits and smart watches.
The fact that some pretty crummy tech is on the comeback trail leads me to believe that we’re going to see more of the same in the not-to-distant-future. So, back to the question: What’s next? What tech that we thought was dead and buried is going to make a surprise comeback? I have a few guesses, but that’s really all they are:
Super 8 Film
Dot matrix printers
I’ll be honest here: I don’t really think any of these things are the right answer. It’s tough to think to things that were once popular but have been thoroughly superseded by objectively better tech that would be ripe to become popular again. It’s such an odd phenomenon, isn’t it? A little bit of nostalgia, some hip contrarianism, and maybe a little “finding a ‘thing’ to be really into because it’s arcane and needlessly complicated and interesting” and you wind up seeing records outselling digital music in 2018.
A side note about the oddity of the retail side of all this: Remember when the big retailers, the nationwide chains, put all of the local mom-and-pop retailers out of business or at least reduced their numbers significantly? Sound Warehouse, Blockbuster, Borders, and their ilk looked like they’d permanently change the landscape, but it didn’t turn out they way, did it? When the market receded, it could no longer support the giants chains. They’ve all been outlasted by the indie operators. Isn’t that interesting?
* Next Sunday, AD